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Test Cricket Explained: History, rules and format

The oldest form of the game, Test cricket dates back to the 19th century, when England first toured Australia.

While newer, white-ball formats (50-over and T20) are perhaps easier to follow and more digestable due to their shortened length, Test cricket is the most compete form of the game.

Below, we look into the rules, format and history of Test cricket.

Test cricket history

While the earliest records of cricket date back to the 16th century, Test cricket refers specifically to international first-class matches, the first of which took place when England toured North America in 1859 (though this wasn't retrospectively known as a Test match - the first match to retrospectively be re-classified as a Test match took place between an Australian XI and an English XI in March 1877).

The term 'Test cricket' wasn't coined until 1892, by which point South Africa had already begun playing what would later be known as Test matches, joining England and Australia as Test-playing nations.

The West Indies played their first Test match in June 1928, with New Zealand following in January 1930. India were next in 1932, with Pakistan following in October 1952.

Sri Lanka became the eighth nation to play Test Cricket in February 1982 with Zimbabwe being added in October 1992. Bangladesh were next in November 2000, with Ireland and Afghanistan the most recent additions in May 2018 and June 2018 respectively.

How long is a Test match?

Test matches are scheduled for five days. Each day's play lasts six hours with lunch and tea breaks splitting the day into three sessions. Typically, a minimum of 90 overs are scheduled to be bowled, and penalties can be applied to teams who aren't getting through enough overs in an innings.

Test matches are often shorter than five days, however. Each team has two innings, and if both teams are bowled out twice in less than the five days, the match will be completed early.

Test cricket rules

The rules of cricket are largely the same across all three format, with some slight variations in Test cricket.

A Test cricket match is played over a maximum of four innings (two innings per side). Before the match, the order in which each team bats and bowls is decided by a coin toss. The captain who wins the toss will decide whether to bat or bowl first, which often presents an advantage, as they may look to bat on a more favourable pitch and bowl in more favourable weather.

The team batting first will try and score as many runs as possible while the team bowling will try and bowl out the opposing team. Once the bowling team takes 10 wickets, they're sent in to bat while their opponents bowl. On occasion, a batting team scores so many runs that they opt to 'declare', meaning they stop batting before losing all 10 wickets and put their opponents in. This is typically done when they feel enough runs have been scored so that they can't lose the match, and that they would otherwise run out of time to try and win the match.

There is also a scenario in which teams can enforce the 'follow-on', if the team batting second fails to get within 200 runs of their opponents' first-innings total. For example:

Team A scored 500 runs in their first innings
Team B scored 250 runs in their first innings

The captain of Team A may opt to make Team B bat again. If Team B fails to get to 500 runs across both innings, they will lose by an innings and however many runs behind they were at the time.

There are occasions when a team opts not to enforce the follow-on. For example, if conditions look more favourable to batting, a captain may choose to bat again. Similarly, if a captain feels their bowlers need a rest, they may choose not to enforce the follow-on.

While the short formats of the game have their own restrictions around fielding, Test cricket's are quite simple. In the quadrant between long stop (on the boundary directly behind the wicket keeper) and square leg (square to the leg side of the batter), no more than two fielders can be deployed.

Test match scoring

In order to score a run in cricket, the batter must hit the ball and run to the other wicket, with the non-striker doing the same in the opposite direction. Players can score two runs by running twice, three runs by running three times and so on.

A batter can score four runs by hitting the ball to the boundary. If the batter can clear the boundary without the ball bouncing, they'll score six runs.

Runs can also be added to a team's total via 'extras'. These include:

Wides - If a ball is too wide or too high that the umpire deems it can't be played by a normal shot, a run is added to the batting team's total, and the bowler must bowl the delivery again.
No-balls - Typically awarded when the bowler oversteps the crease when bowling. One run is added, and the bowler must bowl the delivery again (in short forms of the game, a free-hit typically follows a no-ball, where a batter can't be bowled, caught out or trapped LBW.
Byes - Byes are awarded when a batter scores runs without hitting the ball (or the ball hitting them).
Leg-byes - Similar to byes, leg-byes are awarded when a team scores runs after the ball has hit them but not their bat.

Countries with Test cricket status

Currently 12 teams have Test status. These are Australia, England, South Africa, West Indies, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Ireland and Afghanistan.

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