Testing Times: Hobson’s Choice


This piece has been written by Venkataraman Ganesan (@venky1976)

Test Matches Vs T20: To choose or not to choose

The cricketing world, over a span of a fortnight has been regaled with a couple of Test Matches which have been invigorating in nature embedding within each of them thrills and spills galore.

A gallant Zimbabwe put up a distinguished and admirably creditable performance against a much stronger Kiwi side, eventually losing a veritable humdinger by a mere 34 runs on the last day of the Match.

A depleted West Indian side gave the much vaunted Indian Test brigade a few substantial jitters prior to capitulating in a fashion that has almost mirrored the health of West Indian cricket over the past many years.

Elsewhere Pakistan and Sri Lanka, played out a couple of salubrious draws before Pakistan secured a morale boosting win in a Test Match. The three match series which was not only a test of character – given that it was played in the shadows of the spot fixing trial — but also of sustenance against the energy sapping humidity of the desert land that is the UAE.

And more recently, we have had a bizarre Test match played out between Australia and South Africa at Newlands.

Upon a bare reading of the preceding paragraphs one is bound to conclude — and rationally so — that all augurs well for the future of the version of the game played in whites. However in reality, behind a deceptive veil of encouragement and euphoria, there lies a murky truth. It would not be a mere verisimilitude to propound that the future of Test cricket is indeed at a crossroad.

Whilst a statement such as this might irk a multitude and invoke varying levels of emotional reactions, the fact is that Test Cricket of late has become a child of the lesser God, giving away ground in a rapid fashion to the stimulatingly ‘bikini’ version of the game, that is “T20”.

The dwindling numbers that troop to the stands to watch the men in white (and in some cases literally empty chairs are the sole and impartial spectators) are in stark contradistinction to the mad scramble to grab tickets sold in colours of both ‘black’ and white, for the rights to see a T20 battle. This bears ample testimony to the lament espoused by the author.

It is true that, on account of cricketing fatigue and an overkill of the shortest version of the shortened game, crowds might have lagged behind in attendance during tournaments such as the Champions League T20 and the now ubiquitous IPL during the last season. For example the final of the Champions League this year between Mumbai Indians and the Bangalore Royal Challengers were not played out before a gallery packed to the rafters

However, there is absolutely no doubting the fact that the current flavor of the cricketing feast is spread over 40 overs lasting a few hours.
What is it that gives a cricket fan more pleasure watching a few men sporting clothing of various colours and hues heaving and hoiking cricket balls outside the stadium than watching a batsman essaying a perfect front foot defensive shot in copybook style or shouldering arms to a ball pitched slightly outside off-stump? Shouldn’t a real cricket aficionado get the same pleasure in watching Glenn McGrath bowl a metronomic line and length ball after ball as he derives from watching a marauding Chris Gayle deposit balls into the stratosphere under a bank of brilliant lights? I for one cannot fathom the difference.

Many of the arguments that are espoused in favour of according preference to T20 over Test Match cricket vary from the silly to the senseless. Let us analyse some of the common grouses postulated against Test Match cricket and in favour of T20 Cricket and common-sense rebuttals against the same:

Test Match Cricket is too very long in duration:

Of course that is why they are termed as “Test” Matches. Test Matches measure the skill of the gladiators squaring against one another not only in terms of their talent, but also more or even most importantly against their temperament. Test Match cricket is more of a mental or even sometimes spiritual attrition rather than a matching of slam-bang wits. On his/her day any batsman (or bowler) can have literally 15 minutes of fame in a T20 game, tether the opposition and scuttle their chances of victory. More often than not such 15 minutes would amount for nothing but vainglorious futility when it comes to a Test Match.

In the longer version of the game a player needs to be consistent, constantly on the alert and should possess an enormous degree of patience and perseverance. Also prior to the advent of this “hit the ball as hard as you can using as heavy a willow as you lay your hands upon” game, from times immemorial (post the abolition of the ‘timeless” test concept), Test Matches have been played over the duration of 5 days and also in front of packed crowds!

Test matches are boring:

This is one excuse which even goes beyond the realms of being lame! People who propose this excuse either are perhaps not aware of the nuances of the game. The term ‘boring’ has to be one of most frequently used and abused adjectives found in the English language. There is a multitude of evidence that point to the fact that Test Match cricket could also be a knives’ edge affair, keeping the adrenaline pumping and the nerves jangling!

Right from the time Frederick the “Demon” Spofforth knocked off the prodigious English batting line-up to give the Aussies an improbable victory more than 100 years ago, Test Match cricket has been embellished with feats of courage, gallantry and passion which has resulted in extraordinarily absorbing and gripping Test matches. This honest game has also provided unimaginable results such as the tied test matches played out between Richie Benaud’s Australia and the late great Sir Frank Worrell’s West Indies in the 1960s followed two and a half decades later by an equally enthralling tie between Kapil Dev’s India and Allan Border’s Australia. Examples are too very numerous to proffer and to be extremely honest, Test Match cricket does not require a justification for existence and need not offer a concrete case for preservation.

Test Matches are not result oriented:

If at all Test Matches are a dull, drab and a dreary affair, more often than not the benign, placid and impotent tracks on which they are played out, form a primary cause. A classic case in point is Sri Lanka grinding a hapless and helpless Indian attack to dust on a sleepy and stubborn featherbed at Colombo in 1997. But for exceptions such as these, even drawn Test Matches have incorporated, within their duration, an element of excitement, uncertainty and improbability.

Even within a drawn Test Match there can be found examples of many battles which when accumulated provide for great viewing and, for posterity, deliberating pleasure. For example watching a dour, determined and dedicated Mike Atherton, possessing the demeanor of a corpse and a perfectionist’s technique to thwart a fearsome pace attack of M/s Donald & Co, with an eccentric Jack Russell for support is indeed an exquisite experience. Also seeing a clash of the Titans such as Shane Warne Vs Sachin Tendulkar; Ian Botham Vs Viv Richards; Imran Khan Vs Jacques Kallis, etc. is indeed a sight for the Gods! Also with entertainers par excellence such as the peerless Viv Richards and the eerily funny Derek Randall, Test match cricket has always provided its fair share of honest exuberance and entertainment.

There are no cheerleaders in the game:

Although I thought I would not dignify this banal excuse with a rebuttal, I thought a short and appropriate riposte was deserved. Instead of drooling, and ogling skimpily clad nubile nymphs gyrating to the latest track in the realm of hip-hop each time a wicket falls or a stump goes cartwheeling, Test Match cricket, has beyond the boundary, young and agile boys (not for a minute I am suggesting anything that would portray me as a pedophile!), who not only do the task of retrieving a ball lashed beyond the ropes but also obtain precocious and invaluable insights about this wonderful game! The lithesome grace with which some of them catch a ball that come flying towards them or stop them with their tiny bodies perfectly behind the cherry brings a cheer to the viewer.

Whilst cricket of every kind bestows upon the viewer its own dimension of pleasure and the occasional pain, it would be a travesty of justice to choose one at the cost of the other. While T20 might be an occasion to celebrate, an event to soak oneself in with unblemished glee, there is no reason as to why a Test Match ought to be anything different. There are plenty of challenges and moments of cathartic brilliance offered by Test match cricket which can never be a true prerogative of T20 cricket. The universal expectation and discussion in reverential tones about the plausibility of Sachin getting his 100th ton, every time he comes out to bat or the hushed expectation when Murali has the ball in his hand with a packed close in cordon are magical moments which a T20 game can neither equal nor better. In conclusion it needs to be emphasized that while instant gratification may provide a momentary ecstasy, it is prolonged bliss that bestows real bliss and pleasure! For a true cricket lover, Kieron Pollard depositing a ball onto the front seat of a car in a car park adjoining the ground, with its windshield in smithereens, might not give the same joy as watching Rahul Dravid bringing his broad blade down in a perfect arc, with the front foot firmly forward to a slow off break bowled by Marlon Samuels.

For in both instances the winner is Cricket!

— Venky

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4 responses to “Testing Times: Hobson’s Choice

  1. Well written 🙂

  2. The joy in waking up at 3.30 am for games that start in NZ is the same as the joy in going back to sleep at 3 am after a Caribbean test, and everything in-between.

    Following the crust of the ball for over 80 overs, following the fluency of a batsman over his innings, reading the captain’s mind over the game, it is science beyond joy, but cricket beyond all.

  3. A self absorbed piece where the writer seems more keen on showing off his knowledge of complex words than on the subject…very poor arguments.

  4. Poor summary Karthik (in my humble opinion), I personally loved the article, good work Venkataraman!

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