Kevin Pietersen may be known to the world for his charismatic batting across all three formats but the former England cricketer believes that Test cricket is the ultimate.
Delivering the sixth edition of MAK Pataudi Memorial Lecture before the BCCI Awards on Tuesday, Pietersen said that even though T20s has improved the fielding standards, ‘it offers the cricketing buzz without the full sting.’
“Having played every form of cricket in every corner of the cricketing globe, I remain 100 per cent convinced that the five-day test remains the supreme form of the game,” Pietersen said.
“After all, I am not known as a traditionalist. But in 2005, I maintained that you shouldn’t judge a man by his haircut. And now, 13 years later, I suggest you should not believe everything you read on Twitter,” the South Africa-born England cricketer said, adding, “Nor, I should add, am I anything but unstinting in my praise of 20-20 cricket - particularly the wonderful IPL.
"T20 provides the thrill, the noise, the speed and no little genius. It has taken fielding to a new level and has redefined batting. But it offers the cricketing buzz without the full sting. Wickets are less precious. Risks are taken without the same downside. There is less character and technique required.”
While he says only ‘few players have ever been met with the wrath of an entire population simply for getting out to an injudicious shot early in a T20 innings’, Pietersen admitted that his passion for Test cricket takes him back to the days in Durban in the early 1980s.
“Shimmering heat. A baked pitch and a beige outfield. Concrete slabs on which I sat transfixed watching provincial cricket of a phenomenal standard. Intensity, bravery, application, skill, relentless competitiveness. It wasn’t even Test cricket but in those days it was the closest we got. Day after day I watched. Glued. Transfixed. These cricketing Gods demonstrating everything that is great about cricket,” he said.
The former England batsman also remembered his first hero, the late Clive Rice. “Ricey. Fearless, graceful and, at times, savage at the crease. Instilling in me the enormity of character required for the first class game. Many years later when it was clear that I would be lucky enough to make a career out of the game I love, my Dad told me precisely when he knew I would succeed.
It wasn’t a particular shot, a special innings or the long hours of practise. It was those lengthy summer days sitting motionless on those scorching concrete slabs absorbing everything in the Durban heat.
“Come to think of it I may have missed my vocation it was actually the perfect preparation for becoming a scorer! I know I am not the only one here to have been inspired to work harder to practise longer by watching our heroes in white flannels.”
He even drew references of Allan Donald, Sachin Tendulkar, Shane Warne, Malcolm Marshall, Steve Waugh, Richard Hadlee and Kapil Dev.
“Even the late, great – but flawed – Hansie Cronje. Each played his fair share of one-day matches. But when we look back on their extraordinary achievements their performances that will always stand the test of time are those when they were dressed in white,” Pietersen said.
During the lecture, Pietersen even asked the Afghanistan team, which attended the programme, what it takes to succeed in a Test match?
“What makes it different from the other forms of the game in which you have already excelled? For me, it’s the ability to take your lessons from the nets into the heat of battle,” the former cricketer said.
“It’s the determination to prepare, practise and give 100% commitment to everything away from the game. I appreciate that’s quite lot to ask for before Thursday! But I know some of you personally and you have been demonstrating those qualities and that application for a long time now.”
But then, what will it take to keep this form of the game alive? How can we ensure that for our children’s children ‘cricket’ will not simply be a game that takes forty overs – or less – after work?
“I’m afraid that the answer to that isn’t in the hands of cricketers at all. It’s in a word that makes many shudder. Commerce.
We may dream that cricketers will choose to play five-day cricket because of its history and tradition. Because it develops character. And because we seek to emulate the feats of Bradman, Hutton and Gavaskar,” Pietersen said.
“But that would be no different to asking a Bollywood star to give up the screen for work in the theatre. It may be a more classical form of acting but it offers a fraction of the rewards.
If we wish cricketers to commit to five-day cricket we have to pay them. And as an ex-cricketer, I can now say this without being accused of self-interest! For once!”
So how should they be paid?
“Simply by throwing the same commercial noise and innovation at the test game. Five days of action. They provide so many opportunities. Day night games have demonstrated the enormous leaps that are possible. The IPL doesn’t play its biggest fixtures when many of its staunchest, wealthiest fans are at work. Neither should Test cricket,” Pietersen said.
“It will only be by pushing the marketing dial to a maximum that we will see if the test game has true potential. Let’s make every game count. Push the profile of the world test championship. Develop marketing opportunities. Offer cheaper seats in the ground to provide a better spectacle for TV viewers. Is there a game anywhere quite like test cricket in which so many people are passionate despite rarely attending a game in person?”
Pietersen also has a suggestion. “We need to get them back through the turnstiles. It’s better for the players the sponsors and television. Let’s get the fans back. Let’s throw equal marketing clout behind the Test game before we succumb to the lazy assumption that 20-20 rules,” he said.
“To those who hear this and remain cynical. Who question the entertainment value of Tests. Who believe that I am wistful about something that will soon be associated with black and white television fax machines and telegrams. I say, let’s create a fair comparison.
Let's not compromise entertainment. Let’s put the test fans first. Let’s make test cricket a spectacle. Garnish it with colour and fireworks. Fill the grounds. Play in the evenings. Give the umpires microphones to broadcast to the spectators. Allow sledging - as long as it remains the right side of the line. Communicate better with the fans.”
Not just this. Pietersen also feels it is important to ‘give the players a voice during play.’
“Entertainment isn’t just about hitting the ball hard or bowling bouncers. It’s about creating an experience. For the people who matter most of all: Those who pay to watch cricket. Let’s not kid ourselves. Without them, there would be no professional game at all.”
“But the players must play their part. And to every player thinking of sacrificing a career with the red ball to play white ball cricket, I plead with you to think again. Don't sacrifice the opportunity to really challenge yourself. Don't restrict yourself to a form of cricket that, however brilliant, doesn't require mastery of every skill. Only Test cricket can do that.
Ask Jos Buttler who scored so prolifically here at the IPL before his recall to the English test team whether he valued any of those stunning 20-20 knocks for Rajasthan Royals as highly as the man of the match in the second test match v Pakistan last month at Headingley,” he said, adding, “I suggest that he will have felt a sense of pride achievement camaraderie and fatigue that only Test cricket can produce.”
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