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Cricket undid cricket: Why Test Cricket is losing its essence?

Uday Joshi
ANALYST
Feature
509   //    Timeless

Why Test cricket is not 'purely' test anymore.
Why Test cricket is not 'purely' test anymore.

The late Robin Williams once said that “Cricket is baseball on valium.” The man had said that after having lost what is required to enjoy the game, in his usual witty style. Well, it seems like not only a man from country alienated from cricket but for those people whose veins have blood running with cricket cells in them it's becoming the same. Did the recently ended Test series between India and England suffered from that vague notion?

Well as it happened …..

The much talked about Test series between India and England ended recently with England winning it 4-1. Although the series cannot be taken into granted considering the scoreline as pronounced by the Indian skipper Kohli nothing can be taken away from the winning side, as they outperformed India in every aspect of the game when it was needed the most.

Even though both teams looked equally equipped to gun down each other the scoreline tells a different story isn't it? So what led to such a disappointing scoreline of 4-1? Whether the quality of cricket from India wasn't good enough or were England too good for the subcontinental giants?

Before we delve into the matter and jump to a conclusion let me start by analyzing India's preparation for this huge 5-match Test series.

India's tour of Europe began with two T20s in Ireland, a formality for a big cricket controlling board, the BCCI. After getting to settle down and enjoy the pretty Irish offerings both on and off the field, the Indian team landed in England for the actual contest. The Indian team were to play 3 T20s first-up. The Indian team had their gun with full of IPL bullets in it. The series began well for India with one of their expected Test openers scoring a ton and helping India win the first one.

The second went England's way and Indians pulled it back in the third one with some special performances from Rohit Sharma and some thought out bowling from Kuldeep Yadav who completely bamboozled England's batters at times throughout the series.

The ODI's too began with a smile on Kohli's face, ear to ear, with some great performances from Rohit Sharma and Kuldeep Yadav. But a team like England wasn't gonna go down without fighting and with their main guns firing in the need hour, they just did that and totally took the game away from India in the second and third ODI, also with some helping hand from the weak parts of Indian players.

So after two weeks of cricket and with two weeks of break between the big Test series, the Indian team frittered away most of their time in enjoying the royal breeze and with wags by their side the team seriously took to the road. While some individuals were seen drifting from town to town in their lavish attire, but they all enjoyed a good week or so in "re-energizing" themselves for the big test!

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With 6 days remaining for the commencement of big Test series, the Indian team arrived at Chelmsford to play a rain-affected 4-day turned 3-day practice match against not so good Essex County team. Facing the new red dukes ball in English conditions is considered as the most challenging thing, but still, the Indian coach Ravi Shastri and skipper Virat Kohli were hoping for some good performance all-round going into the actual contest.

But Indian batsmen did not share aa big part of the load and with Indian bowlers doing an okay job and just like that the Indian practice ended. That's it! The practice for this huge series ended in 3 days!

With that kind of practice can any subcontinental team perform well in England or on any foreign soil for that matter. Well, the answer would be a big NO! But did the Indian team do well? Well, according to me this has been the best performance since last decade. But the big question is, then why does the series end show 4-1? To address that we have to discuss the way cricket was being played.

Any Test series that has given result every single match shows the fearless cricket being played from both the sides. Being fearless is a great quality of a test team. It allows the players to play in a free frame of mind. Throughout history, the most fearless teams have been able to successfully dominate the opposition, but being fearless doesn't mean you shouldn't have patience.

The most basic requirements for a Test team is patience and perseverance. Let us go back four years and try to think of the Adelaide Test match between India and Australia where Aussies edge past India in the last session with Indian skipper being dismissed by Lyon after playing what he rates as his greatest knock until now. However, when we look at it from Kohli's point of view we can sense he saw victory and he went ahead to chase down 350+ Target on the last day itself.

But had he told his boys to just play the day would it have ended in a draw? Who knows with Vijay showcasing his skills and skipper playing like wanting to make Adelaide ground named after himself I think India would have managed to save that test. But why didn't they? What was the hurry? Was the victory necessary? When we try to ask us such kind of questions we could only end up with assuming things and imagining the outcomes in every which way possible.

It is apparent that people have a hard time having any control over their emotions. And with one not being able to control psychological side of theirs then it is like orchestrating chaos. It’s so important that players are left alone because it’s a lonely game even though it’s played between 11 players from either side. The loneliness helps for preparation, but with so many support staff around each player, it’s difficult to find some game privacy for the players.

If the same thing is applied to cricket, then we know why we are losing the ability to play and at the same time watch Test cricket. We have become so intolerant to being patient that we have developed this affinity towards swift results and in turn losing all the joys that game provides us with. Cricket was meant to be played more mentally than physically and some ways it justifies being called a gentlemen's game.

The T20 invasion of cricket has led to many things that many people might have never imagined to happen to cricket. For instance, the IPL has not only become a multi-billion dollar spectacle, and it won't be a surprise for you to hear a youngster saying their main goal is to wear Indian blue and not the whites. I have got nothing against T20 or IPL. In fact, they have brought some new crowds to other forms according to the stats and has also made players fitness freaks which is great for the game, but what use is of that fitness if they don't want to play the longest format of the game.

Players like Lasith Malinga retired from Tests just to continue to play shorter formats which is was heartbreaking considering the unique nature of play he had bought to tests. There are many such examples when we look at WI, the unique combined island force which once ruled the longer formats for almost 2 decades. My suggestion would be to stop T20 series between tours. If they want to have a world cup once in every 2 years then they may have it just to keep fans engaged between big test series and CWC but we don't need it between the tours.

When one goes back and look at India vs England series to find out the reason behind India's devastating loss one may find the lack of being patient and persistent in their approach when it was needed the most. We can go on discussing such instances from the series whether being too happy with just winning sessions and letting tail enders take charge, being over-dependent on one man and not to forget how they surrendered to the swinging conditions at Lord's, not to forget getting carried away with the emotions and letting themselves ‘cooked’ at oval. They surely paid the price but one may argue that end result was bit harsh, but cricket is fair all the time.

We can say that here, undoubtedly it was Cricket that undid Cricket. Indians went to win a Test series by preparing for different ball game and cricket is a game which awards you with what you have prepared for. There is one befitting quote that sums up India’s reason for failure.

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” – Aristotle

Will India learn anything from this series and come back better in 2022? I hope so, with no Anderson and broad it might be comparatively easier for them. But with the same approach, like the last 3 series, I don’t think they will win it, may go down fighting, as it's in vogue and will be.

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