Test cricket

Test cricket

Test cricket is the longest form of the sport of cricket. It has long been considered the ultimate test of playing ability between cricketing nations. It remains the highest-regarded form of the game, although the comparatively new One Day International and Twenty20 formats are now more popular amongst some audiences. The name "Test" is thought to arise from the idea that the matches are a "test of strength and competency" between the sides involved. It seems to have been used first to describe an English team that toured Australia in 1861-62, although those matches are not considered Test matches today. The first ever official Test match commenced on the 15th of March 1877, contested by England and Australia at Melbourne Cricket Ground, where the Australians won by 45 runs. England won the second ever match (also at the MCG) by 4 wickets, thus drawing the series 1-1. This was not the first ever international cricket match however, which was played between Canada and the United States, on the 24th and 25th of September 1844.

Test status

Test matches are a subset of first-class cricket. However, the step up in required skill from normal first-class cricket to Test cricket is considerable, with many players who excel in the first-class game proving unable to handle Test cricket. Test matches are played between national representative teams which have "Test status", as determined by the International Cricket Council (ICC). As of 2007, ten national teams have been given Test status, the most recent being Bangladesh in 2000.

  • A list of matches defined as Tests was first drawn up by Australian Clarence Moody in the 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" were played in England between England and a Rest of the World XI. Although initially given unofficial Test status (and included as Test matches in some record books, notably Wisden), this was later withdrawn and a principle was established which states that official Test matches can only be between national sides.
  • The series of "Test matches" played in Australia between Australia and a World XI in 1971/72 do not have Test status.
  • The commercial "Supertests" organised by 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 having official Test match status.
  • In 2005 the ICC ruled that the six-day Super Series match that took place in October 2005 between Australia and a World XI was an official Test match. This ICC decision was taken despite precedent (e.g. the ICC's earlier ruling on the 1970 England v Rest of the World series) that only matches between nations should be given Test match status. Many cricket writers and statisticians, particularly Bill Frindall, have decided to ignore the ICC's ruling and have excluded the 2005 match from their records.


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Test cricket playing nations

There are currently ten Test-playing nations.

Test status is conferred upon a country by the International Cricket Council. Countries that do not have Test status can only officially play a shortened version of cricket, except in events such as the ICC Intercontinental Cup, which was specifically designed to allow non-Test nations to play under conditions similar to Tests. The nations are listed below with the date of each nation's Test debut:

Order National team Date of first Test Match Notes
1 Australia 15 March 1877
England Consists of players from England and Wales.
3 South Africa 12 March 1889 Did not participate in international cricket between 10 March 1970 and 18 April 1992 due to the international reaction to apartheid.
4 West Indies 23 June 1928 Consists of players from a number of Caribbean nations and dependencies.
5 New Zealand 10 January 1930
6 India 25 June 1932 Before Indian independence in 1947, consisted of territory of the Indian subcontinent that are now Pakistan and Bangladesh.
7 Pakistan 16 October 1952 Before Bangladeshi independence in 1971, included territory that is now Bangladesh.
8 Sri Lanka 17 February 1982
9 Zimbabwe 18 October 1992 Suspended from involvement in test cricket between 10 June 2004 and 6 January 2005, and currently since 18 January 2006.
10 Bangladesh 10 November 2000

In 2003, the ICC announced its intention to confer Test status upon Kenya in the near future, but Kenyan cricket has been through difficulties since then and no date for Kenya's promotion is likely to be set in the near future.

Conduct of the game

Test cricket is played between two teams of eleven players over a period of up to a maximum of five days - although matches are sometimes completed early when one side wins well within the time allotted (e.g. in three or four 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"; in England typically 11am-1pm, 1.40pm-3.40pm, 4pm-at least 6pm (play often continues later to make up for overs lost due to the weather, to make up the required minimum number of overs for the day, or if a team is close to being dismissed). The duration of earlier sessions can be altered if there have been weather interruptions or (in certain circumstances) if the state of play so dictates. For example, if rain has stopped play, lunch may be taken early to leave more time in the afternoon for play without rain and/or on a drier pitch. If a team is dismissed close enough to a scheduled break, the break may be brought forward and the other team begin its innings after the break. In the early days of the game, Test matches were played over three or four days and there have also have been 'Timeless Tests', where there was no predetermined length of the match.

Before the start of play on the first day, the match referee and the two team captains meet at the centre wicket for a coin-toss. The home captain will toss the coin, with the visiting captain calling either "Heads" or "Tails" whilst the coin is in the air. The captain who wins the toss has the privilege of choosing whether his team will bat or bowl first.

Throughout the following scenarios, the team batting first will be known as "team A" and their opponents will be known as "team B".

  • Team A bat until either ten batsmen are dismissed - at which time team A is "all out" and the innings is "completed" - or until the batting captain elects to cease batting (known as a "declaration"). This batting period is known as an "innings". There is no limit to the length of an innings, provided the batting team have at least two batsmen who have not yet been dismissed in the innings. When the tenth batsman is dismissed, the last remaining batsman cannot continue alone and is declared "not out".
  • In matches that lose a large percentage of time to poor weather or other extraordinary circumstances, there may not be enough time to complete the first innings (let alone an entire match).
  • Normally, after team A's first innings the teams change roles. Team B bat their first innings, and team A bowl and field.
  • In the event that team B are dismissed "all-out" in their first innings for a total at least 200 runs less than that of team A, the captain of team A has the option of enforcing the "follow-on". In this case teams do not change roles as per normal, and team B bat their second innings.
  • Team A's captain may, however, elect not to enforce the follow-on and bat as would normally be the case. This may be to advantage if team A's bowlers are overly fatigued.

Note: In the event that an entire day of a test match is abandoned without any play, team B may be asked to follow-on if their first innings total is 150 runs (or more) less than that of team A.

In the event the follow-on is enforced:

  • Team B bat their second innings immediately after completing their first innings (after a short rest).
  • If team B is dismissed with the total of both innings being less than team A's first innings, team A win the test match by a margin of "an innings" plus the difference in total runs scored by each team
  • If team B, during its second innings, score enough runs to bring their total past team A's first innings total, team A must bat again. In this case, team A need only bat until their total over 2 innings is greater than that of team B. Their margin of victory is recorded as the number of wickets remaining from the 10 necessary to dismiss a team "all-out".
  • If team A are dismissed "all-out" in the fourth innings with a 2 innings total less than that of team B, team B shall be declared the winner, the margin being the total difference in runs scored by each team in the match.
  • It is highly uncommon for team B to win after being asked to follow-on. This has occurred only 3 times in more than 1700 test matches.
  • In the event that the 5 days elapse before any of the above occur the match is declared a draw, regardless of the current scores of either team.

If the follow-on is not enforced or is not available to be enforced:

  • Team A bat their second innings.
  • If team A's total score over two innings is less than team B's first innings score, team B win by a margin of "an innings" plus the difference in total runs scored by each team.
  • If team B's total score over two innings is more than team A's, team B wins the match. The margin of victory is recorded as the number of wickets remaining from the 10 necessary to dismiss a team "all-out".
  • If team B is dismissed in the fourth innings with a 2 innings total less than that of team A, team A win the match, the margin being the total difference in runs scored by each team.
  • In the event that the 5 days elapse before any of the above occur the match is declared a draw, regardless of the current scores of either team.
  • It is conceivable, however unlikely, that a test match may end in a tie. A tie occurs when, after a completed fourth innings, each team has scored an equal total of runs. A tie is distinct from a draw, as a draw is declared when a match has not been completed within five days, a tie is a completed match.

There have been only 2 ties in over 1,700 Test matches. Both matches are regarded amongst the most exciting ever played.

The decision for the winner of the toss to bat or bowl first is based on an assessment of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each team and the conditions of the wicket. Most of the time pitches tend to become hard to bat on as the game nears its conclusion, and players bat more poorly after the fatigue of four solid days of cricket, so teams usually prefer to bat first. However, sometimes the conditions at the very beginning of the match particularly suit fast bowling, so if either team has particularly strong set of pace bowlers, the team winning the toss may choose to bowl first (either to take advantage of their own attack or to disallow the opposition the use of a "green" wicket whose erratic bounce will help seam bowling). A quote usually attributed to WG Grace displays his philosophy of what to do if the captain were to win the toss. "When you win the toss – bat. If you are in doubt, think about it, then bat. If you have very big doubts, consult a colleague – then bat."

After 80 overs, the captain of the bowling side has the option to take a new ball. A new ball, which is harder than an old ball, generally favours fast bowlers who can make it bounce at a greater range of (unpredictable) heights and speeds. Spin bowlers or those using reverse swing prefer an old ball. The captain may delay the decision to take the new ball if he wishes to continue with his spinners (because the pitch favours spin), though in general the new ball is looked forward to as an opportunity to introduce new life into the bowling with more chance of taking wickets.

The rationale for a team declaring their innings closed prior to being bowled out may be confusing for cricketing neophytes, but it is often a sound tactic. Remember that to win a game, the losing side must be given the opportunity to complete two innings. If they do not do so the game ends in a draw, no matter how many runs they may be behind (an example of this is Sri Lanka's 952 run innings against India. Despite this being the highest total runs in a test match innings, the game was drawn). Therefore, a team with a large lead will declare to give themselves more time to bowl at the opposition and take all their wickets.


Test cricket's competition structure has evolved somewhat idiosyncratically due to the long match duration, the fact that a proportion of test matches end in draws, cricket's status as one of the earliest professional spectator sports, and the wide geographical distribution of the teams. These factors mean that a 'world cup' similar to the event in one-day cricket or the football world cup is not feasible for Test cricket.

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). The number of matches in a series varies from one to six. Often there is a perpetual trophy traded between a pair of teams when series between them are won or lost. The Ashes series between England and Australia is the most famous of these. 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.

Until recently, Test series between international teams were organised between the two national cricket organisations with umpires provided by the home team. However, with the entry of more countries into Test cricket competition, and a wish by the ICC to maintain public interest in Tests (which was flagging in many countries with the introduction of one-day cricket), a new system was added to Test match competition. A rotation system 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) were introduced. It was hoped by the ICC that the new ranking system would help maintain interest in Test cricket in nations where one-day cricket is more popular. The simplicity of the ranking system has proven successful, although the rotation system is currently being challenged by India (who wish to play more frequently against the more financially attractive opposition such as England and Australia).

In the new 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).

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