TEST CRICKET’S BATTLE FOR SUPREMACY
Things didn’t go well for the Indian cricket team in the Boxing Day test match in Australia. This meant that Indians won’t be enjoying the New Year as much as the Australians. However, one thing that would cheer the fans and administrators across the globe is the presence of a full house throughout the test match. In fact, the overall match attendance was a whopping 184,051, surpassing the previous record for Australia-India matches in Australia, which was 181,053 during the Sydney Test of 2004. This confirms that test cricket is still popular and not dying a slow death.
Indeed, it has been one of the most exciting years of test cricket, producing one thrilling match after another. England has firmly established their supremacy in the longer format of the game through some ruthless cricket. On the other hand, the once-mighty Aussies faced humiliation in Cape Town, being bowled out for a paltry score before they bowled out South Africa for 96. Johannesburg also witnessed an action-packed thriller, where Australia emerged victorious by a narrow margin.
India, too, had a wonderful series against West Indies, winning 2-0. The match at Wankhede was particularly memorable, as both teams were unsure of the result until the last ball was bowled. Although it ended in a draw, it won the hearts of many cricket enthusiasts. Adding more surprises to the tally, New Zealand defeated Australia in their own backyard, registering their first win in Australia since 1985. Furthermore, Sri Lanka achieved an extraordinary feat by securing their first-ever victory on South African soil. Clearly, it was a year where test cricket emerged as the ultimate winner.
The debate about whether Test cricket will survive in the face of the rampaging Twenty20 (read IPL) is ongoing, but the events of 2011 should serve as an eye-opener for cricketers and administrators alike. Looking back at the 2011/12 season, approximately 42 test matches were played, and out of them, 29 produced results. Even the drawn matches were highly exciting, like the one played in Wankhede, Mumbai.
Last year’s multitude of exciting finishes sends a message to administrators that they need to be astute when producing test match wickets. Nobody wants to watch a dull match where batsmen pile up huge scores, only to kill the enthusiasm of bowlers. Unlively pitches not only dampen the bowler’s spirit but also produce mediocre batsmen.
India’s domestic tournament, particularly the Ranji matches in this season, invited criticism for having flat pitches where mediocre batsmen scored heavily, resulting in drawn matches. This process does little to encourage the growth of test cricket. Batsmen are not truly tested on flat pitches, and when they travel abroad, subcontinental batsmen often struggle against moving or rising deliveries. Such conditions are also unfavorable for producing quality fast bowlers.
The longer format of the game, Test cricket, is a stark contrast to Twenty20 and ODI cricket, with its nuances and unique challenges. Test cricket enhances players’ mental and physical skills, whereas Twenty20 is focused on sheer entertainment.
Australia has produced two genuinely talented fast bowlers – Pat Cummins and James Pattinson. Cummins, in his debut test against South Africa, took the all-important wicket of Jacques Kallis. His performance, reminiscent of Ishant Sharma’s dismissal of Ricky Ponting in the 2008/09 series, showcases the unique opportunities Test cricket offers for bowlers to shine with a close-in field and a tight slip cordon. These opportunities are not available in limited-overs formats where fields are spread and pitches favor batsmen.
The recently concluded Melbourne Test also saw two veterans of the game, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, showing their skill and temperament to bail out Australia and secure a victory from a precarious situation. Their innings were a captivating mixture of aggression and defense, exemplifying the mental strength and fighting spirit that makes Test cricket so special. Test cricket is not about hitting every delivery out of the park; it is about leaving deliveries and showing the art of batting. It requires enormous concentration and a sound technique to score in Test cricket, earning it the title of “Test Cricket.”
The first week of 2012 will witness two exciting test series continuing, with India taking on Australia and Sri Lanka facing South Africa. The India-Australia tour, like the Ashes, is an excellent opportunity to promote Test cricket. However, administrators have done little to promote the game, evident from Australia’s last tour to India featuring only two games. New Zealand and South Africa also engaged in a two-match series against Australia, both offering thrilling and competitive finishes, and it was a shame that they were not longer series.
Test Cricket needs no revival; it is very much alive and continues to produce exciting prospects. Administrators should focus on accommodating all three formats of the game in a balanced manner. Simple measures, such as reasonable ticket pricing, frequent bilateral test series featuring three or more matches, and sporting wickets, will undoubtedly bring back crowds to enjoy the timeless battles of Test cricket.