TEST CRICKET: ALIVE AND KICKING
Things didn’t go well for the Indians in the Boxing Day test in Australia. It meant Indians won’t be enjoying New Year as much as the Australians would. However, one thing would cheer the fans and ad- ministrators all across the glove is the presence of full house throughout the test match. In fact, overall match attendance was whipping 184,051 which beats the previous record for Australia-India matches in Australia of 181,053 during the Sydney Test of 2003/04. This confirms test cricket is still popular and not dying a slow death.
Indeed 2011 was one of the most exciting years of test cricket producing one after one thriller of a match. England finally established their supremacy in the longer format of the game through some ruth- less cricket. While the once mighty Aussies faced humiliation in Cape Town, bowling out for 47 before they bowled out South Africans for paltry 96. Jo- hannesburg also produced an action packed thriller where Australians came out with a narrow victory. India too had a wonderful series against West Indies where they won 2-0. Scorecard could have been: different as in Wankhede both the teams were not sure who will win till the last ball was bowled. It was a drawn match alright, but won the hearts of many. Adding more surprise to the tally, New Zealand defeated Australia in their own backyard to register their first win in Australia since 1985. Finally, Sri Lankans completed an extraordi- nary year of test cricket, registering their first victory ever in South Africa’s soil. Clearly it was a year where test cricket emerges as the winner.
Amidst of the debate (DRS apart) whether Test cricket will at all survive on the face of a rampaging Twenty20(read IPL), 2011 should be an eye opener for cricketers as well as for administrators. Looking back at 2011/12 season about 42 test matches have been played and out of them 29 test matches produced results. Even the drawn ones were very exciting like the one played in Wankhede in Mumbai. It was no miracle that last year witnessed so many matches with exciting finishes. It sends a message to the administrators that they need to be smart when producing test match wickets. Nobody wants to watch a dull match where batsmen are piling up huge scores only to kill bowler’s enthusiasm. Unlively pitches not only kill bowler’s enthusiasm but also produce mediocre batsmen. India’s own domestic tournament particularly Ranji matches this season invited lot of criticism of having flat pitches where mediocre batsman piled up huge scores only to see a drawn match. This process is hardly encouraging for test cricket. Technically a batsman is never tested in flat pitches and while travel- ling abroad sub continental batsman always found wanting either against moving ball or against rising de- livery. Not to mention this conditions are not at all favourable for producing quality fast bowlers. Asking whether test cricket will survive in the era of Twenty20 is like comparing whether internet will replace print. Nuances of longer format of the game is so different from that of Twenty20 and ODI that a cricketer is almost untested if he doesn’t play test cricket. Twenty20 is sheer entertainment whereas test cricket enhance players mental and physical skill.
This year Australia produced two genuine first bowlers with loads of talent- Pat Cummins and James Pattinson. Pat Cummins in his debut test against South Africa took the all-important wicket of Jacques Kallis. But before that he un-settled Kallis with a nasty bouncer and gradually worked him over in a manner reminiscent of Ishant Sharma getting the wicket of Rickey Ponting in 2008/09 series. The bottom line is that it is possible only in the longer format of the game where a bowler enjoys close in field- ers, a tight slip cordon and enough time to bowl to a batsmen. It is not possible in limited overs cricket or in Twenty20 where field is spread and pitches are heavily favour batsman rather than bowlers.
Recently concluded Melbourne test also seen two of the veterans of the game Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey showing their skill and temperament to bail out Australia and handed them a victory from a precarious situation. It was indeed intriguing to watch their innings because it was a mixture of ag- gression and defense. They both were under pressure but showed enormous mental strength and fighting skill and that makes test cricket so much special. Test cricket is not where one can hit every delivery out of the park, but leaving deliveries and bat out season after season is an art only to be seen in test match arena. It requires enormous concentration and sound technique to score in test cricket. No wonder why it is called “Test Cricket
The first week of 2012 will see two exciting test series continuing, India taking on Australia and Sri Lankans facing South Africa. India-Australia tour is an excellent opportunity to promote test cricket. India-Australia tour like Ashes is a good advertisement for longer version of the game. However, adminis trators have done little to promote the game. That is evident from the fact that Australia’s last tour to India featured only two games. New Zealand and South Africa also engaged in a two match series against Aus- tralians last year. All these series’ offered thrilling and competitive finishes and it was a shame that these were two game series. Test Cricket needs no revival. It’s alive and producing exciting prospect. Administrators need to accommodate all the three formats of the game in a balanced manner. Simple things like reasonable ticket pricing, frequent bilateral test series featuring three or more matches along with sporting wickets will definitely bring back crowds.