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 cricket is now more popular amongst some audiences. The name "Test" is thought to arise from the idea that the matches are a "test of strength" 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 matches are a subset of first-class cricket; the step up in required skill between Test and normal first-class cricket, however, is considerable, with many players who had excelled in the first class game proving unable to handle Test cricket. They 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given unofficial Test status (and included as Test matches in some record books, notably Wisden), this was later withdrawn and a principle was established which states that official Test matches can only be between national sides.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.
History of cricket
History of Test cricket (to 1883)
History of Test cricket (1884 to 1889)
History of Test cricket (1890 to 1900)
History of Test cricket (to 1883)
History of Test cricket (1884 to 1889)
History of Test cricket (1890 to 1900)
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 - up 7.30pm - 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 play starts on the first day, a coin is tossed. The team winning the toss chooses whether to bat first or to bowl first. In the following, the team batting first is termed "team A" and its opponents "team B".
Team A bats until either ten batsmen are dismissed (team A is "all out"), or its captain chooses to stop batting (called a "declaration"). This batting period is called an "innings". There is no limit to the length of an innings provided there remain at least two batsmen who have not been dismissed (when ten are dismissed, the eleventh cannot continue by himself) and the five days have not elapsed.
After team A's first innings the teams swap roles, with team B batting its first innings, and team A bowling and fielding.
If team B is dismissed with a score 200 runs or more behind team A, team A chooses whether to "invite" team B to bat again for its second innings (called "enforcing the follow-on"), or to bat itself to gain a bigger lead. (If the whole first day of play is abandoned without a single ball being bowled, whether because of rain or otherwise, the follow-on requirement is reduced to 150 runs.)
If the follow-on is forced:
Team B bats its second innings.
If team B's total score from both innings is less than team A's first innings score, team A wins the match.
If this is not the case, team A must bat its second innings to attempt to score more than team B's total. If it succeeds in the remaining time, team A wins. If it is dismissed before this occurs, team B wins. (This is very unusual - teams that enforce the follow-on very rarely lose. This has happened only three times in the entire history of Test cricket and each time the losing team has been Australia; the most recent one being the India-Australia series in India in 2001.)
If time runs out before any of the above occurs, the match is called a draw.
If, after each team's first innings, the follow-on is not forced or cannot be forced:
Team A bats its second innings. If time runs out before the innings is completed, the match is a draw.
If team A's total score for its two innings is less than team B's score from its first innings, team B is the winner. Otherwise, team B must bat a second innings.
If team B's total score over two innings is more than team A's, team B wins the match.
If team B is dismissed before reaching team A's total, team A wins the match.
If neither occurs before the scheduled end of the match, it is a draw.
Finally, if the team batting in the fourth innings is dismissed with the combined totals equal, the game is a tie (as distinct from a draw, as described above). With the comparatively high scores in cricket, only two ties have occurred over the entire history of over 1,700 Test matches. Both matches are regarded as 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).
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; the International Panel is only employed when the cricketing calendar is filled with activity, or for one-day internationals (ODIs).