Test cricket is the longest form of the sport of cricket. Test matches are played between national representative teams with "Test status", as determined by the International Cricket Council (ICC). The two teams of 11 players play a four-innings match, which often lasts up to five days. It is generally considered the most complete examination of teams' playing ability and endurance. The origin of the name Test stems from the long, gruelling match being a "test" of the relative strength of the two sides.
The first officially recognised Test match began on 15 March 1877, between England and Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), where Australia won by 45 runs. A Test match to celebrate 100 years of Test cricket was held in Melbourne from 12 to 17 March 1977, in which Australia beat England by 45 runs—the same margin as that first Test.
In October 2012, the International Cricket Council recast the playing conditions for Test matches, permitting day/night Test matches.
Test matches are included in first-class cricket. Matches are played between national representative teams with "Test status", as determined by the International Cricket Council. As of 2011, ten national teams have Test status, the most recently promoted being Bangladesh in 2000. Zimbabwe's Test status was voluntarily suspended, because of poor performances between 2006 and 2011; it returned to competition in August 2011.
In January 2014, during the historic ICC meeting in Dubai, the pathway for new potential test nations was laid out with the winners of the next round of the ICC Intercontinental Cup playing a 5-day match against the bottom rank test nation. If the Associate team defeats the test nation, then they could be added as the new test country and be given full membership.
A list of matches, defined as "Tests", was first drawn up by Australian Clarence Moody in the mid-1890s. Representative matches played by simultaneous England touring sides of 1891–92 (in Australia and South Africa) and 1929–30 (in the West Indies and New Zealand) are deemed to have "Test status".
In 1970, a series of five "Test matches" was played in England between England and a Rest of the World XI. These matches, originally scheduled between England and South Africa, were amended after South Africa was suspended from international cricket because of their government's policy of Kerry Packer as part of his World Series Cricket enterprise and played between "WSC Australia", "WSC World XI" and "WSC West Indies" from 1977 to 1979 have never been regarded as official Test matches.
Test cricket playing teams
There are currently ten Test-playing teams, representing individual nations except for England and the West Indies. Test status is conferred upon a country or group of countries by the International Cricket Council. Teams that do not have Test status can play in the ICC Intercontinental Cup, specifically designed to allow non-Test teams to play under conditions similar to Tests. The teams are listed below with the date of each team's Test debut:
|Order||Team||Date of first Test Match||Number of matches before first win||Notes|
|1||England||15 March 1877||1||At the time represented all of Britain, but now officially represents England and Wales|
|Australia||15 March 1877||0|
|3||South Africa||12 March 1889||11||Did not participate in international cricket between 10 March 1970 and 10 November 1991 after the International Cricket Conference suspended South Africa in response to the South African Government's policy of apartheid.|
|4||West Indies||23 June 1928||5||Consists of players from 10 Caribbean nations and 5 dependencies.|
|5||New Zealand||10 January 1930||42|
|6||India||25 June 1932||24||Before partition of India in 1947, included territory that now forms Pakistan and Bangladesh.|
|7||Pakistan||16 October 1952||1||Before Bangladeshi independence in 1971, included territory that is now Bangladesh.|
|8||Sri Lanka||17 February 1982||13|
|9||Zimbabwe||18 October 1992||10||Voluntarily suspended from Test cricket between 10 June 2004 and 6 January 2005, and from 18 January 2006 until 3 August 2011|
|10||Bangladesh||10 November 2000||34|
In 2009, Ireland stated its intention to apply for Full Membership of the ICC with the aim of achieving Test status, and restated its intention in 2012, but the 2012 plan aims to achieve Test status by 2020, which, even if successful, would be too late for the inaugural ICC World Test Championship scheduled to take place in 2017.
In 2014, the ICC announced the introduction of the ICC Test Challenge, which will see the holder of the Intercontinental Cup play a pair of two five-day match series against the lowest ranked test-playing nation every four years, starting in 2018.
Conduct of the game
Test cricket is played between two teams of 11 players, scheduled up to five days. On each day there are usually three two-hour sessions, with a forty-minute break for "lunch" and a twenty-minute break for "tea". For example, in England, play often starts at 11 am and is scheduled to finish at 6 pm, with a 40-minute lunch break at 1:00 and a 20-minute tea break at 3:40. Short breaks of about 5 minutes may also be taken during each session for drinks, usually after an hour's play. There is a 10-minute interval between changes of innings.
The times of sessions and intervals may be altered in certain circumstances: if bad weather or a change of innings occurs close to a scheduled break, the break may be taken immediately; if there has been a loss of playing time, for example because of bad weather, the session times may be adjusted to make up the lost time; if the batting side is nine wickets down at the scheduled tea break, then the interval may be delayed until either 30 minutes has elapsed or the team is all out; the final session may be extended by up to 30 minutes if 90 or more overs have not been bowled in that day's play (subject to any reduction for adverse weather); the final session may be extended by 30 minutes (except on the 5th day) if the umpires believe the result can be decided within that time.
In the early days of Test cricket, matches were played over three or four days. Until the 1980s, it was usual to include a 'rest day,' often a Sunday. There have also been 'Timeless Tests', which did not end after a predetermined maximum time. In 2005, Australia played a six-day match against a World XI, which the ICC sanctioned as an official Test match even though the match reached a conclusion on the fourth day.
There have been attempts by the ICC, the sports governing body, to introduce day-night Test Matches. In 2012, The International Cricket Council passed playing conditions that allowed for the staging of day-night Test matches.
Test cricket is played in innings (the word denotes both the singular and the plural). In each innings, one team bats and the other bowls (or fields). Ordinarily four innings are played in a Test match, and each team bats twice and bowls twice. Before the start of play on the first day, the two team captains and the match referee toss a coin; the captain who wins the toss decides whether his team will bat or bowl first.
In the following scenarios, the team that bats first is referred to as Team A and their opponents as Team B.
Usually the teams will alternate at the completion of each innings. Thus, Team A will bat (and Team B will bowl) until its innings ends, and then Team B will bat and Team A will bowl. When Team B's innings ends, Team A begin their second innings, and this is followed by Team B's second innings. The winning team is the one that scores more runs in their two innings.
A team's innings ends in one of the following ways:
- The team is "all out". This typically occurs when a team has lost ten wickets (ten of the eleven batsmen having been dismissed) and are "bowled out". It may occasionally occur with the loss of fewer wickets if one or more batsmen are unavailable to bat (through injury, for example).
- The team's captain declares the innings closed, usually because they believe they have enough runs. A declaration before the innings starts is called an innings forfeiture.
- The team batting fourth score the required number of runs to win.
- The prescribed time for the match expires.
If, at the completion of its first innings, Team B's first innings total is 200 or more fewer than Team A's, the captain of Team A may (but is not required to) order Team B to have their second innings next. This is called enforcing the follow on. In this case, the usual order of the third and fourth innings is reversed: Team A will bat in the fourth innings. It is rare for a team forced to follow on to win the match. In Test cricket it has only happened three times, although over 285 follow-ons have been enforced: Australia was the losing team on each occasion, twice to England, in 1894 and in 1981, and once to India in 2001.
If the whole of the first day's play of a test match has been lost because of bad weather, then Team A may enforce the follow on if Team B's first innings total is 150 or more fewer than Team A's. During the 2nd test between England and New Zealand at Headingley, Leeds, 24–28 May 2013, England batted first after the first day was lost because of rain. New Zealand, batting second, scored 180 runs fewer than England, meaning England could have enforced the follow on, though chose not to. This is similar to four-day first class cricket, where the follow on can be enforced if the difference is 150 runs or fewer.
After 80 overs, the captain of the bowling side may take a new ball, although this is not required. The captain will usually take the new ball: being harder and smoother than an old ball, a new ball generally favours faster bowlers who can make it bounce more variably. The roughened, softer surface of an old ball can be more conducive to spin bowlers, or those using reverse swing. The captain may delay the decision to take the new ball if he wishes to continue with his spinners (because the pitch favours spin). After a new ball has been taken, should an innings last a further 80 overs, then the captain will have the option to take another new ball.
A Test match may end in one of six results:
- All four innings are complete. The team batting fourth are all out before overtaking the other team, usually before matching the other team's score. The team that batted third are the winners by a margin equal to the difference in the aggregate runs scored by the two teams (for example, "Team A won by 95 runs"). Very rarely (in over 2,000 Test matches played, it has only happened twice) the scores can end level, resulting in a tie.
- The team batting in the fourth innings overtakes the opposing team's run total. The match ends, and the team batting fourth is the winner by a margin equal to the number of wickets still to fall in the innings (for example, "Team B won by five wickets").
- The third innings concludes with the team that batted twice still trailing the team that batted once. The match ends without playing a fourth innings. The team that batted only once is the winner by a margin equal to "an innings" plus the difference in aggregate run totals of the teams (for example, "Team B won by an innings and 26 runs").
- Time for the match expires without a result being reached. This usually occurs at the end of the last day of the match. The result is a draw: there is no winner, no matter how superior the position of one of the sides. Rain causing a loss of playing time is a common factor in drawn matches, although matches may be drawn even without interference from the weather: usually as a result of poor time management or an intentional effort on the part of one team to avoid losing.
- The match is abandoned because the ground is declared unfit for play. This has occurred three times, resulting each time in a draw being declared: England v Australia at Headingley, Leeds, 1975 (vandalism); West Indies v England at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica, 1998 (dangerous ground); West Indies v England at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua, 2009 (dangerous ground).
- The match is awarded through a forfeiture. If a team refuses to take the field of play, the umpires may award the match to the opposing team. This has only happened once in Test cricket, in the 2006 Fourth Test between England and Pakistan.
Test cricket is almost always played as a series of matches between two countries, with all matches in the series taking place in the same country (the host). Often there is a perpetual trophy that is awarded to the winner, the most famous of which is the Ashes contested between England and Australia. There have been two exceptions to the bilateral nature of Test cricket: the 1912 Triangular Tournament, a three-way competition between England, Australia and South Africa (hosted by England), and the Asian Test Championship, an event held in 1998–99 and 2001–02.
The number of matches in Test series has varied from one to seven.
Up until the early 1990s, Test series between international teams were organised between the two national cricket organisations with umpires provided by the home team. With the entry of more countries into Test cricket, and a wish by the ICC to maintain public interest in Tests in the face of the popularity of one-day cricket, a rotation system was introduced that sees all ten Test teams playing each other over a six-year cycle, and an official ranking system (with a trophy held by the highest-ranked team). In this system, umpires are provided by the ICC. An elite panel of eleven umpires has been established, and the panel is supplemented by an additional International Panel that includes three umpires named by each Test-playing country. The elite umpires officiate almost all Test matches (usually not a Test involving their home country); the International Panel is only employed when the cricketing calendar is filled with activity, or for one-day internationals (ODIs).
Two rival English tours of Australia were proposed in the early months of 1877, with James Lillywhite campaigning for a professional tour and Fred Grace for an amateur one. Grace's tour fell through and it was Lillywhite's team that toured New Zealand and Australia in 1876–77. Two matches against a combined Australian XI were later classified as the first official Test matches. The first match was won by Australia, by 45 runs, and the second by England. After reciprocal tours established a pattern of international cricket, The Ashes was established as an ongoing competition during the Australian tour of England in 1882. Surprisingly beaten, a mock obituary of English cricket was published in the Sporting Times the following day: the phrase "The body shall be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia" prompted the subsequent creation of the Ashes urn. The series of 1884–85 was the first to be held over five matches: Shaw, writing in 1901, considered the side to be "the best ever to have left England".
The first Test series not to involve Australia occurred in 1888–89, as an understrength England side toured South Africa.
Decline in popularity
With the exception of England and Australia, crowds for Test matches are falling. This is mainly because of the slower pace of scoring and the longer match-time in a Test Match which fails to attract attention of some fans when set against the growing popularity of Twenty20 cricket (particularly in India) and there are concerns at the highest levels of the game that Test cricket could die out. The emergence of well-funded T20 club competitions like the Indian Premier League and the Big Bash League in Australia has shifted the financial balance of power away from Test cricket to the shortest form of the game.
- Toss (cricket)
- ICC Test Championship
- List of Test cricket grounds
- List of Test cricket records
- List of Test cricketers
- One Day International
- Twenty20 International
- Women's Test cricket
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