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Test Cricket at the Crossroads

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 The first SA-AUS test was the highlight of the week. Two huge fourth innings totals chased successfully in back-to-back tests (including India-England, last week) gives the impression perhaps that batting has become easier in Test cricket,but we should probably just see this as a coincidence and not read too much into it yet. After all, South Africa’s famous 400-run ODI chase didn’t exactly lead to 400 becoming a norm total in 50-over cricket.

 

 

Let’s just hope the second SA-AUS test will not be as much of an anti-climax as the second IND-ENG test has been. Perhaps it is time to redefine what is meant by a “good” test pitch. Currently, the phrase is mostly used to connote a pitch where the bounce is even and there is little life –making it comfortable for the batsmen and hell for the bowlers. These “good”pitches invariably lead to high-scoring days without any balance between bat and ball resulting in dead matches with only statistical significance. There have been too many such matches in India in recent times and the effects are already showing in the dwindling crowd attendance figures at test matches in India. Chennai was an exception, but it always is. Despite having the worst weather amongst all Indian test match centres, usually the pitch balances bat-ball contests in front of the most sporting crowd in India. Chennai has hosted some of the best test matches in recent memory – very deservedly so.

 

 

 

To be fair, the Mohali test has also suffered from delayed starts due to the fog, and a peculiarly cautious approach from the Indians – no doubt a result of their lead in this two test series. The ICC should seriously take a look at these 2-test series all around the world as they are becoming alarmingly regular. It doesn’t take much to see the damage they’re doing – the quintessential test match rhythms don’t come into play especially if the first test is decisive. A 2-test series is like a one and a half innings test match –a great way to kill test cricket, especially with T20 in the equation now.Sometimes it really seems as if the ICC doesn’t really care, since T20 will take care of their revenues.

 

 

 

Dravid’s first innings century (when the pitch was at its toughest) was a very welcome sight for everybody and it was a relief to see him get his fluent on-drives and straight drives going again – a sure sign he’s getting back to his best. If he gets back to top form, this Indian team will be difficult to penetrate and we can all look forward to a thrilling fight for the top test place between India, South Africa and perhaps Sri Lanka with a proud but wounded Australia getting back with a vengeance.However, it was disappointing to see the Indian approach in their second innings – starting with Dravid’s blob in nineteen balls, Tendulkar’s 5 in 22balls and Laxman’s 15 in 49 and it is this periodic lack of conviction that can stymie the upward thrust for this Indian test team, which is probably the most talented and balanced in its history. But then, a Sehwag comes up once in a few generations, and an emphatic match-winning opening pair like Sehwag and Gambhir gets established in a side even more rarely. And hopefully, these two tests have clinched the biggest under-achiever in test cricket Yuvraj Singh a permanent test place (which basically means he gets the benefit of doubt atleast for half a dozen matches).

 

The ICC need to find a way to make Test cricket find its pride of place again. If they could just have test cricket one whole year without T20s and ODIs in all the test playing nations, that could do it. And if it resulted in a test team being crowned the best officially at the end of it, that could make the whole exercise commercially viable too. But that requires a slant of mind the ICC hasn’t displayed in a long time, sadly.



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