Give Tests a chance: A letter to my generation

The fan who watches every ball of a Test is left with a weary emptiness, a sense that the preceding days contained all of life within them. Imagine how the players feel! Tom Jenkins/Getty Images

I was born in 1990, and am thus squarely a millennial- or, in cricketing terms, a member of the T20 generation. T20, which was invented in 2003, has been around for a majority of my cricket-watching life. We are often told that Test cricket is an anachronistic format, out of touch with modern lifestyles, and especially with the habits and preferences of us millennials. T20, by contrast, represents the game's future. My hope, as a lover of Tests, is to persuade you that this conventional wisdom is misguided- that there is no reason why those of us in our twenties or younger cannot enjoy Tests even more than T20.

I should admit at the outset that I did not choose to be a Test fan. I was raised as one. In this, as in much else, Test cricket resembles classical music: to those who aren't brought up on it, it can seem intimidating, or dull, or outdated. But- as with classical music- the problem lies less with the nature of the format itself, but in how it is presented and described. The same is true of millennial culture: our generation are persistently reduced to labels and stereotypes that range from overly simplistic to wholly false.

The idea that ours is a generation fit only for T20 comes from the notion that millennials are chronically attention-deprived, and impatient of anything longer than a six-second Vine. How can five-day Tests work in the age of Snapchat? But ours is a generation strangely attracted to the epic as well as the ephemeral. The success of the Harry Potter and Neapolitan novels is testament to the mass, global appeal of immersive, drawn-out sagas.

Nowhere is the rise of the epic more evident than in television: we have gone from watching episodes once a week to binge-viewing entire seasons, of episodes sometimes twice the traditional length, over a weekend. Hollywood blockbusters are longer on average than they were in the 1980s and 1990s, and increasingly form multi-film franchises. In literature, TV and film, the dominant trend is towards the epic: to deep, sustained engagement with a set of characters over dozens of hours.

No sport other than cricket has flirted with contraction: and those that aren't played to a fixed clock, like baseball and tennis, grow longer every year. Men's tennis, in particular, saw a revival of interest thanks to the Federer-Nadal rivalry, five-hour five-setters that were a test of the viewers' endurance as well as the players.

Clearly, it is not that millennials can't watch Tests because they are too long. What of the other common claim, that Tests are boring? Here, too, Tests suffer from an image problem, rather than a structural flaw. T20 is branded as accessible entertainment, while Tests are defended in terms of virtue rather than pleasure. But Tests are neither slow nor dull: their pace is lifelike, periods of great intensity accompanied by longer periods of more gradual development. It is a pace common to long novels and novel-like TV dramas. T20, a highly structured format with a narrow range of outcomes, cannot hope to compete with the freedom and variety of Tests. It is no accident that the greatest entertainers of this century- the likes of Warne, Sehwag, Gilchrist, and Pietersen- were most effective and compelling as Test cricketers.

One millennial stereotype with considerable truth to it is that we are attracted, above all, to new and memorable experiences. Paradoxically, the oldest form of the game is, to many fans my age, the most unfamiliar. If you are someone whose cricket diet consists primarily of the IPL and other T20, you may well feel, on watching your first few Tests, that you are encountering not a different format but a different sport. A sport that offers much- in the form of pleasure- that the shorter formats cannot.

You are likely to notice, first, the greater seriousness and commitment that the players bring to the Test arena. And, in time, you will find that Tests' varied and lifelike pace make not only for greater enjoyment in the moment, but also the indelible memories that form the psyche of the sports fan; the memories that T20, in particular, struggles to create.

To choose between Tests and T20 is to ask ourselves what we want from sport, and from entertainment. At an IPL match, the action on the field is made to compete with many other forms of show- bat and ball is only one act in the vaudeville. It is an approach that speaks to a lack of confidence in the ability of cricket itself to entertain. Sometimes- as with the demand that players speak to the commentators while batting, bowling or fielding- the entertainment openly undermines the sport.

At a Test match, by contrast, even in the fan-friendly stadia of England and Australia, there are no sideshows, no mid-over diversions. There is only cricket. And it is perhaps only by watching Tests that one can truly answer the question: why watch cricket at all, over all the other sports out there? Every sport has a set of qualities that go beyond its rules or equipment that make it unique. Take cricket's two most popular global peers. Football is marked by its sheer simplicity, by its democratic spirit, and by its production of indelible moments, most of them short enough for a Vine. Basketball is a choreographed show of improbable athleticism, a ballet performed by decathletes.

To ask what makes cricket different from other sports is to ask, what makes cricket cricket? More than anything it is its pace. In its slow movements Test cricket offers the illusions of stillness and eternity: at other times it is far more anxiety-provoking than the shorter formats, with their rigid structures and guarantees of impending release. At the end of a good Test match- never mind a great one- the fan who watched every ball is left with a weary emptiness, a sense that the preceding days contained all of life within them. Imagine how the players feel! The famous photograph of Brett Lee and Andrew Flintoff at Edgbaston in 2005 gives some sense of it. On this count, no other sport can compare.

Culture doesn't only move forward. The same generation that abandoned newspapers and DVDs has led the renaissance of vinyl, a format deemed anachronistic three decades ago. Physical books, too, have survived many obituaries. To an extent, Tests is like sarod music, or lyric poetry, or the tiger- worth conserving because they are beautiful, and because life would be less worth living without them. But conserving Tests is best done by not restricting their pleasures to a few. Far from being out of tune with my generation, Test cricket, at its best, may be ideally suited to it. The cricketing world is divided between those that love Tests, and those that could if they were given the chance.

Keshava Guha, 25, is a Bengaluru-based writer of fiction and of literary and political journalism. He has been a fan of Test cricket for two decades, and his optimism about its future is grounded in the fact that, as a long-suffering supporter of Arsenal FC, he knows a lost cause when he sees one.