Michael Vaughan questioning Jofra Archer’s appetite for Test cricket is reflective of how many from the former England captain’s generation lack insight into the mentality of game’s younger generations.
In late February Vaughan suggested, in his column for the Telegraph, that Archer might not be as committed to Test cricket as he is to the shorter formats.
‘There are whispers he does not love Test cricket,’ Vaughan wrote. ‘As a captain you have to establish the facts and find out if that is true and why. Sometimes one of the criticisms you have is you watch him and want him to bowl a bit quicker and look more interested.’
Vaughan’s column read like he had been briefed by someone within the England camp. More worryingly, it read like someone’s flawed perception of Archer had been relayed to Vaughan, who then set that perception as his foundation for his column.
Archer challenged that perception in his Daily Mail column this week, arguing: ‘Let me be clear about something: I’ve never changed my attitude towards playing for England. I’ve always wanted to play all three formats. That hasn’t changed, and never will as far as I’m concerned.
‘I always dreamed of playing Test cricket and don’t feel I’ve had a bad game so far — yet unless I am taking four or five wickets in an innings, I am placed under scrutiny and some people start trying to decipher what’s going on.
‘Comments like “He’s not committed” or “He’s not good enough” appear as soon as you are not 110 per cent. I find it quite annoying how people read into stuff and form their own opinions.’
One has no reason to question the authenticity of Archer’s rebuttal to Vaughan. If he says he wants to play in – more pertinently, excel in – all three formats of the game, you have to accept that as truth until there is evidence to contradict that claim.
Yet, even if Vaughan’s suggestion were true, I’d venture an educated guess that many of cricket’s younger generation (Archer is just 25) don’t have the same emotional investment in Test cricket that those in preceding generations do. And that’s OK.
Anecdotally, my experience with cricketers Archer’s age and below is that T20 cricket is seen as the most exciting and appealing format. There is an appreciation for Test cricket as the game’s premier format, but nothing about the traditional conventions of the red-ball game trumps what the T20 game offers – less demands on their time and the ability to explore technical dimensions whether batting, bowling and fielding – that spit in the face of convention and redefine what is possible in those disciplines.
As a young cricketer I was schooled in much the same way I imagine Vaughan was. I also come from a generation that prides itself on resilience in a manner that younger generations haven’t had to. The combination of these means Test cricket – where these qualities are showcased most prominently – remains my favourite format.
That early conditioning shaped the lens I viewed the game through and, as a result, I had many of the same frustrations he does with many young cricketers’ apathy and irreverence for the game’s longest format.
I had to relinquish my desire for them to have the same emotional investment in Test cricket as me, in much the same way I had to relinquish my desire for them to acknowledge the Notorious B.I.G as the greatest-ever rapper, and appreciate that Pop Smoke, or one of the clutch of ‘Lils’ (can you tell I don’t listen to modern rap?) held that special place in their heart.
I’ve come to learn that it isn’t an absolute appraisal on Biggie’s standing in rap, merely a reflection of present-day taste, shaped and informed by present-day cultural forces.
In the same way the younger generation’s love, and preference, for T20 cricket isn’t declaration of its superiority over Test cricket.
If this vexes your soul, sporting life will only get more frustrating for you, because T20 cricket is only going to become more popular as younger generations start to flush out those in their 30s in a professional context. The game will soon be populated by players to whom a scoop over fine leg is as natural as a forward defensive shot.
If there is any degree of apathy or irreverence for Test cricket in Archer, I would understand why and support him. It is the format that many in his generation see as the most appealing, but it is also the one that will maximise their earning potential. The opportunities for these players to earn staggering salaries playing for just three-and-a-half hours at a time will only grow. I’d argue that any professional in any industry will be most invested where the possibility of maximising earning potential is.
It’s hard for me to acknowledge that Test cricket will increasingly become the least appealing format in the game. Hell, it may already be. Indeed, Test cricket, in a professional context, will become seen as the format you have to endure in order to get to what you love – T20.
And that’s absolutely fine.