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Test cricket is the longest form of the sport of cricket. It is generally considered the ultimate test of playing ability in the sport.

The name "Test" may have arisen from the idea that the matches are a "test of strength and competency" between the sides involved. It seems to have been used first to describe an English team that toured Australia in 1861–62, although those matches are not considered Test matches today. The first officially recognised test match commenced on 15 March 1877, contested by England and Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Groundmarker, where Australia won by 45 runs. England won the second ever match (also at the MCG) by four wickets, thus drawing the series 1–1. This was not the first ever international cricket match however, which was played between Canada and the United States, on 24 and 25 of September 1844.

Test status

Test matches are a subset of first-class cricket. Test matches are played between national representative teams which have "Test status", as determined by the International Cricket Council (ICC). , ten national teams have been given Test status, the most recent being Bangladesh in 2000.

A list of matches defined as Tests was first drawn up by Australian Clarence Moody in the 1890s. Representative matches played by simultaneous England touring sides of 1891–92 (in Australia and South Africa) and 1929-30 (in the West Indiesmarker and New Zealand) are deemed to have Test status.

In 1970, a series of five "Test matches" were played in England between England and a Rest of the World XI. Although initially given unofficial Test status (and included as Test matches in some record books, notably Wisden), this was later withdrawn and a principle was established which states that official Test matches can only be between nations. The series of "Test matches" played in Australia between Australia and a World XI in 1971/72 do not have Test status. The commercial "Supertest" organised by Kerry Packer as part of his World Series Cricket enterprise and played between "WSC Australia", "WSC World XI" and "WSC West Indies" from 1977 to 1979 have never been regarded as having official Test match status.

In 2005 the ICC ruled that the six-day Super Series match that took place in October 2005 between Australia and a World XI was an official Test match. This ICC decision was taken despite precedent (e.g. the ICC's earlier ruling on the 1970 England v Rest of the World series) that only matches between nations should be given Test match status. Many cricket writers and statisticians, particularly Bill Frindall, have decided to ignore the ICC's ruling and have excluded the 2005 match from their records.


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Test cricket playing teams

There are currently ten Test-playing teams, the majority of which are individual nations (except for Englandmarker and The West Indiesmarker).

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 15 March 1877 Consists of players from England and Wales.
1= Australia 15 March 1877
3 South Africa 12 March 1889
4 West Indies 23 June 1928 Consists of players from a number of Caribbean nations and dependencies.
5 New Zealand 10 January 1930
6 India 25 June 1932 Before partition of India in 1947, included territory that now forms Pakistanmarker and Bangladeshmarker.
7 Pakistan 16 October 1952 Before Bangladeshi independence in 1971, included territory that is now Bangladesh.
8 Sri Lanka 17 February 1982
9 Zimbabwe 18 October 1992 Suspended from involvement in test cricket between 10 June 2004 and 6 January 2005, and indefinitely since 18 January 2006.
10 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 achieving Test status.

Conduct of the game

Playing time

See also: Playing time

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 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 if the umpires believe 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 the early days of the game, Test matches were played over three or four days. 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, though the match reached a conclusion on the fourth day.

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.

In order 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 centre of the wicket for a coin toss. The home captain will toss the coin, with the visiting captain calling either "Heads" or "Tails" whilst 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 which bats first shall be 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 two ways:
  • The team loses all of its wickets (at which time the team is referred to as being "all out"). Since two batsmen bat simultaneously, this usually occurs when ten batsmen have been dismissed. However, it may occur with the loss of fewer wickets if one or more batsmen are unavailable to bat (for example, because they have been injured in the match).
  • The team's captain elects to cease batting (a declaration).

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 which has been forced to follow on to win the match. This has occurred only three times in the history of Test cricket, and on each occasion Australia has been the losing side: to England (325 and 437) in 1894, to England (174 and 356) at Headingley Stadiummarker in 1981 and to India (171 and 657/7 dec) 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 than an old ball, generally favours fast bowlers who can make it bounce at a greater range of (unpredictable) heights and speeds. Spin bowlers or those using reverse swing prefer an old ball. The captain may delay the decision to take the new ball if he wishes to continue with his spinners (because the pitch favours spin), though in general the new ball is looked forward to as an opportunity to introduce new life into the bowling with more chance of taking wickets.

End of the game

A Test match may end in one of five scenarios:

  • If all four innings have been completed. In this case, the winner is the team with the highest aggregate run total, and the winning margin is the difference between the two teams’ run totals (for example, "Team A wins by 140 runs"). It is possible that a Test match which ends in this fashion may be tied (i.e., if the aggregate run total of each team is equal). However, such an occurrence is rare; in over 1,700 Test matches played only two have been tied.

  • If, during the fourth innings, the aggregate run total of the team batting surpasses that of its opposition (which has already batted twice). In this case the batting team is the winner, and the winning margin is the number of wickets remaining in the final innings (for example, "Team B wins by five wickets").

  • If, after completion of the third innings, the aggregate run total of the team which has batted twice (Team A, or Team B if the follow-on has been enforced) is less than the first innings total of the other team. In this case the team which has batted once is the winner, and the winning margin is "an innings" plus the difference in aggregate run totals of the teams (for example, "Team A wins by an innings and 96 runs").

  • If a team refuses to take the field of play, in which case 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 which was ultimately (in 2009) upheld by the ICC.

  • If none of the above results have been achieved, but the maximum allotted time for the match has been reached (usually, the end of the fifth day). In this scenario, the match is a draw and neither team wins, regardless of the relative positions of the teams at the time.


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. 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).

See also


  1. Lifeless pitches should not be accepted, The Telegraph, Retrieved on 1 August 2009
  2. Knight's return to proving ground, Independent, Retrieved on 1 August 2009
  3. Adam Gilchrist's Cowdrey Lecture, 2009, Cricinfo, Retrieved on 1 August 2009
  4. Ashes report
  6. The Laws of Cricket - Law 15.8
  7. ICC Standard Test Match Playing Conditions ("Playing Conditions") cl 16.1.1
  8. Playing Conditions cl 16.2
  9. The Laws of Cricket - Law 12
  10. Playing Conditions cl 12.2
  11. The Laws of Cricket - Law 13
  13. The Laws of Cricket - Law 5; Playing Conditions cl 5.4
  14. The Laws of Cricket - Law 21.3


  • Ground Rules - A Celebration of Test Cricket, Barney Spender & David Gower, Dakini Books Ltd (Nov 2003), ISBN 0953703266
  • The Wisden Book of Test Cricket, Sir Donald Bradman (Foreword), Bill Frindall (Editor), Headline Book Publishing (1995), ISBN 0747211183
  • Marylebone Cricket Club (2003), The Laws of Cricket. Retrieved on 2009-03-30.
  • International Cricket Council (2008), Standard Test Match Playing Conditions. Retrieved on 2009-09-11.

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