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Analysis: Is T20 format ruining Test cricket?

Two South African batsmen run into each other during a test match against New Zealand Photograph: (AFP)

WION New Delhi, Delhi, India Apr 04, 2017, 05.15 AM (IST) Shijith P Kunhitty

The dust hasn't settled yet on India's 2-1 Test series win over Australia, but the country's cricketers are already busy preparing themselves for another season of the Indian Premier League. With the huge number of Twenty20 (T20) matches being played nowadays, is it influencing the way cricketers play the longer format of Test cricket? We look at 25 years of Test cricket data to find out.

Fewer runs totals over 600

One way to see if there has been any effect is to look at the kind of runs totals teams are putting up in Test cricket now. Given how frenetic T20 matches are, are teams losing the capability and patience to put up huge totals in Tests? 

See data here. Source: Cricketarchive.com

Looking at the kind of runs totals Test-playing nations have been amassing in their first innings over the past 20 years, we see that the past five years, ie. 2012-2016, have seen only 15 runs totals over 600. This is a decline from the 24 runs totals over 600 in the previous five-year periods of 2002-2006 and 2007-2011. 

There is no way to be certain that this decline is down to T20 cricket but it's worth asking the question.

Batsmen still putting up double- and triple centuries

Teams as a whole may be putting up lower runs totals, but that doesn't seem to have affected individual batsmen. 

See data here. Source: Cricketarchive.com

Looking at how many times batsmen have scored a double-or triple century over the past 20 years, we see that the number has gone up over the past five years. It went up from 40 in 2007-2011 to 49 in 2012-2016.

The run rate has gone up

Let's look at this further by looking at the rate at which runs are being scored in Test matches. The assumption being that if the frenzy of T20 is creeping into Test cricket, than the run-rate would be higher than it was in the past.

See data here. Source: Cricketarchive.com

If we see how many runs are scored for every 90 overs, a team would score 293 runs in 2016, compared to 268 in 1991. The runs scored per 90 overs has gone up to around the 300-run mark but it's been that way since 2002, a few years before T20 cricket started becoming popular. So this upward trend may not have much to do with the shorter format.

There are sixes more often now

Again, the logic is that if the T20 format is affecting batsmanship, we should see people more willing to take risks, be less conservative and go for sixes in Test matches.

See data here. Source: Cricketarchive.com

So if we look at the frequency with which sixes are being scored, the data shows that in 2016, there was an average of one six every 44 overs. This is down significantly from 1992 when it was a six every 105 overs.

But the number of overs to see a six first went under 50 overs back in 2004, before T20 matches were being played internationally. So, again, the growth of T20 may not have much to do with how often we're seeing sixes now.

Wickets are falling more often

The idea is that if the T20 format is speeding up the pace of Test cricket, we should be seeing wickets fall more frequently now.

See data here. Source: Cricketarchive.com

In 2016, you would have to wait an average of around 10 overs to see a batsman getting out. This is down from the average of 12 overs back in 1993. But this figure for the number of overs between dismissals has been around 10 since the mid-1990s. So again, this trend may have little to do with T20 cricket.

Fewer batsmen are getting run out

So if Test cricket is getting more frenetic because of the impact of T20 cricket, we should be seeing more mix-ups between batsmen, more confusion and more run outs right?

See data here. Source: Cricketarchive.com

Not really, according to the data. The percent of dismissals that are run outs has actually gone down over the years. 4.4 % or around one in 25 dismissals was a run out back in 1999. In 2016, 2.6%, or around one in 40 dismissals was a run out. 

Not as many maiden overs

Again the assumption is that if we're seeing more runs because of the influence of T20, we should be seeing fewer maiden overs being bowled.

See data here. Source: Cricketarchive.com

We are definitely seeing fewer maiden overs being bowled compared to the late 1990s. In 2016, 18.7% of overs bowled in test matches were maiden overs, compared to 25.5% in 2000. But here too, the downward trend started in 2004, when it first went under the 20% mark and came before the growth in T20 cricket.

Fewer test matches are being drawn

Another way to check if test cricket has been affected, is to look at whether Test matches have sped up so much that we are seeing fewer draws than we used to.

See data here. Source: Cricketarchive.com

That is certainly borne out by the evidence as last year saw 15% of Test matches being drawn, the lowest percentage since 2002.

Conclusion

After looking at the data from these different angles, we can definitely say that test cricket has changed from 25 years ago. But whether these changes are down to the growth in T20 cricket is open to debate.

(WION)

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