I’d like to offer the Eden Gardens Test Match as Exhibit A in the case, Tests v. Twenty20.
Yes, there were the centuries and the wickets and the close finish at the end. But the match also highlighted Test cricket’s biggest attraction: its seemingly endless duration, simply unimagined in other modern sports (and I include the shorter versions of cricket). The best thing that time allows is the sheer range of narratives, replete with the requisite twists and turns and the great characters.
Take that last bit first: in the shorter formats, there’s not much time for men to reveal their nature. As a Twenty20 batsman, you have one goal, and there’s nothing subtle about hitting DLF Maximums. There’s more room to grow in ODIs — you have the pinch-hitter, for instance, or the middle-order consolidators — but you need Tests for a true reflection of human variety. There’s the ‘nightwatchman,’ (a lovely moniker) or — my favorite — the Anchor-Savior (exemplified by S. Chanderpaul, H. Amla and G. Gambhir at Napier). Think about the forces that led to Amla’s mammoth innings: he needed to become a Wall; blot out all emotion or impulse, and all for a draw.
And just as in a long novel, where authors foreshadow major events with strategically planted seeds, Test cricket has its own dramatic devices. Take Ishant Sharma’s burst on Day 1, which many commentators said partially explained the collapse that later occurred in the post-Tea session. Or take the marks left on a pitch as bowlers complete their run-up. Those habits of routine become potentially explosive on Day 5, when balls land in their place and explode.
Now, think about Twenty20, which produces only one plot, really: one side hits, and the other tries to out-hit. Batsmen have only one character: the hero persona who hits X number of boundaries in a given time period. I’m not knocking Twenty20, because pulp fiction has its place too (and I love too many bad television shows to be judgmental). But one reason I feel more satisfied and fuller — almost more learned, really — after a good Test match is a better story line.