In 1 week's time, the Indian Test team will commence battle in Sri Lanka. I specify 'test' team because the plethora of players in the Indian Cricket merry-go-round forces me to do so. I do not see any point in adding my two-paisa's worth to the debate on changing cricket trends. That literary heap has long surpassed the molehill to mountain route and does not indicate a pause in growth any time soon. Neither does the popularity of 20-20, for that matter. Or the money involved in it. That spectacle and everything associated with it is only being mentioned in passing. The focus here is Test cricket, of which I am a fan.
There are some who maintain that publicly favouring test cricket in this day and age will only result in pointed remarks about Puritanism, being old-fashioned, behind the times or anything else in the thesaurus that is in similar vein. Vulgar verbal brawls concerning which version of cricket is better are tiring and distasteful so I'll avoid anything like that. Instead, I'd simply like to point out the fact that I'm looking forward to what I think is the only true test of technique and strategy in the game. The prospect of a five-day game is likely to induce more yawns than interest, but it fascinates me. Assuredly, there are places in the world (coincidentally enough, Sri Lanka) where the pitiless heat and somnambulistic nature of the pitch can reduce the player to wonder whether the money is worth this experience. The spectator, all jolly and enthusiastic during the first hour of the first day's play, begins to throw longing glances at the exit as the day progresses. Certainly, when faced with evidence involving a 952 run inning over 4 days, I have no option but to shrug.
But these are one-off incidents, even if draws are not. I choose not to think of them. Instead, I like to remember the 1st day of a test in England. It was cloudy and windy. The pitch definitely had plenty of life in it and England had 4 bowlers who can never be described as slow. India had pulled the usual card trick and shuffled the openers, fielding a new pair. Predictably enough, the established opener, becoming rather attached to the comforts of the pavilion, departed early leaving the greenhorn to face the music in the company of someone who's career I was privileged enough to follow. At 15 for 1, anything was possible.
What did happen was the stringing together of a superb 170 run partnership for the 2nd wicket. Followed by a 150 run jaunt for the 3rd. Faithfully trumped by a 249 run trip for the 4th. At one point in the late evening, when Messrs. Tendulkar and Ganguly were gleefully dispatching the cherry to all parts of the ground, Boycott in the commentary box dryly described the proceedings as Agatha Christie's next book – Murder in the Dark. There has to be some pity for the English bowlers, I have to admit. You get Sehwag early, only to see Dravid walk in and proceed to gracefully slaughter you. Bangar's wicket sees Tendulkar make his way to the middle. Dravid's wicket has Ganguly saunter in. He heads back to the pavilion only to cross paths with Laxman waltzing by. No wonder the umpires took pity on England and ended the day's play after Ganguly's wicket. The sight of Laxman grinning as he came out to bat no doubt tipped things in England's favour. Does the result even matter?
I remember India being made to follow on by Australia. You know the one I'm talking about… Eden Gardens. The Series. Even the die-hard optimists among the Indian fans must have contemplated agony when Laxman and Dravid walked back to the dressing room at the end of day 3. I remember day 4 alright. Remember it, not because Laxman and Dravid walked out in the morning and did not feel the need to part company for the whole day. No, why I remember that day so vividly is because we did not have lights and/or cable the whole day. Thank heavens for the radio is all I can say now.
I have some amazing memories of test matches. India winning at Adelaide, winning at Perth, losing at Sydney (2007), losing in Madras, winning in South Africa, winning a series in the West Indies and England… the list can go on. Is there any way to erase the memories of two two-crushing yorkers delivered at searing pace by a rookie resulting in the wickets of two titans? How could one ignore performances like Kumble's perfect 10 or his bowling with a broken jaw? Laxman's 281 or his 167, Dravid's 4 centuries in a row, Ganguly's captain's-inning century at Adelaide… again, an endless list.
The series about to be played in Sri Lanka is of great interest to me because I want to see Ajanta Mendis come up against Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman. I desperately want to see this supposed spin-sensation bowl against what can only be adequately called a batting juggernaut. I want to see them gently remind Mr. Mendis that the Asia Cup final was played against batsmen of undoubtedly inferior technique. A test match exposes faults and weaknesses with absolute ruthlessness and without mercy. Kumble as captain of the team is probably the first remotely intelligent thing the BCCI has done in a while. The number of tests the Fab Five of India has collectively played stands at 590. Mendis is making his debut.
In passing, does any one else get the feeling that we are and were incredibly lucky to be growing up watching the cricket and cricketers of our time?
LOI's and even shorter formats of the game thrill the majority of the watching public today. The stadiums and coffers are filled because of these games. That is undeniable. I rejoiced with the rest when India were crowned as the best in the world, simply because I've followed the game long enough to recognize a praiseworthy feat when I see one, no matter who's playing and what.
But I'm happiest when a test match is on. There is nothing quite like the first ball of a match. The umpire yells "Play", the batsman takes his final stance, the bowler charges in, the roar of the crowd swells and…
Song for the moment: Acres Wild - Jethro Tull