If Test cricket wants to survive it must claw back its name as a diverse format in which hitting sixes is a vital part of its fabric.
Test cricket has an image problem. It’s image is one of competition with T20, the infant of cricket that’s taking the world by storm.
It has an image problem, because T20 has successfully captured the hearts and minds of young, and indeed older fans as the home of sixes.
People want to see big hits and crashing fours, and will pay big money for it.
This makes the format very lucrative, especially as the games are so short. You can come after work to indulge in a short sharp burst of power.
It draws players towards it, that perhaps would have one day dreamed of playing in whites.
T20 has championed aggressive batting, as crucial to its existence.
The association has become so strong, that as Ben Stokes smashed his way to 258 off just 198 balls, the murmurings on social media was about the influence of T20 on Tests.
Instead of it being seen as a rapid Test innings, some were saying it was fundamentally a T20 knock.
And I’ve heard it before when David Warner has batted like that, or when Chris Gayle or Ab de Villiers have.
It is worrying, because it implies that hitting sixes and batting aggressively is owned by T20. But, Test cricket has been doing it long before T20 was even thought of.
Hitting sixes is as much a part of Test cricket as blocking and leaving is. Some of the greatest opening partnerships ever have been a mixture of aggression and caution; such as Strauss and Trescothick, Gibbs and Smith.
It’s multi-dimensional, and it helps give Tests the subtlety and variance that T20 can lack.
Whether it was Adam Gilchrist down the order, or Sanath Jayasuriya pounding the new ball, Test has always had a place for aggression. They found their niche. It was a strategy, not a necessity.
Most importantly, it was seen as healthy, either as a way to put the side in a strong position or as a way of giving impetus.
Time is rarely a constraint in Test cricket, so the need to bat aggressively is for a purpose.
In T20, batting aggressively is a staple. That’s fine. There is room for both subtlety and brute force within cricket.
The problem, is allowing aggression and caution to precipitate in to T20 and Test.
Big hitting batsmen are becoming associated, or expected to be interested in T20, more than Tests, if not exclusively interested in it. Whilst Test cricket is shepherded onto younger fans and players, as having to compete with T20.
Whether that’s choosing county over IPL bucks, or in a TV revenue sense, the conflict of interest is un-ignorable.
Tests are being shown in both regards as being about playing defensive or ‘boring’ cricket. It’s cricket, minus T20.
One must wonder whether the age of aggression in Tests is over, if some, like Andre Russell and Aaron Finch are unwilling to dip their toe in the pond, and if others like Alex Hales are ignored by their country’s respective selectors for so long.
The horrible question nobody wants to ask, is what would happen if a Kevin Pietersen or Chris Gayle turned up right now?
Would they really, honestly, want to play Test cricket over IPL and Big Bash? It would certainly be a dangling carrot.
Ultimately, if Test cricket starts to lose its aggressive stars, it will lose its subtlety. It will become one dimensional and boring.
If aggression and caution is allowed to separate out into T20 and Test, then Test cricket will become a bland and boring sport that will quickly die out.