How is Test Cricket Similar to War?

Test match cricket is akin to a game of chess played on an outdoor field, it is war fought in whites.

It pushes people to the limit and tests them for mental strength and character, not just their endurance level for a day. Like a slowly-unfurling plot of a well-paced thriller, a good Test sucks you in – chapter by chapter, session by session, until you’re puzzled with the lack of clarity of the current situation with the days play or the result of the test match after five days of action.

Sixth century Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote a famous book, “Art of War” – which resonates deeply with Test Cricket. This analogy of test cricket and war, along with the emotions it evokes are what make this form of the game unique and special.

Let’s look at some of the similarities between test Cricket and war, according to the aforementioned book.

Chapter 1: Laying Plans

Sun Tzu asks: “Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral law? Which of the two generals has most ability? With whom lie the advantages derived from Heaven and Earth? On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced? Which army is stronger? On which side are officers and men more highly trained? In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment? By means of these seven considerations I can forecast victory or defeat.”

As it is in war, so it is in Test cricket. Which team believes it is the morally superior? Which captain can plan and maneuver like a war general, thinking three steps ahead? Heaven and Earth might as well refer to weather conditions and the pitch.

Discipline? Team strength? Training? Check, check, check. There’s reward aplenty for the best in the game, and punishment by way of being dropped awaits those who cannot perform consistently.
Chapter 2: Waging War

Sun Tzu says, “If victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.”

And so it is in Test cricket. Wise captains look to win each session and maintain a psychological advantage. It’s the small victories that suck the lifeblood from the opposing team, drop by drop by drop, until they can go for the kill. The best captains think, ‘Why stretch to the fifth day what can be accomplished in three-and-a-half?’
Chapter 3: Attack by Strategem

Sun Tzu says, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Test cricket is all about knowing not just your own strengths and weaknesses, but also those of the opposition. What might have been accomplished once upon a time by watching slo-mo videos is now done through computer analysis. Teams would be foolish to go into a Test today without having analyzed every player and having a Plan A, B and C in place for them.
Chapter 4: Tactical Dispositions

Sun Tzu says, “The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy… Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive.”

This needs no explanation.
Chapter 5: Energy

Sun Tzu says, “The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy, and does not require too much from individuals. Hence his ability to pick out the right men and utilize combined energy.”

Team composition is key. Unlike with other forms of cricket where an individual performance often is a game-changer, Test cricket demands team effort. Bowlers work in tandem, batsmen put together big partnerships, players feed off each others’ efforts to generate energy and momentum that might prove unstoppable. Test Cricket is rarely won through individual brilliance.
Chapter 6: Weak Points and Strong

Sun Tzu says, “Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient…In war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.”

Teams need to know where their opponents are strong and where they are weak. Feeding their strengths or not attacking their weaknesses is a recipe for disaster.
Chapter 7: Maneuvering

Sun Tzu says, “A general, having collected an army… must blend and harmonize the different elements thereof before pitching his camp. After that, comes tactical maneuvering, than which there is nothing more difficult.”

Finding the right team balance, and then planning a strategy around that specific XI is critical to the chances of success.
Chapter 8: Variation in Tactics

Sun Tzu says, “The general who thoroughly understands the advantages that accompany variation of tactics knows how to handle his troops.”

Catching the opposition by surprise can put them on the back foot. Throwing the new ball to a spinner, unusual field placing, changes in batting order, early declaration – all these and more can cause the opposition to tear up their own carefully laid out plans and lose a step.
Chapter 9: The Army on the March

Sun Tzu says, “Soldiers must be treated in the first instance with humanity, but kept under control by means of iron discipline. If a general shows confidence in his men but always insists on his orders being obeyed, the gain will be mutual.”

The captain needs to demonstrate confidence in each of his players and their individual efforts need to be celebrated, but should make it clear that the team interests come first. A team victory is a victory for all.
Chapter 10: Terrain

Sun Tzu says, “If we know that the enemy is open to attack, and also know that our men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the nature of the ground makes fighting impracticable, we have gone only halfway towards victory.”

Sometimes, having a fired-up team and a cowering opposition may not be enough to combine for victory if the pitch and weather conditions are not conducive to a result.

Thanks for reading!


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