With players announcing early retirements from white-ball cricket and taking a fancy to limited-overs cricket, Sachin Tendulkar has shared his concerns over the lack of fearsome pacers and absence of engrossing rivalries.
The Little Master is despondent with the fading interest of spectators and cricketers from the cricket's most sacred format. Gone are the days when fans would stay glued to their television sets to witness jaw-dropping contests between Wasim Akram and Sachin Tendulkar or Glenn McGrath and Sanath Jayasuriya.
Fans thronged stadiums in earnest desire to wait for the legends to engage in a tooth and nail battle and produce marvellous spectacles for the crowds. However, now there are fewer bugbears in pace attacks among full member teams for whom sellout crowds would pay gleefully to see them in action.
The godfather of cricket, who has tumbled several records with 51 centuries to his name (the most by any batsman) and in excess of 15000 runs in Test cricket, not to mention how he shredded attacks for fun, longs for more exhilarating encounters between bat and bowl in Test cricket.
"Rivalries which people invariably looked forward to are no longer there because there are very few world-class fast bowlers right now. That element I am sure is missing. The quality of fast bowling can surely be better without any doubt," Tendulkar told PTI.
Apart from the enthralling Ashes series between Australia and England and a few other bilateral series, there is not much to look forward to for the cricket aficionados.
"The standard of cricket has gone down which is not great news for Test cricket. The standard needs to go up and for that, I would again say that the root cause is the playing surfaces," Tendulkar said.
Tendulkar, who had a penchant for scoring big runs, gave bowlers a run for their money and he thinks rekindling interest in Test cricket will need lively pitches that offer enough assistance to pacers and spinners. Only then, we could strike a balance between bat and bowl.
"I think it has also got to do with the kind of pitches that are provided. If we provide fair pitches where fast bowlers as well as spinners get help, then balance between bat and ball will be restored.
"If the balance is missing then the contest becomes weak and it fails to grab eyeballs. Test cricket must have good wickets," said the legend.
The quintessential Test cricketer relished the Ashes battle this year which ended in a draw and Australia retained the precious urn but Ashes stands alone as the flagbearer of vitality and interest in the longer format.
The much anticipated mouthwatering clash between England and Australia warded off concerns surrounding Test cricket for a while but another epic contest is on hold amidst tensions between Pakistan and India and has deprived more than a billion people of a much sought after rivalry.
"I feel this year's Ashes had some of the best Test pitches in recent times. Magnificent I would say. The only time they moved to Old Trafford, you saw that Test wasn't as exciting as the ones at the Headingley, or the Lord's Test or for that matter even the one at the Oval. I thought those Test matches were exciting," he added.
Being a purist, Sachin doesn't equate T20 performances with Test and would always weigh ODI and Test heroics as more worthy of praise and reflective of a player's dexterity.
"I think if somebody has done well in the IPL, then he is fit to represent India in T20 Internationals. It is absolutely fair. But if somebody does well in the IPL and because of that performance he is picked for Tests and even ODIs, I think there would be a question mark.
He makes an exception to his criterion in the case of aberration, Jasprit Bumrah, who can crank up the pace from a few yards and trouble the batsmen, taking the format out of the equation.
"I don't support that unless there is an exceptional talent, who can be good across formats. Jasprit Bumrah is one example. Otherwise normal players, if they do well in IPL, that performance should only be considered for T20 formats."
Who can forget the cat and mouse affair between Shane Warne and Sachin back in 1998? The prolific batter of all times bludgeoned Warne in Chennai and plundered 155 runs.
"The series was built up as Tendulkar vs Warne battle. Somehow, I knew Warne would come round the wicket in that series. My homework started by getting Mumbai teammates – (leg-spinner) Sairaj Bahutule and (left-arm spinner) Nilesh Kulkarni at the nets," remarked Sachin.
Sachin has vivid memories of 1991 Test century at Perth and rates it as "the moment" in his illustrious career. He felt he came of age and the match was his watershed moment in his cricketing journey that earned him immense respect and admiration from all corners of the world.
"I have never liked comparisons but if you ask me, that century at Perth on that track made me realise that I was ready to play any attack on any surface. It was like I announced my arrival at the international stage," he said.
"Having said that, the Chennai hundred against Pakistan (1999), when I was battling back-pain or not hitting a cover drive during my double hundred in Sydney (2004) or those couple of spells against Dale Steyn in Cape Town in 2011, had their own beauty and challenges."
After representing India in 463 ODIs and 200 Tests, cricket cannot escape his synapses as he rubbed shoulders with cricketers from one crop of players to another before finally bowing out in 2013 from white-ball cricket.
"I am probably one player, who has played with five generations. One before me that had Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri, Krish Srikkanth, Dilip Vengsarkar and Mohammed Azharuddin. It was followed by my generation of players like Sourav (Ganguly) and Rahul (Dravid).
"Then came Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag and Ashish Nehra. After that was Suresh Raina's generation followed by Virat (Kohli), Rohit (Sharma) and Ajinkya (Rahane). I miss the laughter, the seriousness, the celebrations. Dressing room was like a temple."
It is high time cricket governing boards chalk out a plan to invest in Test cricket and build on initiatives such as the ICC Test Championship to reignite aspiring cricketers' interest in the most strenuous format.