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Why Test Quality Bowling Is Still (And Always Will Be) The Pinnacle

Updated: May 17, 2023

Since its inception, T20 cricket has always rewarded big hitters - it’s the aim of the game. The appeal of this format has always been its fast pace compared to the more nuanced and abrasive nature of the longer formats.

There have always been players who have been or who would have been naturals in the shortest form of the game. Even before it came along, you can guarantee the likes of Viv Richards, Imran Khan, Garfield Sobers, Dennis Lillee and Ian Botham would have made hay in T20 cricket.

There are some relics of the game from yesteryear who will no doubt have struggled to make much of an impact. You can’t imagine that Geoffrey Boycott would have dazzled too many spectators with free-flowing striking of the ball. That’s not a criticism of his style of play - it just wouldn’t have suited T20 cricket.

This continues to be the way in the modern day - some batters aren’t equipped to deal with the highest level of T20 cricket (the IPL and international T20 cricket).

Cheteshwar Pujara, one of the finest Test batsmen in recent years, owner of 18 Test centuries hasn’t played an IPL game since 2014 and despite a recent successful spell at Sussex in both First Class and One Day cricket, is unlikely to play T20 cricket ever again. His scoring rate is just too slow for the top level.

Vice Versa, famously T20 guns don’t necessarily fire in Test cricket, there’s too many to name but Jason Roy, Aaron Finch, Jos Buttler, Dinesh Karthick, Martin Guptill, Glenn Maxwell and Suresh Raina are a few who never quite converted.

Pujara one of the modern Test greats has never been able to convert into a short format player

(Photo credit: Jack Meacher)

Batting wise its becoming clearer and clearer that there is a gulf in requirements befitting a T20 batter and a Test batter. Some can span this gap but usually they’re generational talents or are competent in one format and world class in another i.e. Jonny Bairstow being one of the best in the game in T20 cricket and being a very decent Test player or Marnus Labuschagne being known more for his Test exploits than his fairly impressive BBL career.

Bowling is slightly different.

T20 cricket has created a class of its own legendary bowlers: Imran Tahir, Lasith Malinga, Adil Rashid, Tabraiz Shamsi, Adam Zampa, Ish Sodhi, Mustafizur Rahman, James Neesham, Yuzvendra Chahal and, I hate to break it to you, these guys are not good long format players. Some of them had moments (if they ever even got the chance to play Test cricket) but their ability to bowl sustained probing spells was lacking. That’s not the end of the world for these guys, far from it, they made their name in a different format but this is where the differences between batting and bowling in multiple formats reveals itself.

A lot of the best Test bowlers around at the moment could just as easily be described as some of the best T20 bowlers at the moment.

Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Marco Jansen, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravi Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Kyle Jamieson, Shakib Al Hasan, Jason Holder, Rashid Khan Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes all have or have recently had IPL contracts and have been key players in the competition as well for their respective Test nations.

Jasprit Bumrah is considered to be one of the finest bowlers in the game across all formats

(Photo credit: Jack Meacher)

In fact, if you look around at world cricket and see which other world class bowlers didn’t get a contract your list essentially consists of players you can vouch for could probably hack it with the best at the highest levels of T20 cricket. Anderson and Broad were told to focus on Test cricket some years ago to prolong their careers but both were good T20 bowlers back in the day, Broad even captained England T20 for a stint. Keshav Maharaj falls behind Tabraiz Shamsi for top spinner in the South African side but is currently the 18th best T20 bowler in the world according to the ICC. At a domestic level, T20 is arguably Nathan Lyon’s best format, averaging 21 with the ball. Whilst still early into his career Jayden Seales looks like he will be a world beater in all three formats. Shaheen Afridi, Hasan Ali, Yasir Shah are ineligible to play IPL but would almost certainly have had IPL deals by now if Pakistani players were able to play.

Perhaps the only two anomalies at the moment who have struggled in the shorter formats whilst dominating the Test arena are Kemar Roach and Ishant Sharma.

Putting reasoning to this is only possible through disparaging either of these skills. For any cricket lover the types of wickets that are gained in T20s are plain to see. A lot more wickets are fashioned from, objectively, bad balls. I’d love to see a statistic of how many of Imran Tahir’s wickets have come from catches on the long on boundary…

Without hacking away at the foundations of T20 bowling too much, it is still a skill, good balls in T20 cricket don’t always get the praise they deserve whilst short pitched balls that sit up so often do.

Josh Hazlewood is another example of an accomplished multi-formatted bowler

(Photo credit: Abu Dhabi Cricket via Jack Meacher)

Perhaps it is worth looking at this through a more nuanced lens of T20 spin bowlers versus Test spin bowlers, two categories which have managed to separate themselves out quite a lot. The likes of Nathan Lyon, Jack Leach, Yasir Shah on one side and Wanindu Hasaranga, Sunil Narine and Adam Zampa on the other. Each to their own and are considered good spin bowlers in their own right, the translation across formats doesn’t quite work in the same way though.

The reasoning behind this is probably more to do with the glut of variation available to an accomplished spin bowler. A Test bowler sets up a batsman, working at him throughout the overs and choosing variation options sparingly when the moment is right. Without variation in T20 bowling, you’re stuffed, lambs to the slaughter, you can only hope that every ball you can provide enough that it puts a second thought into the batsman trying to launch you into row Z.

It’s still one way traffic though, the best spinners in Test cricket still tend to be able to make it in T20 cricket but the opposite isn’t quite the same.

There is also an argument that these modern players have grown up with all three formats but, again, it doesn’t really stack up. Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Shane Bond, Daniel Vettori, Andrew Flintoff, Jacques Kallis, Muttiah Muralitharan, Zaheer Khan etc all managed to transfer their skills and become some of the early pioneers of T20. The same can not be said universally of the batting at the same time.

Realistically, to be a great bowler control is key. Without it in T20 cricket, you can get away with bad balls and perhaps even get lucky with them. In Test cricket, you’ll get punished and the runs will begin to show.


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