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The beauty of Test cricket

Test cricket
Niranjan Deodhar
Test cricket has survived the advent of ODI’s and T20’s and continues to be a fan-favourite

Imagine time travelling to the 16th century and picture yourself as one who wore white clothes and playing a game using a red cherry and wooden timber. Yes, the origin of cricket traces way back to that period where white people used to play the game in their leisure time.

No one then would have ever thought that this game will come so far, that it would evolve from timeless Test matches to T20 cricket, successfully completing close to 140 years of its official existence. The action in coloured clothes might be exciting, but its Test Cricket that still fascinates one and all.

Here are my views as to why the longest format of the game is still the top draw.

The conditions, the toss and team combinations:

When a certain captain wins the toss, he has to assess the conditions – sunny, overcast and so on- before taking any decision. His choice will have a great bearing on the final result of the match. Imagine the skipper opting to field after winning the luck of the coin and see his bowlers respond with five wickets in the morning session itself. In such a scenario, the bowling team is clearly in the driver’s seat.

But now consider the negative side of it. Suppose his decision backfired and the opposition team piles on the runs in the first innings. Then indeed the advantage of winning the toss is lost and his team will be under pressure for the rest of the match. . Thus, unlike limited overs cricket where conditions predominantly remain the same throughout the match, a correct assessment of the conditions has to be made before taking the call as to fielding or batting.

Similarly, the 22-yard pitch undergoes a lot of changes through the course of the five match days. The wicket deteriorates as time progress and coupled with the sun, the rain and the cloud cover has a big impact on the proceedings. The players need to be skilled enough to cope up with it.

Moving our attention to the team combinations, the term ‘specialist’ is significant in Test cricket, unlike an all-rounder who has a higher value in ODI’s and T20’s. Only a few all-rounders fit into the scheme of things when it comes to Test Cricket and always specialists are given priority.

Wicket keeping is another job where no push-overs can be entertained like being done in the shorter formats. Specialist wicket-keepers are highly respected and their performance behind the stumps has its own impact on the end result.

Batting:

“Give the first hour to the bowlers and the next five hours will be yours” - This quote by the legendary Sunil Gavaskar is very apt as far as batting in Test Cricket is concerned. It requires immense levels of concentration, determination, patience, passion and temperament. You have to play each ball according to its merit and there are no easy runs.

With a sporting pitch, good bowlers, long boundaries and no field restrictions and the numbers of overs a bowler can bowl, it is the ultimate test of your character as a batsman. As a batsman, you should have perseverance when runs are hard to come by and you are on the back-foot.

The next major challenge for a Test batsman is to be able to bat in all conditions and against diverse bowling attacks. Traditionally the batsman from the Indian subcontinent fail to perform in fast, bouncy and swinging conditions while batsman from England, Australia and South Africa doesn’t deliver the goods when they play on turning tracks. Thus, in order to succeed at the highest level, you should be technically solid and clever enough to fine-tune your technique to suit the given conditions and given bowling attack.

Only those batsmen who can play well in foreign conditions are regarded as good batsmen and for that you must be well equipped and efficient in all respects. Thus, all these qualities make a good Test batsman, a class apart as compared to those in limited overs cricket where the conditions are tailor-made for batting.

Bowling:

‘Who says cricket is a batsman’s game? You can’t win a Test match unless you take those 20 wickets.’

The above sentence itself describes the importance of a bowling unit in Test match cricket. The main challenge for the bowler is to keep himself fit, energetic and enthusiastic as he has to bowl long spells. He should be able to give his 100 %, every time he bowls.

Unlike limited-overs cricket, where there are periods where controlling the flow of runs takes prominence, in Test Cricket you have to keep looking for taking wickets all the time. An ordinary bowler may come good in ODI’s, but he will be completely exposed and severely punished in the 5-day format.

Patience is the key to success and you must stick to your basics. Bowlers should not get frustrated when the things aren’t going their way and must stick to their line and length and continue to execute their plans. Moreover, there are no easy wickets as the batsmen are more conservative and avoid playing rash strokes. Thus, bowlers must bend their backs to produce the wicket-taking deliveries that are able to break the defenses of a well set batsman.

Any bowler must develop himself so as to be able to take wickets at any point of time, irrespective of the conditions and the quality of batsman. As far as a fast bowler is concerned, he should know how to make use of the swing early on and must be clever enough to bowl with the old ball as well. A spinner should vary his pace and bounce and make use of the rough marks the faster bowlers are able to generate in their follow through.

Limited overs cricket doesn’t provide such assistance to the bowlers, where it is though easier to pick up wickets as the batsmen go after them in an attempt to boost the scoring rate.

Captaincy, Coaching & support staff:

Test cricket captain
The backing of your peers and seniors is essential to success in Test cricket

“Captaincy is 90% luck & 10% skill but never ever try it, if you don’t have that 10% skill,” the quote by Richie Benaud says it all.

Captaincy in Test cricket is challenging because he must be proactive with his decisions on and off the field which leave a long-lasting impact, going beyond the five days of action. You can’t play a waiting game for too long as a captain. As a leader of the team, you must make things happen.

Many a time, after long hours out on the field, fielders start dropping their shoulders and a captain, in such a scenario, should inspire his team-mates and rejuvenate them. After a heavy loss, the captain has to accept the responsibility of the loss and then shoulder the bigger task of reorganizing his team. Moreover, the coach and captain can formulate the plans before the start of a match, but once the action begins it is up to the captain to manage his troops so that the pre-planned operations are executed.

A lot of planning goes into a Test match with assessing the opposition players, working out dismissals and defining new strategies to counter their weaknesses. The coach is the man in charge to do so. The coach has to ensure that his players do the homework well and are clear in their approach towards the Test match. The other major factor that players have to come across in a Test match is mental ability.

In this regard, the support staff plays an important role. Playing for five days on the trot drains you physically as well as mentally and one should be strong in both aspects to deliver the goods. During anxious moments, it is more a battle of nerves than one between the bat and ball. Thus, as a Test cricketer, mental toughness is what you must possess most to become successful.

Finally, from my perspective, Test cricket resembles life. There will be ups and downs throughout the course of life and Test cricket offers various challenges at different instants of time throughout the course of five days. You have to go through all those rigorous moments, disciplinary drills, painful setbacks, emotional occasion and then ultimately you are bestowed with success. In the midst of all this, your true character is at stake. All such situations are indeed analogues to real life challenges and this is the reason why Test Cricket rocks.


Edited by Staff Editor

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