Sunday, 20 November 2011

WHY TEST CRICKET IS THE BEST CRICKET


WHY TEST CRICKET IS THE BEST CRICKET



Testing times for Test cricket? Over the past few months this has been the underlying concern of most cricket writers and analysts. Hardly a day goes by when I haven’t read an article, quote or a tweet lamenting the decline or demise of Test cricket as the foremost form of cricket. And to add to the woes of the cricket-commenting populace, the masses seem to take no part in their crusade to save Test cricket. An empty stadium is indeed a sorry sight for anyone who loves cricket and we have had the misfortune of seeing this on more one occasion. Is Test cricket really dying? Has the temptation of limited overs cricket poached fans from following the longer version? Personally, I have no answer to this question. If asked what my favorite form of cricket is, my answer will always be Tests. Watching players battle it out in pristine whites over a span of five days is how I like my cricket. And as a Test-cricket loyalist it is disheartening to see the decreasing popularity of what is considered as the truest form of the game.

I began following cricket in the early 2000s and in this last decade itself, we have witnessed some of the best Test matches. Despite being on for five consecutive days, these matches were considered to be entertaining. But now with the advent of T20 cricket, IPL and the likes, the definition and context of “cricket entertainment” has changed to become “cricketainment”. But underneath all the glamour, hype and packaging of the shortest format of the game, lies the fact that its short duration and fluctuating tempo can never make for substantial viewing pleasure. When it comes to watching, a match that finishes in merely four hours can never compete with a match that lasts for five days. When it comes to winning, a match that can be won by a team that dominates for two hours can never compete with a match whose winner can’t be predicted till sometimes that last session of play.

Test Cricket is the Best Cricket. I do not make this sweeping statement for sentimental reasons. Nor do I say it because it most cricketers say that it is the highest level. I base this statement on the facts stated below.
Tests is the form that offers the toughest challenge for a player, it is the ultimate test of the talent, hard work, determination and skill of a cricketer. This explains why players like VVS Laxman and Ishant Sharma are certainties for every Test India plays but left out of other formats and why a player of Yuvraj Singh's caliber is left out of India's Test squad. Any player can be a part of a T20 game but to be a part of Test XI one needs to have proved himself for years before he can be given a chance. That is why a prolific batsman like David Warner hasn't got the Baggy Green as yet. Playing constantly for five days is never easy. It takes a toll on your body and only the fittest can survive. Ask Brett Lee who had to give up because his body couldn’t keep up with the pace of the 5-day game, in spite of being successful with 310 wickets. Tests requires special skills apart from cricketing ones, it needs virtues like patience and diligence. Hence you see Test specialists like Justin Langer, Matt Prior and Tharanga Paranavitana. Unlike in the shorter versions of the game, Test cricket can never be an individual endeavor, it always has to be a team effort, is the format that truly reflects the ability of a cricket team. A single player, however talented, cannot win you a Test. Look at Shivnarine Chanderpaul's figures, with over 9000 runs and an average of almost 50, he has been the lone colossus of the West Indies side, but has still finished on the losing side more than any player just because the mighty Caribbeans are not what they used to be. For all these reasons, Test cricket is the best cricket.

Tests cricket maybe the oldest form of the game buy yet it will never go out of style. The sentiments that arise while watching a Test match can never come while watching a T20 game or even an ODI game. In which other format of the game will you find a team that was bundled out for 171 against the best bowling attack in the world will go on to score an imposing 657 runs? In which other format of the game will you find a team bowl out one of the best batting line ups in the world just one run shy of the target? In which other format of the game will you find one man score a record-breaking 370 runs and then come 10 years later to convert it to the first ever 400 on the same ground against the same opposition! Indeed such is the beauty of Test cricket that one can never predict any outcome or milestone, anything is possible. And for those who think the cricket is entertainment, the unpredictability of a Test match makes it all the more entertaining! From the time that I have started following the game, I myself have seen some of cliff hangers of a match that have been as entertaining, if not more, as a Virender Sehwag or a Chris Gayle blasting bowlers all over the park.

Here is a brief description of some of the best Test matches I have seen so far.
(Please Note: Matches played only after 2001, but I'm sure we have had better and more interesting Tests before that as well)

1.      India vs. Australia, March 11-15. 2001, Kolkata
This has to be by far the best Test match I have watched, and probably the best Test of the decade. India was the only country where the mighty Aussies hadn't won a Test series and Steve Waugh and boys set off to conquer the final frontier. It is very difficult to explain those five days in five lines but I will try. Australia score 445, bundle out India for 171 and enforce follow-on. India comes in to bat and for the next two days keep batting. VVS Laxman scores 281, the highest score by an Indian in Tests and aided by a Rahul Dravid 180, India declare at 657. in reply Australia are bowled out for 212 with a Harbhajan Singh 6-wicket haul. India wins the Test, by 171 runs, the series 2-1, and the rest in history.

2.      England vs. Australia, August 4-7, 2005, Edgbaston
Ashes, the greatest rivalry in cricket. Australia dominated the Ashes just as they dominated in Test cricket. But 2005 changed that, England recaptured the Ashes with a dramatic 2-1 victory which began at Edgbaston. England scored 407 and bowled out Australia for 308 and then got bowled out for 182. Australia was well on its way to victory but some gritty bowling by Man of the Series Andrew Flintoff ensured that England won the Test by the skin of their teeth and two runs.

3.      Australia vs. South Africa, December 17-21, 2008, Perth
Australia vs. South Africa always makes for some intensely competitive Test cricket and this was no less. South Africa pulled off an exciting run chase in the fourth innings by scoring 414 runs for the loss of four wickets. South Africa won by six wickets.

4.      Sri Lanka vs. South Africa, July 27-31, 2006, Colombo
This Test match will always be remember for the record breaking partnership of 624 runs between Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara., with the latter scoring 287 and the former creating the world record for the highest score by a right-hander with a mammoth 374. Sri Lanka won this match by an innings and 153 runs.

5.      India vs. Australia, December 12-16, 2003, Adelaide
This was India's first Test win on Australian soil and that is why it will always be a special Test. India won by 4 wickets on the back of a double century by Rahul Dravid and an Ajit Agarkar's 6-wicket haul.

6.      India vs. Australia, October 1-5, 2010, Mohali
Again a Test India vs. Australia remembered for VVS Laxman's super human effort. He batted with an extremely painful back and tail enders to finish one of India's finest wins over Australia. The fact that India won the match by just one wicket shows how closely fought it was.

7.      India vs. England, July 27-31, 2007, Trent Bridge
This Test was the foundation of India series win on English soil back in 2007. This was one Test in which every player contributed and will be cherished for the way the team performed collectively. India won by seven wickets and Zaheer Khan was named Man of the Match for his impressive haul of nine wickets.

8.      West Indies vs. Australia, 9-13 May, 2003, St. John's
This was the last match of the series and Australia had won the first three. But West Indies came up with a performance to hold their head up high in the final game. They chased down a record breaking mammoth target of 418 runs to win the Test by three wickets riding n magnificent centuries by Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. The highest run chase by any team, and to top it all it came against the best team in the world.

9.      India vs. Pakistan, March April, 28-1, 2004, Multan
India resumed cricketing ties with Pakistan after a long time and both nations were ready to battle it out n the field. The first Test of the series will be remembered for the first ever tripe century by an Indian batsman. Virender Sehwag wrote his name in the history books of cricket by a scintillating 309 on the back of which India imposed a total of 675 that Pakistan couldn’t reach even after following on. India went on to win the match by an innings and 52 and also the series 2-1.

10.  Sri Lanka vs. Pakistan, July 4-7, 2009, Galle
This was Kumar Sangakkara's first match as Test captain, he did not have the services of Sri Lanka's chief match winner Muralitharan and the fluctuations in the game was enough to give even an experienced captain the jitters. In a match that both teams dominated equally, Pakistan came this close to winning the match before Rangana Herath, Murali's replacement came up with a magic spell taking out four Pakistani wickets in no time and Sri Lanka went on to win by 50 runs.

Watching these Test matches whetted my appetite to see more and more of such contests, or conquests as I prefer to call them as the team I supported won! Just last week we got a glimpse of what was one cracker of a match at Newlands. Australia vs. South Africa make for some delicious Test cricket and this series didn’t disappoint. If only we could see more such matches where the teams hang in balance, preferably for a good part of five days, I believe that Test cricket will sustain. Of course seeing empty stadiums, especially at Eden Gardens which hosts some of the most enthusiastic cricket fans, will always be a disappointment. But I would like to believe that had that India vs. West Indies Test been played on the weekend, we would see a healthier crowd. Also the fact that the opposition was West Indies must have deterred some fans. Nonetheless, cricket is very much loved in India, and I am hoping that this love will translate to stadium presence in the near future.

When it comes to cricket, I am the eternal optimist and as an idealist, I firmly believe that Test cricket will not only survive, but also sustain itself in the coming times. I do not offer self-thought solutions or suggestions to boost the five-day game, I merely express my view on why I feel that Test cricket is the Best cricket. And I hope that after reading this, more people begin appreciating the longer version of the game.

4 comments:

  1. Well, what a great article! Are you following the Testing Times campaign? Please visit us at www.twitter.com/#!/testingtimesxi or www.facebook.com/testingtimes.

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  2. Wonderfully written article, Zenia. I like how you encompassed the shift of popularity from the longer form of the game to the shorter forms by the contraction of "cricket entertainment" to "cricketainment".

    One of the better articles I've read on the game I enjoy the most.

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  3. Would also like to add a few more games to the list (BEST ONE at the last)

    AUS vs ENG, Adelaide 2006/07:
    Both teams scored in excess of 500 with a gritty knock by Collingwood and fine centuries by Pietersen, Ponting and Clarke.
    Warne turned it around on the last day when the game was heading for a draw. Dismissed the Poms for 120 odd. Chased 172 in quick time.
    Scorecard http://www.espncricinfo.com/ausveng/engine/match/249223.html

    AUS vs PAK, Sydney, 2009/10:
    Ponting made a 'bold' decision(a bad one I reckon) to bat on a seaming track and Australia were all out for 127. PAK took a lead of 200+. Australia at one stage were 8 down with a lead of 52 in the second innings. Then Hussey and Siddle got Australia with a lead 176. Somehow, with attacking intent they dismissed PAK for 139.
    Scorecard: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ausvpak09/engine/match/406200.html

    AUS vs West Indies, Bridgetown, Barbados, 1999:
    One of the greatest match of the last 15 years. One of the greatest knocks ever played. AUS 1st innings 490, WI bowled out for 320 lead of 160 to Australia. WI bowled Australia out for 146 2nd inngs. And then with WI chasing 308, quite remarkable drama was played out defining one of the greatest innings EVER. At one stage WI were 5/105. Then 6/238, 7/248, 8/248, 9/302. All happned as one man took WI to victory- Brain Lara 153*. Wisden rated this innings as the 2nd Greatest innings in the history of Cricket.

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