Test cricket

Test cricket is the modern competitive form of the game of cricket and was begun in 1877. Cricket has a known history spanning from the 16th century to the present day, with international matches played since 1844. During this time, the game developed from its origins in England into a game which is now played professionally in most of the Commonwealth of Nations.

A Test match between South Africa and England in January 2005. The men wearing black trousers on the far right are the umpires. Test cricket is played in traditional white clothes and with a red ball.



Leading English cricketers first visited a foreign country in 1789, when John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, organized a tour of France. However, this was swiftly abandoned due to the French Revolution. Sides designated as "England" began to play in the late 18th century, but these teams were not truly representative. William Clarke formed the All-England Eleven in 1846, and this was the first representative England side, which toured the country taking on local sides.
Jemmy Dean and John Wisden formed a rival team, the United All-England Eleven, in 1852. Matches between Wisden's team and Clarke's quickly became the highlight of the cricketing year. A side comprising six players from each team toured North America in 1859, which was highly successful.
By 1861, the year of the next tour, the United States was plagued by Civil War, so the cricketers headed to Australia instead. They then visited both Australia and New Zealand in 1863/64. The Australians reciprocated, as the Australian Aborigines became the first cricketers to tour England in 1868. The English visited North America again later that year and again in 1872.
Two rival tours were vying to become the first official test tour, with James Lillywhite campaigning for a professional tour and Fred Grace for an amateur one. Grace's tour fell through, though, and it was Lillywhite's understrength team that toured New Zealand and Australia in 1876/77. Two matches against a combined Australian XI became the first official test matches. The first test was won by Australia, by 45 runs.
The Australians then toured England and North America in 1878, leading to more official tests against the English. England returned to Australia in 1878–79 for a one off test match, and when the Australians came to England in 1880, a firm pattern of tours was established.
A team of Lillywhite, Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury financed England's next tour to North America and Australia, in 1881/2, and it was during this tour that the first accusations of match fixing appeared, during England's match against a Victoria XI.
The legend of the Ashes was established during the Australian tour of England in 1882. An easy England victory disappeared in the closing stages thanks to some incredible bowling from Australia's Fred Spofforth, seemingly in response to unsportsmanlike behaviour earlier in the game from WG Grace. A mock obituary was published in the Sporting Times the following day, mourning the death of English cricket, as this was the first time that an England team had lost on home soil. The phrase in the obituary "The body shall be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia" led the creation of the Ashes urn. England reclaimed the Ashes at the first attempt, during their tour of Australia in 1882/3.


England would be the first team to retain the Ashes when Australia visited them in 1884. They won one and drew two in a heavily rain disrupted series. England would win yet again as Lillywhite, Shaw and Shrewsbury organised another tour to Australia in 1884/5. The series, which was the first to be held over five matches, as we know it today, was won 3–2 by England. Shaw, writing in 1901, considered this side to be "the best ever to have left England".
England then took the first ever Ashes white wash, as they defeated the Australians 3–0 at home in 1886. WG Grace scored an English record 170 at the Oval during this series. The next tour, in Australia in 1886/7, was poorly promoted and poorly attended, not helped by the fact that the victorious England team was considered to play unattractive cricket.
Chaos descended on English cricket in the Australian summer of 1887/8, as Lillywhite, Shaw and Shrewsbury organised their customary tour, at the invitation of the Melbourne Cricket Club, while a rival tour, that of the future Lord Hawke, was invited by their Sydney counterparts. Eventually, neither of these sides matches against Australia were to be considered test matches. They did, however, unite for one match in Sydney, which England, captained by Walter Read, won.
Many considered the next team to leave Australia, that of 1888, was considered by many to be worst ever to do so. However, they won all four of their warm up matches and the first test of the series. This was the first time they had won in England since the match that started the Ashes legend six years earlier. However, England won the next two and the series.
The first ever test series not to involve Australia occurred in 1888/9, as an understrength England side toured South Africa. The South Africans, however, lost both the tests in Port Elizabeth.


The Australian tour of England in 1890 was known as the battle of the greats. The rivalry between English captain WG Grace and his opposite number Billy Murdoch was hotly anticipated. England continued their winning streak however, winning the first two tests. The third test, held at Old Trafford, became the first test to abandoned entirely because of rain, so England secured the series undefeated.
Lord Sheffield led England to Australia in 1891–92, and what was considered to be a very strong England team succumbed to their first series defeat for some years.

Test cricket playing teams

There are currently ten Test-playing teams, the majority of which are individual nations (except for England and the West Indies).
Test status is conferred upon a country or group of countries by the International Cricket Council. Teams 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 teams to play under conditions similar to Tests. The teams are listed below with the date of each team's Test debut:
Order Test team Date of first Test Match Notes
1 England England 15 March 1877 At the time represented all of Britain, but now officially represents England and Wales.
2 Australia Australia 15 March 1877
3 South Africa South Africa 12 March 1889 Did not participate in international cricket between 10 March 1970 and 10 November 1991 after the International Cricket Conference suspended South Africa in response to the then South African Government's policy of apartheid.
4 West Indies Cricket Board West Indies 23 June 1928 Consists of players from a number of Caribbean nations and dependencies.
5 New Zealand New Zealand 10 January 1930
6 India India 25 June 1932 Before partition of India in 1947, included territory that now forms Pakistan and Bangladesh.
7 Pakistan Pakistan 16 October 1952 Before Bangladeshi independence in 1971, included territory that is now Bangladesh.
8 Sri Lanka Sri Lanka 17 February 1982
9 Zimbabwe Zimbabwe 18 October 1992 Suspended from involvement in Test cricket between 10 June 2004 and 6 January 2005, and from 18 January 2006 until 3 August 2011
10 Bangladesh Bangladesh 10 November 2000
In 2003, the ICC announced its intention to confer Test status upon Kenya in the near future. Kenyan cricket has been through difficulties since then. Ireland has stated its intention to apply for Full Membership of the ICC with the aim of achieving Test status. Afghanistan has also stated its intentions to play Test cricket in the future, although the current security situation and lack of proper facilities, as well as a fledgling domestic structure make this aim hard to achieve.

Conduct of the game


Test cricket is played between two teams of 11 players over a period of up to a maximum five days (though finishing earlier if a result is reached before the maximum time). On each day there are usually three two-hour sessions, with a forty minute break for "lunch" and a twenty minute break for "tea". For example, in England, common times of play are as follows:
  • First session: 11am – 1 pm
  • Second session: 1:40 pm – 3:40 pm
  • Third session: 4 pm – 6 pm
In addition, short breaks (5 minutes) may be taken during each session for "drinks", commonly after an hour of play. A 10 minute interval is also taken between changes of innings.
The times of sessions and intervals may be altered in certain circumstances, for example:
  • If bad weather or a change of innings occurs close to a scheduled break, the break may be taken immediately;
  • If there has been a loss of playing time, for example due to unworthy bad weather, the session times may be adjusted to make up for the lost time;
  • If the batting side is nine wickets down, the tea break is delayed the earlier of 30 minutes or until the team is all out;
  • The final session may be extended by up to 30 minutes if 90 or more overs have not been bowled in that day's play (subject to any reduction for adverse weather);
  • The final session may also be extended by 30 minutes (except on the 5th day) if the umpires believe the match can be decided within that time (this is in addition to any time added to complete the prescribed number of overs). In these circumstances the extra time played is taken off the end of the scheduled final day's play.
In the early days of the game, Test matches were played over three or four days. Up until the 1980s, it was usual to include a 'rest day', often on the Sunday. There have also been 'Timeless Tests', which did not end after a predetermined maximum time. In 2005 Australia played a six-day match against a World XI, which the ICC sanctioned as an official Test match even though the match reached a conclusion on the fourth day. There have been attempts by the ICC, the sports governing body, to introduce day-night Test Matches.

Order of play

Test cricket is played in "innings" (the word denotes both the singular and the plural). In each innings, one team bats and the other bowls (or fields). Ordinarily four innings are played in a Test match, such that each team bats twice and bowls twice.
To decide which team bats first, prior to the start of play on the first day, the two team captains and the match referee meet at the center of the wicket for a coin toss. The home captain will toss the coin, with the visiting captain calling either "Heads" or "Tails" while the coin is in the air. The captain who wins the toss has the privilege of deciding whether his team will bat or bowl first.
In the following scenarios, the team that bats first is referred to as "Team A", and their opponents as "Team B".
Usually the teams will alternate at the completion of each innings. Thus, Team A will bat (and Team B will bowl) until its innings comes to a close, at which point Team B will commence its first batting innings and Team A will bowl. At the completion of Team B’s innings, the same sequence repeats for each team’s second innings. A team’s score for the match is the combined total of runs scored in each of its innings.

End of an innings

A team's innings may be completed in one of the following ways:
  • The team is "all out", not having at least two batsmen to defend the wickets. This usually occurs when a team lose ten wickets (ten of the eleven batsmen have been dismissed) and are "bowled out". However, it may occur with the loss of fewer wickets if one or more batsmen are unavailable to bat (for example, because of their injury during the match).
  • The team's captain elects to cease batting (a declaration). This includes forfeiture of an innings where the team does not play a single ball.
  • The team batting 4th, score the required number of runs to win. (See End of Game discussion below).
  • The prescribed time for the match expires. (See End of Game discussion below).
Law 12.1(b) also makes provision for teams to agree, before the match, to limit the length of an innings to a prescribed number of overs or length of time; however, this Law does not apply to Test cricket.
Clearly, a team will also cease batting if the game ends (i.e.: if a result is achieved, or the maximum time limit is reached).

The follow-on

If, at the completion of its first innings, Team B’s first innings total falls short of Team A’s first innings total by at least 200 runs, the captain of Team A may (but is not required to) order Team B to follow on. If he does so, Team B must commence its second batting innings immediately, that is, before Team A commences its second innings. Thus, the usual order of the third and fourth innings is reversed: Team B will bat in the third innings, and Team A will bat in the fourth.
It is extremely rare for a team forced to follow on to win the match. Out of over 285 follow-ons enforced in the history of Test cricket, the following-on team has come back to win the match only three times, and Australia was the losing team on each occasion: twice to England, in 1894 and in 1981, and once to India in 2001.

The new ball

After 80 overs, the captain of the bowling side has the option to take a new ball. A new ball, which is harder and smoother than an old ball, generally favors fast bowlers who can make it bounce at a greater range of (unpredictable) heights and speeds. The roughened, softer surface of an old ball is more conducive to spin bowlers or those using reverse swing. The captain may delay the decision to take the new ball if he wishes to continue with his spinners (because the pitch favors spin), but most regard the new ball as an opportunity to introduce new life into the bowling and more chances of taking wickets. Should an innings last a further 80 overs after a new ball has been taken, the captain will again have the option to take another new ball.

End of the game

A Test match may end in one of seven scenarios:
  • All four innings have concluded. The team batting fourth are all out and failed to overtake the other team, so the team that batted third are the winners. The winning margin is the difference in the aggregate run totals of the two teams (for example, "Team A wins by 95 runs").
  • All four innings have concluded with the scores tied. To be tied, the aggregate run total of each team must be equal. However, such an occurrence is rare; in over 2,000 Test matches played, only two have been tied.
  • The team batting in the fourth innings overtakes the opposing team's run total. The match ends immediately and the batting team is the winner. The winning margin is the number of wickets remaining in the innings (for example, "Team B wins by five wickets").
  • The third innings concludes with the team that batted twice still trailing the team that batted once. The match ends without playing a fourth innings and the team that batted once is the winner. The winning margin is "an innings" plus the difference in aggregate run totals of the teams (for example, "Team B wins by an innings and 96 runs").
  • The match is awarded due to forfeiture. If a team refuses to take the field of play, the umpires may award the match to the opposing team. Such an occurrence has only happened once in Test cricket, in the 2006 Fourth Test between England and Pakistan, when Pakistan refused to take the field after tea on day four. The umpires awarded the match to England, in accordance with Law 21.3, a decision ultimately (in 2009) upheld by the ICC.
  • Time for the match expires without a result being reached. This usually occurs at the end of the fifth day. The match is a draw and neither team wins, regardless of the relative positions of the teams at the time. A common contributory factor to drawn results is the loss of playing time to adverse weather conditions.
  • The match is abandoned because the ground is declared unfit for play. This has occurred three times, resulting each time in a draw being declared:
    • England v Australia at Headingley, Leeds, 1975. Abandoned after four days because of vandalism; campaigners for the release of armed robber George Davis broke into the ground, dug three large holes in the pitch and poured oil on it overnight, rendering it unplayable.
    • West Indies v England at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica, 1998. Abandoned after 56 minutes because of the dangerously variable bounce from the newly re-laid pitch.
    • West Indies v England at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua, 2009. Abandoned after just ten balls as fast bowlers did not have traction on the sandy surface and could not run up safely.


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 most famous of these being the Ashes contested between England and Australia). 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 organized between the two national cricket organizations 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.
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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