The glorious and wonderful days of Test cricket seem to be back. The millions of viewers, all enchanted and drawn by the exciting limited overs version of the game, have recently been exposed to understanding the old conventional ways of cricket. Test cricket has been viewed as slow and boring in the recent past, but the ongoing Test series have all the spark, tenacity and thrill that can never be replicated. The slam bang version of the shorter format of the game of cricket may have its thrilling moments, but the longer version boasts of one important quality and that is “character”.
Test cricket is a way of life that has many ups and downs and one cannot foresee the final result, till the last ball is bowled. The three Test series between England and Australia, India and the West Indies and New Zealand versus Sri Lanka all have proved to be exciting, exhilarating and pulsating.
The battle for the ”Ashes” between England and Australia looked to be well and truly done and dusted in favour of Australia in Leeds. However, the uncertainty of cricket played its part in a most emphatic way. A brilliant unbeaten century by none other than England”s outstanding all-rounder Ben Stokes brought on a victory from a certain jaws of defeat and that is what the royal game of Test cricket is all about.
England, who were bowled out for a paltry 67 runs in their first innings and languished to chase 359 runs in the second innings, could recover and by doing so is what makes Test cricket so enchanting. Ben Stokes” innings, could be rated as one of the best Test innings ever as he single-handedly took his team home. He played sedately at first, but when the Australian bowlers looked menacing, he took control of the situation when he found himself to be the last batter standing. He then unleashed a flurry of shots with careful precision and soaking up the immense pressure played a perfect role to etch himself into the history books of cricket.
Cricket was the ultimate winner as the match had every nuance of what the game stood for and one hopes it to be just the tonic required to bring back the interest in the true form of the game “Test Cricket”.
The first Test match between India and the West Indies may have seemed to be a one sided affair, but this was far from true. The West Indies started with a bang getting some early Indian wickets and a matured batting performance from Ajinkya Rahane in both the innings helped India out of a tricky situation. But it was the bowling of Jasprit Bumrah in the second innings for India, of capturing 5 wickets for 7 runs, that was scintillating in all respect.
Stokes” innings will be classified as one of best ever, but the bowling of Bumrah can be ranked similarly. One has seen many great bowling performances in the past. Bowlers demolishing a team through sheer speed as Holding did against England at the Oval in 1976 or through good swing and accurate bowling by others. The dream ball for every bowler is to get two movements in different direction before the batsman plays the ball. This is what Bumrah did consistently in his spell. The ball initially moved in for a right hander and away from the left hander, but in the last yard it moved in the other direction.
One did feel sorry for the batsman, as to encounter such deception it is quite difficult to adjust, especially when delivered at a good pace. Bumrah later did remark that he has recently skilled himself in bowling this late outswinger. My condolences to all the batsmen as only very quick footwork and reflexes can possibly help in playing such lethal deliveries. Bumrah will make Test matches interesting to watch as the variety he possesses now, does make bowling once again an art to enjoy.
The New Zealand versus Sri Lanka Test series was a ding-dong battle between the two. A 1-1 drawn finish was an acceptable result. However, rather than playing a few fruitless limited over games, another Test match would have been ideal. The matches were evenly fought and once again interesting to watch as a Test encounter.
Finally, one can see true cricketers emerging from watching Test matches. The art of batting both patiently and technically as well as the art of bowling can be seen in a new dimension. Stokes, will always be remembered for his brilliant century in the Headingley Test match in 2019 as one has already forgotten his match saving innings for England in the recently concluded World Cup.
Test cricket has become glorious and is a wonderful game and one is happy to see its emergence among not only the cricketers but also the followers as the true form of the game.
-(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer).