Test cricket should adapt and advance, not regress

The lament about how Test cricket is on a rapid decline and that it will be dumped very soon is something we hear on a daily basis. Cricket bosses point to declining spectators for the five-day matches and worry that young fans are keener to watch one-day and Twenty20 matches.The International Cricket Council, often weighed down by the national bodies that make up its top decision-making executive board, has cleared Day-Night Tests to attract more office-goers but until the first game is played and the players approve the colour of the ball etc. the version can’t be whole-heartedly welcomed.

The captain of the team that represents the global cricket hub does not seem to be a great fan of five-day cricket either, that is if you go by his current demand for pitches where the ball should turn, bounce and spit like a cobra from the first day. While much heat and dust, literally, is being raised over the pitch issue in India, the Australia-South Africa series has come as a wonderful relief. All those who have watched action in the ongoing final Test in Perth – which is also Ricky Ponting’s farewell match – cannot but marvel at the way the match has provided us twists and turns that make a Test a real test.

While Indian batsmen capitulating to spin in the second Test in Mumbai have been blamed for their ‘limited overs’ mentality, none of the South African top order batsmen, be it skipper Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla or AB de Villiers, were apologetic about shot-making, limited-overs style. Now, Australia has patented exciting Test cricket by killing off the opposition in three days or so. And the integral part of that exercise was hammering the rival bowlers for four runs per over, which other teams were managing only in the 50-over format. No wonder, Australia has had such a huge fan following, with millions across the globe switching allegiance once the West Indies’ decline began in the early 1990s.

In Perth, South Africa handed a few lessons to the host bowlers and as Smith and Amla pummeled the bowling, the scoring rate was a cool six runs per over, and the Test was already shaping up to be a thriller with three days left. And those searching for entertainment and adrenalin flow got plenty more on Sunday, only the third day, when de Villiers capped his glorious innings with reverse sweeps to get to his century. He then produced a reverse-chop to send Nathan Lyon’s off-spin fine to third man for four.

With two days of nail-biting action ahead as the hosts are required to score a record fourth innings target of well in excess of 600 for victory, and send Ponting into the golden sunset, there is unlikely to be a dull moment.

The Test Down Under shows how this sport is willing to adapt changes to stay ahead. The battles over the pitch in India, especially ahead of the Eden Gardens contest, by contrast, are a perfect way to pull down Test cricket.

By N Ananthanarayanan

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