Test Cricket Is Alive & Kicking
Before the advent of the limited-over avatar of the game, Test cricket was regarded as the purest and highest form of the sport. It was played over five days and enjoyed immense following.
A Test match in India, hailed as a festival in the 60’s and 70’s, drew a full house in big cities with a ticket to the spectacle being regarded as a huge prize.
The followers of Test cricket in India continued to hold the five-day game in high esteem even as a new generation of spectators emerged. The new converts took a liking for the shorter version which came to be known as limited-over cricket introduced in the 70’s and popularized by the Kerry Packer circuit with coloured clothing and matches played at night. The novelty got quick acceptance and T-20 cricket grabbed attention decades later.
While the excitement of slam-bang cricket caught the imagination of the average follower of the game, he did not understand the subtle nuances of the longer version.
In a limited-over game, the focus was more on boundaries and sixes and electric fielding. A 50-over cricket fan, thus, could not appreciate when a batsman decided to drop anchor or played a defensive stroke. “Yeh batsman kya kar raha hai? (What is this batsman doing)” was a question often asked in a limited-over match if the ball was gently patted back to the bowler.
The final day’s play in the third test between India and Australia at Sydney on Monday truly captured the essence of Test cricket, though could be unintelligible to the limited over fan. Hanuma Vihari’s patient vigil was the fulcrum of the entire Indian effort to save the game which at one time appeared to have slipped into the Kangaroo’s pouch.
But the same morning those present at the Sydney Cricket Ground and others watching it on television were witness to a blazing 97 by Rishabh Pant off 118 balls which was hugely instrumental in India forcing a draw. It was almost like a Houdini act as the match was heavily tilted in Australia’s favour on the morning of the final day.
In fact, Pant’s breathtaking knock — which temporarily made people think that they were watching a T-20 clash — even raised hopes of an improbable Indian win. But once Pant departed trying an extravagant shot while poised on 97, the Aussies appeared to take control.
There was still a long way to go to save the game and Vihari and Ravichandran Ashwin had the onerous task of surviving the ferocious Aussie attack. Ravindra Jadeja, with a dislocated finger, was unlikely to bat. Vihari was content to play defensively over after over while Ashwin played some adventurous strokes. At one point, Vihari had scored only seven of 118 deliveries, the same number of balls faced by Pant for his 97 earlier.
But at the end, Vihari’s seven off 118 balls (he went on to remain unbeaten on 23 off 161 deliveries) was as valuable as Pant’s 97. The cricket fraternity has hailed the efforts of both Pant and Vihari. This is the beauty of Test cricket.
This test clearly exemplified the glitter of the longer form. When 15 overs were left, India needed 102 runs for victory with five wickets (actually four as Jadeja had been sidelined and was not expected to bat) in hand. If it was a T-20 encounter, India should have backed themselves to win. In any case, 102 runs in 90 balls is easy target in the shorter version.
Having been shot out for 36 — their lowest ever score in an innings in 46 years — in the first Test of the series in Adelaide, Vihari and Ashwin batted together for 42.4 overs to save the match for India.
In Test cricket, saving a match is as great an achievement as victory. It was an incredible day of cricket which captured the essence of test cricket and showcased the greatness of the game.