As a long time follower of the Australian Test team, you would not believe how satisfying it is to hear other fans making the same complaints Aussie fans have for years now: the anger every time a batsman gets themselves out with a stupid attacking shot played at a highly inappropriate moment; the confusion when the same player keeps getting picked, Test after Test, presumably on the back of a few flat track beltings, with a vague promise of ‘potential’ (i.e. Mitchell Marsh); the sheer fury when said player dismisses any and all criticism, because playing that way is simply his ”natural game”. With Trevor Bayliss having been let free to weave his magic on the English Test team for some time now, full realisation of the consequences of the above are now becoming apparent to England fans. An England team that has whole heartedly adopted a single-minded approach to cricket that ignores all subtlety in favour of a one-size-fits-all ”let’s hit our way out of trouble because that’s all we know” attitude, which seems to blow up in their own faces more often than not. As in most things in life, it can all be easily summed up in one Simpsons gif.
To be fair, the insistence on ‘proper’ Test batting is probably not universally held by all cricket fans. Those brought up on limited overs fare, and in particular the new T20 crowd with their flashing bails and KFC helmets, properly couldn’t give a rat’s arse if a team capitulates before tea on the fourth day, rather than grinding it out till lunch on the fifth. But for everyone else, the sheer lack of fight on display in the Test arena is galling. Mostly because it robs us of a whole day of watching Test cricket, meaning we have to find something else to entertain ourselves with, whilst the players likely get a round of golf in. The work-shy bastards.
But in truth, the lack of competitiveness on show in most Test matches these days is doing a lot to undermine the format. Whilst outsiders probably think we’re all mad, Test fans know that battling draws often show the game in its greatest light. The Johannesburg Test of 1995, Adelaide 2012, Cardiff 2010 and Auckland 2013: all famous Tests where both sides went at each other hard and, in the end, couldn’t be split. Now think of the number of one-sided Tests in recent years. Like every Test of the 2012/3 Ashes. Or the 2015 Ashes. We can expect the same again in the 2017/8 Ashes. Especially if Australia don’t actually bring a team along.
Fans want to see hard fought contests because Tests are supposed to be, well, tests. Players are supposed to adapt to the conditions and the match situation, not just take the same approach they always do and then shrug their shoulders when it doesn’t pay off. That sort of approach is fine for limited overs cricket, but shouldn’t be tolerated in the red-ball game. For Australia, and especially under Darren Lehmann, this has been the rule for some time now, and it now looks like Bayliss has infected English cricket with the same curse. Aggressive cricket is great when it works, like during England’s tour of South Africa, but it’s appalling when it fails.
Further, it also strengthens the impression that batsmen these days have it far too easy. Flat pitches, thick bats and short boundaries, everything plays into their hands. But when things are a little amiss, a little grass on the pitch or uneven bounce, perhaps some unhelpful weather, so many seem to fall to absolute pieces. Think David Warner at Hobart last year. Or most of the Australian lineup in that Test for that matter, Steven Peter Devereux Smith excepted (of course). The end result is that we are seeing series where, even after they are finished, we have no real idea how strong each side is, because teams tend to either romp to easy victories or collapse to pitiful defeats. There isn’t much of a middle ground anymore.
Test fans like seeing tough, attritional cricket. They like how it brings out the best in players, like Faf du Plessis in Adelaide and Michael Atherton in Johannesburg. It’s the stuff reputations are built upon. Given the packed schedules these days, batting time also becomes a tactic in and of itself: wear the bowlers down this Test and they’ll be properly stuffed for the next one. Plus, it’s always fun seeing Jimmy Anderson grimace when he is brought back on for his sixth spell in an innings. Being rolled in under fifty overs, despite how far-fetched the actual target is, just serves to piss everyone off. No matter how disciplined the bowling is or unpredictable the pitch, seeing batsmen running down the pitch and throwing their wicket away, even in a lost cause, just undermines the game as a whole.
In the modern game it seems only South Africa and India are prepared to dig in deep when needed. Australia certainly can’t (the third Test of their Indian tour was a very welcome exception, slightly undone, though, by the madness of the fourth Test) and the Kiwis struggle with it too. England used to be masters at it, but under Bayliss that has seemingly all been thrown under the bus in preference for ‘natural game’ bollocks. And changing the players around won’t help if the philosophy from the top stays the same, although a recall for dream-boat Nick Compton wouldn’t go astray. But no matter how much we, or other ‘proper’ Test fans, rage about it in little-read blogs in dark corners of the internet, this style of cricket is probably here to stay. For which you could probably blame T20 cricket. And Theresa May. Because why not? Everything else seems to be her fault.