A Test match between South Africa and England in January 2005. The two men wearing black trousers are the umpires. Test cricket is played in traditional white clothes and usually with a red ball – a pink ball in day/night Tests.

Test cricket is the longest form of the sport of cricket and is considered its highest standard.[1][2] Test matches are played between national representative teams with "Test status", as determined and conferred by the International Cricket Council (ICC). The two teams of 11 players each play a four-innings match, which may last up to five days (or longer in some historical cases). It is generally considered the most complete examination of teams' playing ability and endurance.[3][4][5] The name Test stems from the long, gruelling match being both mentally and physically testing.[6]

The first officially recognised Test match took place on 15–19 March 1877 and was played between England and Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), where Australia won by 45 runs.[7] A Test match to celebrate 100 years of Test cricket was held in Melbourne on 12–17 March 1977, in which Australia beat England by 45 runs—the same margin as that first Test.[8]

In October 2012, the ICC recast the playing conditions for Test matches, permitting day/night Test matches.[9] The first day/night game took place between Australia and New Zealand at the Adelaide Oval, Adelaide, on 27 November–1 December 2015.[10]

The equivalent for women is Women's Test cricket, which is played over four days with slight differences in format from men's Tests.


Test status

Test matches are the highest level of cricket, although, statistically, their data form part of first-class cricket. Matches are played between national representative teams with "Test status", as determined by the International Cricket Council. As of June 2017, twelve national teams have Test status, the most recently promoted being Afghanistan and Ireland on 22 June 2017.[11] Zimbabwe's Test status was voluntarily suspended, because of poor performances between 2006 and 2011; it returned to competition in August 2011.[12]

In January 2014, during an ICC meeting in Dubai, the pathway for new potential Test nations was laid out with the winners of the next round of the ICC Intercontinental Cup playing a 5-day match against the bottom ranked Test nation. If the Associate team defeats the Test nation, then they could be added as the new Test country and granted full membership.[13]

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

In 1970, a series of five "Test matches" was played in England between England and a Rest of the World XI. These matches, originally scheduled between England and South Africa, were amended after South Africa was suspended from international cricket because of their government's policy of apartheid. Although initially given Test status (and included as Test matches in some record books, including Wisden Cricketers' Almanack), this was later withdrawn and a principle was established that official Test matches can only be between nations (although the geographically and demographically small countries of the West Indies have since 1928 been permitted to field a coalition side). Despite this, 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. Some cricket writers and statisticians, including Bill Frindall, ignored the ICC's ruling and excluded the 2005 match from their records. The series of "Test matches" played in Australia between Australia and a World XI in 1971/72 do not have Test status. The commercial "Supertests" 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 official Test matches.

Teams with Test status

There are currently twelve Test-playing men's teams. The teams all represent individual, independent nations, except for England, the West Indies, and Ireland. Test status is conferred upon a country or group of countries by the International Cricket Council. Teams that do not have Test status can play in the ICC Intercontinental Cup, 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:

  1.  England (15 March 1877)
  2.  Australia (15 March 1877)
  3.  South Africa (12 March 1889)
  4.  West Indies (23 June 1928)
  5.  New Zealand (10 January 1930)
  6.  India (25 June 1932)
  7.  Pakistan (16 October 1952)
  8.  Sri Lanka (17 February 1982)
  9.  Zimbabwe (18 October 1992)
  10.  Bangladesh (10 November 2000)
  11.  Ireland (11 May 2018)
  12.  Afghanistan (14 June 2018)

In the mid 2010s, the ICC evaluated proposals for dividing Test cricket into two tiers, with promotion and relegation between Tier-1 and Tier-2. These proposals were supported by some national cricket govening bodies,[14][15] but opposed by others.[16][17] These proposals were ulimately not implemented.[18][19][20]

Conduct of the game

Playing time

A standard day of Test cricket consists of three sessions of two hours each, the breaks between sessions being 40 minutes for lunch and 20 minutes for tea. However the times of sessions and intervals may be altered in certain circumstances: 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 because of bad weather, the session times may be adjusted to make up the lost time; if the batting side is nine wickets down at the scheduled tea break, then the interval may be delayed until either 30 minutes has elapsed or the team is all out;[21] 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);[22] the final session may be extended by 30 minutes (except on the 5th day) if the umpires believe the result can be decided within that time.[23]

Today, Test matches are scheduled to be played across five consecutive days. However, in the early days of Test cricket, matches were played for three or four days. Four-day Test matches were last played in 1973, between New Zealand and Pakistan.[24] Until the 1980s, it was usual to include a 'rest day,' often a Sunday. There have also been 'Timeless Tests', which did not end after a predetermined maximum time. In 2005, Australia played a match scheduled for six days against a World XI, which the ICC sanctioned as an official Test match, though the match reached a conclusion on the fourth day. In October 2017, the ICC approved a request for a four-day Test match, between South Africa and Zimbabwe, which started on 26 December 2017 and ended on the second day, 27 December.[25] The ICC will trial the four-day Test format until the 2019 Cricket World Cup.[26]

There have been attempts by the ICC, the sport's governing body, to introduce day-night Test matches.[27] In 2012, The International Cricket Council passed playing conditions that allowed for the staging of day-night Test matches.[9] The first day-night Test took place during New Zealand's tour to Australia in November 2015.[10]

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, and each team bats twice and bowls twice. Before the start of play on the first day, the two team captains and the match referee toss a coin; the captain who wins the toss decides 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 ends, and then Team B will bat and Team A will bowl. When Team B's innings ends, Team A begin their second innings, and this is followed by Team B's second innings. The winning team is the one that scores more runs in their two innings.

A team's innings ends in one of the following ways:[28]

  • The team is "all out". This typically occurs when a team has lost ten wickets (ten of the eleven batsmen having been dismissed) and are "bowled out". It may occasionally occur with the loss of fewer wickets if one or more batsmen are unavailable to bat (through injury, for example).
  • The team's captain declares the innings closed, usually because they believe they have enough runs. A declaration before the innings starts is called an innings forfeiture.
  • The team batting fourth score the required number of runs to win.
  • The prescribed time for the match expires.

If, at the completion of its first innings, Team B's first innings total is 200 or more fewer than Team A's, the captain of Team A may (but is not required to) order Team B to have their second innings next. This is called enforcing the follow on.[29] In this case, the usual order of the third and fourth innings is reversed: Team A will bat in the fourth innings. It is rare for a team forced to follow on to win the match. In Test cricket it has only happened three times, although over 285 follow-ons have been enforced: Australia was the losing team on each occasion, twice to England, in 1894 and in 1981, and once to India in 2001.[30]

If the whole of the first day's play of a Test match has been lost because of bad weather or other reasons like bad light, then Team A may enforce the follow on if Team B's first innings total is 150 or more fewer than Team A's. During the 2nd Test between England and New Zealand at Headingley in 2013, England batted first after the first day was lost because of rain.[31] New Zealand, batting second, scored 180 runs fewer than England, meaning England could have enforced the follow on, though chose not to. This is similar to four-day first-class cricket, where the follow on can be enforced if the difference is 150 runs or fewer. If the Test is 2 days or fewer then the "follow-on" value is 100 runs.

After 80 overs, the captain of the bowling side may take a new ball, although this is not required.[32]The captain will usually take the new ball: being harder and smoother than an old ball, a new ball generally favours faster bowlers who can make it bounce more variably. The roughened, softer surface of an old ball can be 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 favours spin). After a new ball has been taken, should an innings last a further 80 overs, then the captain will have the option to take another new ball.

A Test match may end in one of six results: