Test matches are played between national representative teams which have Test status, as determined by the International Cricket Council (ICC) and, from 2005, between a Rest of World XI and the top team in the LG ICC cricket ratings. Test matches are a subset of first-class cricket, the form of cricket played over several days and officially sanctioned by the ICC. Only ten nations of the world have been given Test status.
Note: Most of the information here pertains to men's cricket. Test matches are also played in women's cricket. Unless explicitly mentioned, most Test matches or Test cricket referred to is in regards to men's cricket.
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Test cricket playing nations
There are currently ten Test-playing nations, listed below with the date of each nation's Test debut shown in brackets:
- Australia (15th March, 1877)
- England (15th March, 1877)
- South Africa (12th March, 1889) (Note: Banned from international cricket from 1970 to 1991 due to their policy of apartheid)
- West Indies (23rd June, 1928)
- New Zealand (10th January, 1930)
- India (25th June, 1932) (Note: pre-1947 India included Pakistan and Bangladesh. See History of India.)
- Pakistan (16th October,1952) (Note: pre-1971 Pakistan included Bangladesh. See History of Pakistan)
- Sri Lanka (17th February, 1982)
- Zimbabwe (18th October, 1992)
- Bangladesh (10th November, 2000)
From June 10, 2004, to 6 January, 2005 Zimbabwe's Test matches were temporarily suspended, although they retained their status as a Test-playing nation. See the Zimbabwean cricket team article for more details.
Conduct of the game
Test cricket is played between two teams over five days, with three two-hour sessions per day. (Sessions are usually interspersed with a 40-minute break for lunch and 20-minute break for afternoon tea.) Each team has eleven players.
Before play starts on the first day, a coin is tossed. The team winning the toss chooses whether to bat first or to bowl first. In the following, the team batting first is termed "team A" and its opponents "team B".
- Team A bats until either ten batsmen are dismissed (team A is "all out"), or its captain chooses to stop batting (called a "declaration"). This batting period is called an "innings". There is no limit to the length of an innings provided there remain at least two batsmen who have not been dismissed (when ten are dismissed, the eleventh cannot continue by himself) and the five days have not elapsed.
- After team A's first innings the teams swap roles, with team B batting its first innings, and team A bowling and fielding.
- If team B is dismissed with a score 200 runs or more behind team A, team A chooses whether to "invite" team B to bat again for its second innings (called "enforcing the follow-on"), or to bat itself to gain a bigger lead. (If the whole first day of play is abandoned without a single ball being bowled, whether because of rain or otherwise, the follow-on requirement is reduced to 150 runs.)
If the follow-on is enforced:
- Team B bats its second innings.
- If team B's total score from both innings is less than team A's first innings score, team A wins the match.
- If this is not the case, team A must bat its second innings to attempt to score more than team B's total. If it succeeds in the remaining time, team A wins. If it is dismissed before this occurs, team B wins (though this is very unusual – teams that enforce the follow-on very rarely lose).
- If time runs out before any of the above occurs, the match is called a draw.
If after each team's first innings the follow-on is not enforced or cannot be enforced:
- Team A bats its second innings. If time runs out before the innings is completed, the match is a draw.
- If team A's total score for its two innings is less than team B's score from its first innings, team B is the winner. Otherwise, team B must bat a second innings.
- If team B's total score over two innings is more than team A's, team B wins the match.
- If team B is dismissed before reaching team A's total, team A wins the match.
- If neither occurs before the scheduled end of the match, it is a draw.
Finally, if both teams are dismissed twice with the same combined totals, the game is a tie (as distinct from a draw, as described above). With the comparatively high scores in cricket, only two ties have occurred over the entire history of over 1,700 Test matches. Both matches are regarded as amongst the most exciting ever played.
The decision for the winner of the toss to bat or bowl first is based on the an assessment of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each team and the conditions of the wicket. Most of the time pitches tend to become hard to bat on as the game nears its conclusion, and players bat more poorly after the fatigue of four solid days of cricket, so teams usually prefer to bat first. However, sometimes the conditions at the very beginning of the match particularly suit fast bowling, so if either team has particularly strong set of pace bowlers, the winning team may choose to bowl first (either to take advantage of their own attack or to disallow the opposition the use of the "green" wicket).
The rationale for declaring an innings closed prematurely may be confusing for cricketing neophytes, but it is often a sound tactic. Remember that to win a game, the losing side must be given the opportunity to complete two innings – if they do not do so, no matter how many runs they may be behind, the game is a draw. Therefore, a team with a large lead will declare to give themselves time to bowl at the opposition and take all their wickets.
Test cricket's competition structure has evolved somewhat idiosyncratically due to the long match duration, cricket's status as one of the earliest professional spectator sports, and the wide geographical distribution of the teams.
Until recently, test series between international teams were organised between the two national cricket organisations. Umpires were provided by the home team, and, at most, perpetual trophies (of which the Ashes is most famous) were traded between teams when series were won or lost.
However, with the entry of more countries into Test cricket competition and the desire 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 five-year cycle, and an official ranking system (with a trophy held by the highest-ranked team) were introduced. It is hoped that the new ranking system will help maintain interest in Test cricket in nations where one-day cricket is more popular. However, the rankings' idiosyncratic and complicated rules lead to few fans being able to understand the system. This, in turn, has led to general disregard for the ratings among most fans.
In the new system, umpires are provided by the International Cricket Council. 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; the International Panel is only employed when the cricketing calendar is filled with activity, or for one-day internationals(ODIs).