A Beginners Guide to… Test Cricket

This is a weekly feature where we will be taking you through the basics of different aspects of sport that you may not already know. The aim is to expand peoples knowledge so not only will other posts on here make more sense, but you can show off your new found knowledge to your friends. If you think we miss anything or have a topic you want us to cover Comment, Tweet or Email us and we will get to work on it.

As we reach the end of the English cricketing summer and we have plenty of time until the Winter tours, now this seems like the time to tell you what you need to know about Test Cricket.

Test Cricket… So this is going to take some time, isn’t it?

Well… it depends how much attention you pay, but we do have a lot to cover so we should probably just jump straight in at the deep end. Where do you want to start?

How long is a Test Match?

A test match in the current format is scheduled to last for 5 days, with each day having 90 overs of bowling in it. Each day is broken into three sessions, there is a 40-minute lunch break a 20 minute and a twenty-minute tea break to break up the day. Though there is some talk of reducing this down to 4 days.

How do they decide when the breaks are? Just when they get hungry?

Each day should start and finish at the same time, 11 AM is the traditional start time then lunch after 2 hours. Tea is taking 2 hours after that and then they play through until 6. Extra time can be added at the end of the day if the total amount of overs haven’t been bowled for the day. In the last few years, “Day Night” test matches have come into fashion, the play starts at 2pm and continues through until 9 at night.

What if they don’t get the overs in?

Nothing sadly, in the modern day teams very rarely bowl all their overs in a day and the time is just lost. When it rains or gets so dark safety becomes an issue over are normally lost.

Why don’t they add an extra day like baseball?

Where did you learn about baseball? Anyway, there wouldn’t be the time for starters there is a lot of cricket to be played and ticketing would be a nightmare.

This seems like an obvious question, why does it take so long?

Okay, so both teams have to bat twice which means each side has to take 20 wickets to have a chance to win the match. That can take a long time when there isn’t a limit on how long you can bat for. You think it’s bad now? Test matches used to continue until a team wins.

Are you serious?

Very serious.

So when did all this start?

The first test was between England and Australia, who are the oldest test playing nations, back in March of 1877 Australia won by 45 runs. The rivalry between the teams has stopped since and they have continued to play regularly.

Oh wow! That is a long time ago. As the games are so long, I am gonna guess they just play the one match?

Sometimes, it depends. The matches are collectively called Test Series and can range from one game up to five. England tends to have one 5 match series every summer, like the one against India this summer.

At the risk of sounding stupid… how is it decided who wins a series?

You never normally worry about sounding stupid… Whoever wins the most matches in the series wins the series. Though, matches can be drawn so a five-match series can be won 1 nothing.

How do you draw? Surely over 5 days someone has to win?!

Recently, draws have become a lot less common. If at the end of 5 days there is no result the match is declared as a draw. Whoever has the highest score after two complete innings wins the match. Either by bowling the other team out, or passing their total score.

So which countries play then? As many as Football?

Well, there are countries all over the world that play cricket, but very few are official test nations. In order to do that you have to be a full member of the ICC an..


I was getting there, the ICC is the International Cricket Council and runs world cricket. Currently, the teams with Test Status are England, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, West Indies, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Sri Lanka. Recently Afghanistan and Ireland were also given test status.

Two Questions, do all British nations have a team and where the hell is the West Indies?

Ireland has a combined team and Scotland has a team that plays one day cricket. Wales, well they are part of the England side. They are under controlled by the England and Wales Cricket board and Welsh players regularly play for England. The West Indies is the combined Caribbean nations, they all play together under the West Indies.

I assume England are the best team in the world?

Why would you assume that?

England invented the sport so I… Oh, I see what I did.

Currently, the best team in the world are India, but it tends to go through phases.

How do they decide the best team?

The ICC has devised something called the Test World Championships. All the test playing nations go into a league table, points are assigned out for winning matches. The team at the top us generally seen as the best team in the world.

How long has India been the top side?

I said a few moments ago that Cricket goes through phases. In the 80’s the West Indians and their formidable bowling line dominated Cricket. The Australians were almost unbeatable at the turns of the century. South Africa and England took charge in the late 00s and the early 10s and India have shot to the top over the last few years, but there are always variables.

Variables like what?

India are notoriously bad travellers, at the moment so are most teams in world cricket. Most teams win at home and struggle away because of the varying conditions and the different pitches.

How can the pitches be different? Surely grass is grass?

While you’re sort of right you are also very wrong. The weather has big effects on the condition of the pitch and the things that the ball does with it hits the pitch. We will cover bowling in more details later but in simple terms. In South Asia, the weather is hot and dry so the pitches very quickly break up and the ball spins. In Australia and the West Indies, it’s very hot and humid the pitches are flat and very fast. In England the ball swings around a lot. The conditions are so different that it means teams get very good in their own conditions but struggle when they go away.

So home advantage plays a big part?

Huge. Over the last few Ashes series, England has dominated at home but been awful in Australia.

What do you mean by “The Ashes”?

Of course, you don’t know. The Ashes is the most famous Test Series in Cricket played every two years between England and Australia alternating between the countries. In the 1882 Australia beat England the stumps were burnt and placed in an urn. The papers said it contained the Ashes of English Cricket and the Ashes were born. We will cover this in more detail later.

Can anyone else win it?

The Ashes is strictly between Australia and England. Most international series have a trophy on the line which is normally named after previous players. India and Australia play for the Border-Gavaskar trophy, England and South Africa play for the Basil D’Oliveria trophy.

Who is the best Test player of all time?

Batsman or Bowler?


Okay, which one first?


Well, you have to think that Test Cricket has been going on for hundreds of years. It’s hard to compare modern day players who play a lot more than they did back then. In the early days, there were burly English Gentlemen like W.G Grace. Most people will say that Don Bradman is the best Batsman to ever grace the game. He had the highest average runs per innings of any Batsman in the history of cricket. Finishing with 99.94, a few runs in his last match would have put it over 100. In the modern era players like Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting were fantastic. According to the rankings, the current best player on the planet is India Captain Virat Kohli.

What about Bowlers?

Well, again there is some debate about this. Muttiah Muralitharan took 800 wickets 92 ahead of Shane Warne who sits second. It’s hard to argue that those two aren’t the best spin bowlers. In terms of pace bowlers, Glenn McGrath and James Anderson are the highest wicket-takers. The argument is more complex though, Wasim Akram, Courtney Walsh, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding all have an argument to say they are the best. In terms of current players, James Anderson is the best test match bowler.

Do people actually go for 5 days?

They do. In England, crowds are better than ever, especially when the Australians come over for the Ashes. Tickets are like gold dust and sell they beer, you can sit all day in the sun watching a good days cricket and drink what more could you want?

I don’t know… atmosphere?

Well, that is never lacking, England has the Barmy Army who always make things interesting. The fans of each nation are passionate. Especially when a team are closing in on a win the crowds lift the players.

Okay… I think I’m getting it?

Hit me!

So Test Cricket is a 5-day game that people have played for over 200 years. You have to outscore the other team and get them out to win. India is the best in the world but England used to be good. I could sit in the Caribbean sun with a beer in hand and watch 7 hours of play? Oh, and England currently have the best bowler in the world?

I think you’ve actually got it. We are gonna cover more cricket down the line, once you have all the guides it should all make sense.

Hopefully you readers have enjoyed this Beginners guide and we will be back next week with another one. If you have something to want us to cover, Email, Comment or Tweet us @Unlikelydanblog

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