Test cricket after 22 years

K.R.DEEPAK

The second Test is watched by a sizable, enthusiastic crowd. The attendance on Sunday is close to 30,000. During times when the audience for Test cricket is dwindling in the sub-continent, this turn-out must have pleased the organisers and lifted the cricketers. It does seem that Hyderabad is here to stay as a Test centre. Over to S. Dinakar.

There is an air of expectation at Uppal, a Hyderabad suburb. Test cricket is returning to the city after 22 years. The occasion is big. Ahead of the crucial second Test, the Rajiv Gandhi International ground is buzzing with activity. In fact, this will be the first Test at this venue. The India-New Zealand Test of 1988 was played at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium in the heart of the city.

The coach of the present New Zealand team, Mark Greatbatch, had impressed for the Kiwis in that Test. Cricket has moved on since. These are different times and Greatbatch finds himself in a different role. And a campaign in India is a challenging one. The spirited Kiwis stretched the host in the first Test and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni has some tough questions to answer during a crowded press conference.

Predictably, he speaks about the contentious UDRS system. Dhoni talks about the umpires being professionals and the need for the system to be foolproof before it is put in place.

But then, there had been a few glaring mistakes in the first Test at Motera and Dhoni is relentlessly probed on the issue. He then, draws an analogy between a village in the midst of a flood where the only boat, a big one at that, has a few holes and issue of standing umpires and the UDRS.

Says Dhoni, “The umpires are the best solution, it is a specialist job. But, if they continue to make mistakes then technology could be the only solution. I still have faith in the umpires but they will have to lift their performance.”

Meanwhile, I come across Mr. Muscles! Former India left-arm spinner Venkatapathy Raju is now an official with the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA). Never short of humour, the smiling Raju has not changed one bit from his playing days.

Meanwhile, the HCA has invited several former cricketers to be a part of the celebration as Test cricket resumes in the city of nawabs.

Former India batsman Jayantilal, a key member of the Hyderabad Ranji Trophy side during its heyday, is happy to be back in the city where he played some of his best cricket.

Also eyeing the match with anticipation is V.V.S. Laxman. The stylish batsman has figured in 115 Tests without playing one on his home ground.

The whole of Hyderabad awaits Laxman's first Test on home turf and Sachin Tendulkar's 50th Test hundred.

Tendulkar disappoints the crowd, stepping down to Daniel Vettori and being brilliantly held at slip by Ross Taylor. For a few moments, there is complete silence in the arena.

Laxman, though, strokes beautifully for a sublime 74. He misses a century but delights the home audience.

There are teething troubles vis a vis organisation on day one — the giant screen is not functioning and there are problems with the sight-screen — but things smoothen out as the match progress. The HCA staff is not short of commitment.

And there are a few familiar faces. The efficient Dr. Baba, the BCCI media coordinator for South Zone, is on the job.

At the arena, the Test twists and turns. And the match is watched by a sizable, enthusiastic crowd. The attendance on Sunday is close to 30,000. During times when the audience for Test cricket is dwindling in the sub-continent, the turn-out here must have pleased the organisers and lifted the cricketers.

It does seem that Hyderabad is here to stay as a Test centre.