Test cricket is the longest form of the sport of cricket and is considered its highest standard. 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 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. The name 'Test' stems from the long, gruelling match being both mentally and physically testing.
There are currently twelve Test-playing men's teams, representing individual 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 Test-playing teams are: Australia, England, New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Ireland.
Competitions: Test cricket is almost always played as a series of matches between two countries, with all matches in the series taking place in the same country (the host). Often there is a perpetual trophy that is awarded to the winner, the most famous of which is The Ashes contested between England and Australia. There have been two exceptions to the bilateral nature of Test cricket: the 1912 Triangular Tournament, a three-way competition between England, Australia and South Africa (hosted by England), and the Asian Test Championship, an event held in 1998–99 and 2001–02.
A Test match may end in one of six results:
- All four innings are complete. The team batting fourth are all out before overtaking the other team, usually before matching the other team's score. The team that batted third are the winners by a margin equal to the difference in the aggregate runs scored by the two teams.
- The team batting in the fourth innings overtakes the opposing team's run total. The match ends, and the team batting fourth is the winner by a margin equal to the number of wickets still to fall in the innings.
- The third innings concludes with the team that batted twice still trailing the team that batted once. The match ends without playing a fourth innings. The team that batted only once is the winner by a margin equal to "an innings" plus the difference in aggregate run totals of the teams.
- Time for the match expires without a result being reached. This usually occurs at the end of the last day of the match. The result is a draw: there is no winner, no matter how superior the position of one of the sides. Rain causing a loss of playing time is a common factor in drawn matches, although matches may be drawn even without interference from the weather: usually as a result of poor time management or an intentional effort on the part of one team to avoid losing.
- The match is abandoned because the ground is declared unfit for play. This has occurred three times, resulting each time in a draw being declared: England v Australia at Headingley, Leeds, 1975 (vandalism); West Indies v England at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica, 1998 (dangerous ground); West Indies v England at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua, 2009 (dangerous ground).
- The match is awarded through a forfeiture. If a team refuses to take the field of play, the umpires may award the match to the opposing team. This has only happened once in Test cricket, in the 2006 Fourth Test between England and Pakistan.