Resuscitating Test Cricket
It could not have come at a better time. At a time when there’s no dearth of ‘experts’ arguing and predicting that Test cricket is dying India’s heroic exploits at Sydney and Brisbane is a fitting reply, a superb advertisement for Test cricket. The soothsayers will have to wait longer to script its obituary.
A keenly-fought Test match, one that goes to the wire, is one of the most satisfying spectacles in sport. The format allows for vicissitudes of fortunes, a seesaw tussle, it’s like Life itself. It is so much in contrast to the compressed versions, one dimensional ones that have sadly become extremely popular only because of our reduced attention spans.
What India and its young team have done is not just beating Australia at their backyard. They have shattered some myths such as ‘fortress Gabba’ cannot be breached and that Test matches are for the seasoned players not for exuberant rookies. Of course, the victory is historic, more so because it has been a back-to-back series win Down Under. For me, like many, Ajinkya Rahane and his team have instilled the belief that Test cricket is the most important format in the game.
People crib that Test matches should be
scrapped or shortened. Reason? It gobbles up five full days and very often does
not produce a result. A group of fans even believe that Tests should not exist
in this modern version of a real world. It is a game for the underemployed for
at a given time only two or three players are actually doing anything. Till a
few years back there was also a day designated as rest day – a luxury even
those days many rightly thought was a luxury. The modern audience who have
grown up on speed Test cricket always was an artefact of history, quite out of
context in this world. The arguments go on…
The thought that Test cricket has survived down these decades often seems inexplicable. But it has, thankfully. And it is only because of the odd exhilarating games like we saw in Australia that is has survived the onslaught of the modern versions. It hangs on as a very important format of cricket, still seen as the face of the game.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) that governs the sport, have already taken steps to resuscitate Test cricket. The Test Championship is one such step and they are ruminating on cutting short the number of days, restricting the two innings to a certain number of overs and such steps in order to get the jet age spectators to the stadiums.
One cannot completely disagree with the new brand of cricket fans – the impatient, fickle-minded, buried in their smart phones, who have hardly any time to watch an eight-hour Test match. For them there needs to be action, drama – every other ball should go for a four or a six, wickets should tumble. Test matches naturally turn into a mismatch with the modern times.
Who wants to watch a batsman leave the
deliveries bowled outside the stumps? Who is really bothered about the battle
between the batsman’s mastery and the bowler’s tact? Traditionalists, the
purists are an exception. India’s doughty draw at Sydney and the dramatic win
at Brisbane must have changed all these opinions.
The last few years or so, cricket saw a long line of legendary players leave the scene leaving a huge void. These marquee players drew crowds to the ground, kept viewers stuck to their television sets even for Tests. Every Test side is in the process of transition making this format a bit dull. The Indian Test side was without their biggest star Virat Kohli and some of its most experienced campaigners by the time it took the field at the Gabba. Yet, India played inspired cricket, refreshingly attractive, to turn such time-accepted notions on its head.
The ICC, I strongly feel, should not
continue to search for short-time solutions to make Test cricket ‘attractive.’
Instead of going for four-day Tests, day-night Tests, two-division system,
points system, the body would do well by ensuring fair pitches and grooming of
the associate nations into playing more Test matches.
There have numerous Tests that have given us edge-of-the-seat excitement, heart-pumping moments, something that the shortest format of cricket has not been able to provide. Cricket’s oldest format is still strong and capable of giving us such memorable times. The spectators need to show some more patience, give time for the game to unfold. They need to be educated and groomed for this sort of cricket. India and Australia have brought back those moments that seemed so remote.
Test cricket defeats the impositions of the
day - time, money and spectacle. Not every match has a result; not every result
is exciting. Boundaries are not guaranteed, nor are runs. Wickets may not fall.
Not every match reaches an exciting climax, some just wither away. Well,
dreariness has its place in our lives too.
Perhaps the T20 format, intended to support Test cricket, has turned villain. It changed the dynamics of the game. With all the ingredients of a pot-boiler it slowly began to eclipse red-ball cricket even in Australia, England and cricket-crazy India. T20 has impacted the game. Perhaps judicious scheduling, scaled down promotion of this format will help. Having said that this format, like the one-day game, has advantaged cricket. Batting has become more positive, bowlers have developed ingenious ways to fox the batsmen and fielding has become simply magical.
Yes, spending more time at the crease, developing the craft of impeccable defence, learning the art of leaving the balls alone are pre-requisites to success in Tests. And this is something that youngsters need to work on. Pundits shouted coarse about these weaknesses when India was bowled out for a paltry 36 in the first Test at Adelaide handing the Aussies a comfortable victory. They were forced to eat their words when India, the same side, made that comeback at Melbourne to level the series and then the final two games.
We are in the midst of a new generation of cricketers who think differently, play the game differently. If one-day cricket is an exhibition, Test cricket is an examination. A real test of an individual’s character, attitude, personality and of team work which is what cricket is all about.
Long Drawn War
Test cricket puts the players through a toiling battle, tests their mettle, talent and fighting spirit to the extreme. There is no easy way out. Players have to fight it out with every ounce of what they have till the sun sets. The longer format tests a player’s grit, attitude, and level of preparedness for the highest level.
As it is said Test matches are like a long drawn war, both the sides toil to win sessions. If a side fails in one session, there’s always a chance it can fightback in the next one. The balance can shift any time. No side is ever out of the game. Even if chances of winning the game is lost, a side can still see that it does not lose. In a Test there is always hope. Alec Stewart, former England skipper, put it rightly, “Test matches are tactical battles that develop over a period of time and then suddenly accelerate out of nowhere. When this happens it provides a spectacle that can have you on the edge of the seat for hours.”
There’s nothing more fascinating than a perfect competition between the bat and the ball for supremacy. It then turns out into a test of patience, physical strength, mental toughness.
All this points to another aspect – Test
cricket mirrors Life. The ups and downs, various challenges, the opportunities
than one has to grab, the resilience and the will to fight. Test cricket is not just a
game; you win, you lose, another one ends in a draw and you begin again with
new conditions, new tactics, new hopes. Isn’t Life like this? There are
problems that you try and solve, you untangle some, compromise on others, new
problems crop up, and you face them in different ways.
In Life, like in Test cricket, you get a second opportunity, perhaps not as favourable as the first one. Perseverance, hard work, smart work, endurance, acceptance of conditions, willpower, calmness can pull you through.
The game teaches you that nothing is over till the last ball is bowled. The Indian side proved that reputation does not count much, performance does. The young bunch of cricketers – Rishabh Pant, Shubman Gill, Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini and T. Natarajan – showed how performance matters not reputation and how this young generation gears up in the face of adversity.
The longevity of Test cricket reminds us
that in spite of ourselves and the times we live in it still gives us something
that very little else does in our world. So it lives on. And this renewed hope
has been ignited by Rahane and his gay cavaliers. Their cricket is sublime
proof of the charm that Test cricket holds, a charm beyond words.