The best duels in Test cricket history are ones that have taken hours and hours to describe, volumes of books written on, years of legend built on memories emerging from multiple corners of views of the same event. The talks of the series attract conversations, hair raising stories and excerpts and anecdotes creep in. A bowler’s glare, a batsman’s bat-twirl, a fielder’s expectant move, a battle-within-the-battle, all find a place in what later become “the turning point of the series”. The battle becomes spicier after the turning point. The underdogs are biting into the big dogs, reducing them to carcass by the end of the tour. Legends are made when the unexpected happens.
But, it takes time to build expectations. A team arrives in a new land, takes time to settle – the food, the climate, the atmosphere, the environment, the crowd, the cricket. The story is sketched in the first few days of the tour. There are attempts to alter it in the next few. The climax is anyone’s guess. The constant attempts to out-do the expectations makes the series/tour more memorable.
All that is history.
Today, the teams travel out of their suitcases. Players are involved in Test matches within a week of arrival, play two Tests and fly away. There is no context. There is no rivalry built during the series. There is no story to be written. It is just academic. Such series are more for the media and scoreboards than for the fan of the game, the teams.
A fan might want to watch one Test, just for the sake of watching one. He/she does not want to follow the team around the tour. There is no tour diary to fill. It is just a visit report, not a tour diary.
Why 2 Tests? Why not just forget the Test series and save us the trouble of trying to follow this. “Follow” might not even be the right word. It is just two scorecards that I have to read, that is the series. I don’t have to read between the lines. Saeed Ajmal got 10 wickets? Big deal. He is going to fly out of the country in 5 days and he will start with a clean slate. Virat Kohli scored a century this series? Hmmph, nobody knows if he can repeat that next month in South Africa. Form? What is form in a 2-game series? Harbhajan under-performed? Sure, bad series, he will be fine next tour. How do you know?
The 2nd Test is when the stories and expectations were to be framed, but now, 2nd Test is when you get your report card. It is like deciding the winner of a Test match at Tea on day-2 of the Test. You neither know if a batsman has been good, or bad. For all you know, a “good series” for a player might have meant one fluke 150* and a 70 or just a 6-wicket haul. Zimbabwe beat Pakistan and leveled series 1-1. Which team was better? How do you know? There wasn’t even a 3rd Test. There was no substance to the series – just win this game and get the hell out of here. And Zimbabwe are going to hang on to this win for another few years, for all you know.
Frankly, a series without substance, story, thrill, fan-fare, excitement and length amounts to nothing. You can squeeze in a bunch of those series and dress it like it matters, wrap and bow-tie it as a present to someone, but the truth will lie bare inside it – it still is meaningless. It’s just not cricket.