Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Beauty of Test Cricket

One thing that had me hooked for the past four days was the amazing Test Match played out in Sydney by Australia and Pakistan - after dominating the game for the best part of the match, Pakistan ended up losing it on the fourth day. The character of the Cricket game and my tastes (more or less reflecting the general public's tastes) have changed significantly over the last few decades.

I have been a Cricket fan for the past 25 years - starting to follow the game a couple of years after Cricket captured the nation's imagination after India's World Cup Triumph in 1983. The initial fascination was all about One Day Internationals. At that time Test Cricket was the boring cousin of the dazzling and exciting One Day Internationals. [For total newbies to Cricket - viz Americanos! - check out the wikipedia articles for the three main forms of International Cricket - Twenty20, One Day International and Test Cricket]. One Day Internationals were thrill-a-minute, ended in one day, and when played to completion (without interruption by the weather) had a result. Test Cricket was a drab affair drawn out over five days and most of the matches in the 80s and early 90s ended up as stalemates.

The best Cricketing memories I have from the 80s and 90s are all from One Day Internationals -
Brushing my memory for any such fond memories of One Day Cricket from the 2000s, I am drawing a blank. Same goes for the latest favorite boy - Twenty20 Cricket - as well.

Rather surprisingly, the moments that come up as favorites from the Cricket game in the 2000s, all belong to Test Cricket:
  • The first and most important one of course being the great escape architected by VVS (Very Very Special!) Laxman and Rahul Dravid against the rampaging Australians at Kolkota 2001. I fell in love with Test Cricket after this match!
  • Sehwag blasting 284 runs in one day against the Sri Lankans in Mumbai
  • Many of the India - Australia test matches played in Australia this decade which were either closely fought or won by Indians.
  • England winning two ashes series against the Aussies
  • Pakistan's recent test series against New Zealand and Australia.
Test Cricket changed itself from being boring and stalemate-oriented to being exciting and result-oriented over the last decade and a half. And large part of the thanks for this development has to go to the Australian Cricket team who played Test Cricket at a whole new level and forced every other country to improve as well. Test Cricket, with its five day long canvas, allows for the contest to ebb and flow, and move in different directions - much more than the shorter format games. The long game also is an ultimate test of skills and gumption for the players. When this is capped by an urge to win and produce results - like Australia did in late 1990s and 2000s under the Captaincy of Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, and which has been followed by other countries with differing level of success - the Test Cricket only got better and better.

It is a paradoxical thing that 5-day long Test Cricket is becoming more popular among the aficionados, while the length would make any newbie shun the game without much thought. The shorter version of the games - while being suitable for packaging to an audience conditioned by the limited time-bound nature of NFL/MLB games - doesn't really embody the nature and passion of the game that a Test match inspires among its devotees.

Nevertheless, I am glad that more and more test matches are standing up and screaming to be put in the special archives these days.

Long live Cricket! Long live Test Cricket!

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