Test cricket, a connoisseur’s delight

The format is a real test of not just skills but temperament too.

Phenomenal: New Zealand’s Ajaz Patel (middle) celebrates with his teammates after dismissing Cheteshwar Pujara in India’s first innings of the second Test at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. Ajaz became the third bowler after Jim Laker and Anil Kumble to have taken all 10 wickets in an innings in a Test match.   -  AFP

The last couple of weeks have seen Test match cricket back in the news after a plethora of T20 cricket in the earlier months. India hosted New Zealand, Bangladesh is playing Pakistan and Sri Lanka has just beaten the West Indies in both the Test matches that the teams played. The Lankan win was a relatively easy one as the West Indies still looks for a Test match win in the Emerald Isle. The spinners ran rampant over the men from the Caribbean and it’s not just them but even batters from the sub-continent are seen struggling against quality spin nowadays.

In Bangladesh too, spin had a role to play, but as Shaheen Shah Afridi showed if you are skillful then a fast bowler can get wickets anywhere. Abid Ali missed out on a century in each innings for Pakistan but his batting ensured that it won the game quite comfortably.

The first India-New Zealand Test match went right down till bad light stopped play with New Zealand’s last pair at the crease. It was a nail-biter, alright. The last pair batted for almost nine overs in deteriorating light to save the game for New Zealand.

This is what makes Test cricket the best form of the game. This format is a real test of not just skills but temperament too, and that’s why it is a connoisseur’s delight. Today, with pitches being a lot more responsive for bowlers there are results in just about every Test match. The influence of the limited-overs game and T20 means that there are also more boundaries and sixes hit in a day. So, Test cricket is certainly more entertaining than ever before.

It got even more entertaining as Ajaz Patel, born in Mumbai, but now a New Zealander took all 10 wickets in the Indian first innings of the second Test match. This is only the third time since Test match cricket began in 1877 that a bowler has taken all 10 wickets in an innings. It’s such a rare feat. Perhaps the only other rare feat in Test cricket would be getting 400 runs as Brian Lara did against England. That looks pretty impossible to get as today’s batters aren’t used to playing the kind of long innings that were played in the late 1990s. Lara, of course, had a range of breathtaking shots which is one of the reasons why he could get past the 350-run mark twice. The first time he did he overtook Sir Garfield Sobers’ then record of 365 to become the highest individual scorer in an innings in Test cricket. Then when Matthew Hayden, with 380 runs against Zimbabwe, overtook his score of 375 Lara went on to score 400 which, till date, remains the highest individual score by a batter in an innings in Test match cricket. Also remember he has the highest individual score of 501 not out in an innings in first-class cricket when he overtook Hanif Mohammad’s 499.

You do get more individual scores over 300 now in Ranji Trophy but that’s because thanks to the Lodha panel recommendations giving every State in India a first-class status. Teams that would struggle to play in the upper-division of most metro-club cricket are now getting to play third-class cricket which is classified as first-class cricket in the record books.

Make no mistake, I am all for spreading the game as much as possible and as the IPL has shown us there is some amazing talent available in areas where cricket is not necessarily the number one sport. That said, these are just the odd players from these parts and as a team they are found way too short of the standards demanded at the first-class level. Already we have seen how these teams are beaten embarrassingly in first-class cricket, which does not do their confidence any good. It’s better for these teams to play junior cricket and learn the ropes and improve before they are ready for the Ranji Trophy.

India has tuned up well for the tour to South Africa with its performance against New Zealand. It has never won a Test series there but looking at the combination it has now and the state of South African cricket, this is its best chance to put one across the Proteas.

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