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Decoded: Health of Test cricket in every nation

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Last updated on 11 Mar 2022 | 02:09 PM
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Decoded: Health of Test cricket in every nation

A brief outlook on how is Test cricket shaping up in every Test playing nation

England

England's rise in white-ball cricket in the recent past can be conflated with their topsy-turvy fortunes in Test cricket. Since 2021, they have won only four out of their 17 Tests, losing 10 in the process. They have lost two series at home* and two away. Both their away defeats were timid affairs, exposing various frailties of their setup. Their away record in other prime Test playing nations - India and Australia - is close to hitting the rock bottom while at home as well, they have struggled to maintain consistency. 

2021 was exemplary to England's batting issues. On one end, Joe Root was chasing the record for the most Test runs in a calendar year. On the other hand, England were trying to escape the embarrassment of most Test ducks in a year. Overall, they averaged 24.3, better than only Zimbabwe. 

They also lack spinners and pacers who can create impact in the lesser bowling-friendly conditions. Overall, they have a lot of catching up to do. Luckily, fans in England still cherish Test cricket and they will continue filling the stands no matter how their team play. 

*they trail 1-2 in the five-match Test series against India. The last Test will be played later this year.

Australia

Like England, Australia have also suffered ups and downs. The home series defeat to India was a blow that exposed them on various fronts - several spots in their batting line-up as well as their bowling. It is tough to judge how far they have come since they have only played one series since September 2019 before the ongoing Pakistan tour. They won a home Ashes against an insipid England 4-0, ticking various boxes but that is too small a sample size at present. 

However, it is safe to presume they have one of the most relentless bowling attacks of the modern era including Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc. Nathan Lyon is still a handy off-spinner. Their hopes of finding a pace-bowling all-rounder in Cameron Green are slowly materializing as well. 

The chinks in their line-up are the opening slot where David Warner is a hit-and-miss in overseas conditions and is still looking for a partner. There are also a number of questions around their wicketkeeping batsmen. 

India 

One team that has dominated Test cricket in the last few years is the Indian side. A few setbacks aside - losing the Test series in South Africa and the WTC final loss - they have been the most relentless Test unit, always ready to pounce on any sliver of hope. That is what framed some of their famous victories in Australia and England last year. 

They have achieved these wins at the back of an impeccable bowling attack. India were always tough to beat at home owing to their spinners. Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have continued the same with the welcome addition of Axar Patel. Assembling their best pace attack to date - Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami, Mohammad Siraj to name a few - they are winning away as well. Since 2018, they have a win percentage of nearly 39.2 percent overseas, the best amongst all sides. 

Such has been the might of their bowling, that India have managed to pull off victories despite an underperforming batting unit. That is under renovation now with the omission of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. With their talent pool, India will never be short of batting options. In fact, they have multiple options for each spot with an army of youngsters ready to step into the higher level.

Given the popularity of the sport in India, Test cricket seems to be in a pretty healthy state in the subcontinent nation, although the love for T20s and IPL triumphs the attendance figures at the venues in the longest format. 

New Zealand

New Zealand have made massive strides at the international level, breaking the tag of “Dark Horses” in a world event to qualify for three white-ball World Cup finals alongside lifting the only global Test trophy. 

The BlackCaps have done it with an influx of quality cricketers in multiple departments. Their fast bowling resources have boomed with someone like Matt Henry not able to find a consistent spot in the XI. They have moved on from makeshift openers to solid batters like Tom Latham and Devon Conway. BJ Watling emerged as a top-class wicketkeeping-batter in Tests and once he retired, they had a decent replacement ready in Tom Blundell. The late Martin Crowe predicted Kane Williamson to be New Zealand’s greatest batsman and the skipper has been on the steady pathway to prove him right. 

Brick by brick they have covered voids that had obstructed them in the past. Since 2013, 42 players have represented New Zealand in Test cricket, the least for a Test nation in this time span. From 2005 to 2013, New Zealand had 72 players. 

However, cricket is still not the most popular sport in the country. The honor belongs to rugby. Hence, despite being the current world Test champions, a three-match Test series is an anomaly for the Kiwis, irrespective of whom they are playing. But given everything in New Zealand cricket has been on the rise, it is fair for them to expect more money in Test cricket as well as more overseas tours. 

South Africa

The premature retirements of past greats, financial deficit and lingering issues pertaining to racial bias have taken a toll on South African cricket. Between the home series against Sri Lanka in 2018 and against England in 2020/21, they won only one out of their eight Tests. A series win against Sri Lanka at home followed by another defeat in Pakistan hinted that they can only win against weaker oppositions. 

During this time period, their batsmen averaged only 25.5, better than only West Indies and Bangladesh. They had to change their Test skipper twice, with Faf du Plessis relinquishing the duties and Quinton de Kock being removed from the post. The question was, how far south can things go for them. 

They have picked themselves up since then. In the seven Tests under Dean Elgar’s leadership, the Proteas seem to have found their mojo back. Apart from beating West Indies, they halted the juggernaut of the Indian team, bouncing back to win the series 2-1. In New Zealand, they showed the same fight, leveling the series 1-1 after a 95 all out in the first innings of the first Test. 

Despite many unexpected retirements, the quality of fast bowling hasn’t dropped with the arrivals of Marco Jansen, Anrich Nortje alongside Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and the return of Duanne Olivier. Yes, they bowl mostly in the bowling-friendly conditions of South Africa but the average of 24 runs per wicket is the best in Test cricket since 2021. 

This has overlapped with the period when the batters have started to back their potential with just enough runs. They still average only 26.1 since the start of 2021 but with their persistent bowling, it is just enough to compliment the batting. The sun is slowly rising on South Africa cricket once again. But it can also be too soon to call it. 

West Indies

From winning Test matches for fun during the 1980s, West Indies’ cricket fortunes have undergone a freefall in the recent past. There have been glorious victories but they are too far and few in between. 

West Indies are known to be the first cricketing culture struck by the razzmatazz of T20 cricket. A major chunk of their players is lured by T20 leagues. That is where cricket in the Caribbean has suffered the most. 

They have consistently been among weaker Test batting units. Only one of their top seven in the ongoing first Test against England averages above 40 - Nkrumah Bonner. His average in first-class cricket rattles at 28.9*. That is the standard in West Indies’ cricket. Due to a dearth of quality batters, many who average in mid-30s in domestic cricket get picked for the Test level. 

Unlike South Africa, they don’t possess one of those peerless bowling attacks to cover up for their brittle batting. 

With the lack of funds, the West Indies’ board also doesn’t have enough to offer for Test players. All these factors have left little hope for a revival in West Indies’ Test fortunes. 

*stat prior to WI-Eng first Test

Pakistan

There are two versions of Pakistan in Test cricket. One that plays in Asia and the one that travels away from the continent. Since 2018, they have won eight of their 13 Tests. Outside Asia, their win-percentage is less than 33% in 17 Tests with 10 defeats. 

Their batting average is only 27.2 outside Asia as compared to 42.2 in Asia. The difference in the bowling average is far less (25.72 versus 24.85). However, Pakistan are positive about their batting with the rise of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan. Fawad Alam has already notched up hundreds in New Zealand and West Indies on his return. 

Bringing cricket back to Pakistan is another big tick for them. Such is the emotional value attached with fans in the country that it will fill the stands no matter what. That was not the case when they were playing in the UAE. Therefore, as things stand, the future seems to brim with hope for Pakistan cricket. 

Sri Lanka

Skipper Dimuth Karunaratne summed up Sri Lanka’s long-lasting troubles with the bat after the drubbing in the Mohali Test against India. For long, the Islanders basked in the sunshine of their legendary cricketers. But since the retirement of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, they have failed miserably to uphold the standards. 

Since 2020, they have won only against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and West Indies. They have lost all their Tests against England, South Africa and India in the meantime. 

While the results are discouraging, there is no scarcity of potential. But Sri Lanka are yearning for more consistency from the likes of Dhananjaya de Silva, Karunaratne and Pathum Nissanka against top Test nations. The same can be said about their bowling attack that has more pace in it than ever. Each one of Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Kumara can consistently clock in the 140 kph range. Wanindu Hasaranga is the finest leg-spinner going around in world cricket. 

Sri Lanka have the raw materials. If they can get the pieces together, they can attain a certain degree of consistency even if the prospects of bringing the days of their glorious past seem a tad too farfetched.

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