A "TEST" for the Test Matches- Save the Endangered Format
Since the inception of the game Cricket, test matches have always been considered the toughest version. It is the oldest and the original format of the game and, they say if you want to prove your worth as a cricketer and mettle as a batsman or bowler; then test arena is the place to do so.
And why not? Test matches have delivered some of the most memorable matches in my lifetime. There have been many before I came in this world but from the games that I have witnessed, some have been absolute thriller to watch and a much better experience than the One Day Internationals. My favorite matches include India vs Australia at Eden Gardens Kolkata, 2001 where VVS Laxman and Harbhajan Singh inspired India under the shrewd captaincy of Dada Sourav Ganguly. At the same venue, 9 years later, Dhoni led India to a very thrilling win against the South Africans when Hashim Amla looked sure of taking match towards a draw. The Australians defeat in Ashes 2005 series where England snatched victory from the jaws of the Kangaroo’s tail just before the victory line. Test matches have proved their worth again and again provided if they are played on good sporting pitches.
And it is not only about the exciting matches, this version proves a player too. Playing in this format is the batsman’s primary aim. Imagine a batsman debut against the likes of Brett Lee and Mitchelle Johnson in WACA or a bowler against a team comprising batsmans with the names like Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. Surely, you would have to be very tough for that. Test matches makes a player and earn him praises and the die hard fans of cricket knows that.
But since last few years, there has been a very disappointing decline in the Test matches interest. The advent of T20 formats and leagues like IPL and Big Bash have reduced spectator’s interest in the “pure version of cricket” considerably. And somewhere, along the sidelines, the respective country’s boards and the ICC are too responsible for it.
The ongoing series between West Indies and India has been tiring to watch. I just don’t feel like remaining awake for the major part of the night. Why should I? The scoreboard does not move; it crawls. To make it worse, unpredicted rains come every now and then to remove small bit of interest that has generated.
Starting with India, I cannot help but accept the fact that BCCI has done nothing to save people’s interest in test matches. The curators are creating flat beds for batsman to come and start hitting without worrying about any swing or seam movement. The pitches at Chepauk and Mohali, which were considered few of the best for fast bowlers two decades ago, have become a national highway. Go out, hit runs and earn applause.
The curators need to understand that they are preparing pitches for test matches where there should be an even contest between bat and ball. In ODIs, the flat pitches are acceptable because ultimately, you will get result and spectators gets to watch some big hitting. But in tests, these pitches could only fetch you a draw. It is impossible for a side to take 10 wickets twice, fully aware that pitch is not conducive to bowling. Make that two sides and forty wickets and you start imagining will this be a dab draw again?
If you ask my opinion, I would say that prepare wickets that help bowlers more than the batsman. In today’s cricket, even a number 11 is a batsman and if he applies himself, you can expect him to score runs. But when it comes to bowling, taking wickets has become difficult for the specialists; leave alone the part timers. So virtually, it is 11 batsmen against 6-7 bowlers. A bowler friendly wicket would ensure even contest and that is what we expect in a test match.
For me, the stadiums in Australia, England and South Africa are the best venues to play this type cricket. And this is one reason why people still fill the seats completely in these countries. The audience there is mature. The bouncers are booed, the shots are admired and small duals between the oppositions are awaited and fuelled. Even the opposition loves this type of atmosphere, even it is hostile because that motivates them to do better.
And that is the beauty of test match. The plans are made, slowly executed and if they fail, then the rescue action is taken. Things do not happen very quickly in Test matches but when they happen, you appreciate them. When Shane Warne was at his prime, for me, his every delivery was a masterpiece. I never knew which one will take wicket as all were lethal. And when this great leggie was punished by VVS Laxman in Kolkata, it looked like he was a school boy. When bouncers hit the helmet, you feel the adrenaline rushing. When a fast bowler run up to the batsman to complete his run up and stare him eye to eye and the batsman replies, that thrills. Ricky Ponting’s dismissal in Mohali test in 2010 and his verbal spat with Zaheer afterwards is something I cherish. People might say that this is against the spirit of the game but I can bet that this is what people expects and love to watch.
I have always rated Sachin’s innings in a losing cause against Pakistan in Chennai higher than his 200* in Gwalior. The former was a display of character and mental toughness against an opposition which is India’s arch rivals and boasted of one of the world’s best bowling line up of that era while the latter was more of flamboyancy. That does not mean you can take away anything from the Gwalior innings but he proved his mettle years before at a very young age.
ICC is planning to hold day night test matches to generate people’s participation once again in the game. That won’t be the solution to the problem. What they are trying to curb is the accessories rather than the basics. Get the basics right and create wickets that generates praises from both the aspects of the game. The only way to save test matches is to prepare sporting wickets and the sooner the various sleeping boards and ICC realizes it, the better. Amen.