“One swallow does not make a summer” is a wonderful saying so appropriate for the short season of Test cricket with which one was finally blessed. The World Test Championship is a wonderful initiative to popularize the authentic form of the game, “Test cricket”.
In this fast-paced digital world we all currently live in, there’s a good chance it will fade into oblivion. So it was heartwarming to see Test cricket finally played by all the practicing nations.
This will be the last for a while, as the popular Limited IPL and then the T20 World Cup will be what all sides and supporters of the game will focus on, from now on.
The recent test series between India and Sri Lanka and Pakistan against Australia was the reason why the sport of cricket is so enjoyable to watch. The battle to survive, to innovate, to be patient, to show courage and determination, and to exploit conditions through intelligent thought and action are some of the traits that emerged so beautifully.
Although India seemed to be far above the Sri Lankan side, their captain Dimuth Karunaratane, in the second innings of the second test, played a highly responsible tackle with immense skill. He showed how the lethal Indian bowling attack could be handled and scored. Perhaps a couple more test matches could have seen the Sri Lankan team give India a run for their money, had they followed their captain’s lead.
These are the moments that make Test cricket exciting. A similar strike from Pakistan’s highly talented captain Babar Azam, who scored 196 runs against Australia to secure a draw, chasing 506 runs for the win, was a tackle that showed character, patience, resilience and unimaginable determination. One admired his technique and his cricketing skills, but it was his mental toughness to stay in the crease for nine hours that impressed the most.
Babar Azam’s innings recalled one of the marathon innings of 221 plays by India’s master batsman, Sunil Gavaskar. This was in 1979 at the Oval when India was chasing 438 runs for victory. Sunil also has the distinction of scoring a double century against the mighty West Indies in 1971 in the second innings, having also scored a century in the first innings. This was in the fifth and final test match which was a six day affair in Port of Spain, Trinidad. He played through a bad toothache and put India in a safe and dominant position after a massive deficit in the early innings. The game was tied and India won the series for the first time against the West Indies.
These are the feats that make individuals legends and highlight Test cricket as the ultimate form of the game. These batting performances and some giant bowling are impossible to replicate in the shorter format of the game. That is why “Cricket Test”, it is said, differentiates men from boys.
Unfortunately, the days of a full series of five tests seem to be a thing of the past. Playing just two or three Test matches is going against the Holy Grail that Test cricket represented. A long series was when a cricketer needed all the skills in his repertoire to be successful both mentally and physically. Cricket then was a tough game and only the tough survived and flourished. A test series of two or three matches can be a quick way to accomplish the task of finishing a tournament. However, it lacks the ingredients that make Test Cricket what it stands for.
India, after the heavy loss they suffered against South Africa, is now in balance by defeating New Zealand and Sri Lanka at home. Now they play Bangladesh away and the Australians at home. A win against India in their backyard would be quite difficult even for the Australians. This therefore puts India in a very strong position. They need to win the postponed Test match in England in June to become one of the favorites to qualify for the Test Championship final.
Rohit Sharma, the Indian captain, has shown that he is more than capable of being a leader. Not since Tiger Pataudi has one seen the innovative field placements and thought leadership that Rohit Sharma has displayed. One thought of him as an occasional trader, though he has managed Mumbai Indians successfully. Rohit gives the impression of someone who continually thinks and plans his moves, a leader to the core.
The Indian team, including Virat Kohli, seem comfortable with him. One can measure the openness and transparency that prevail in the field. The interesting result of India’s victory was that it was achieved without significant contribution from their two world-class batsmen, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. This is what ultimately leads to making a world class side.
India now has a well-formed team with all the required skills covered. The challenge would be to keep their players fit, physically and mentally.
India’s main rivals and opponents Pakistan also show how competitive they have become. Under the leadership of Babar Azam, they now have a challenging batting and fast bowling side. However, they lack top-class spinners, and until they find them, they will have a hard time winning consistently.
Pakistan need to take the initiative to make a spirited wicket for the third and final Test against Australia. They have the firepower, but seem to lack confidence. Losing and winning, as they say, is an integral part of the game; it’s how you play that makes the difference. This year has seen eight centuries already in Test cricket and each one has been a gem.
Wow! Lovely Cricket Cricket! (Yajurvindra Singh is a former cricketer from India)