Tag Archives: Tests

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

Questions remain as India retain #1

After a tense finish in the Kolkata Test match against South Africa, Team India retained their #1 Rank in the ICC Test rankings. This means that the players and the BCCI will collect some small change on 1st April when the ICC hands out the Test Championship and a few dollars of baksheesh.

But some key questions remain for Team India.

Let us not take anything away from the Indian victory. To put things in perspective, India was without Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and V. V. S. Laxman (for the 1st Test only) and Sreesanth. India lost the toss in both Tests and ceded charge of easy day-1 and day-2 pitches to South Africa. India was without her key strike bowler (Zaheer Khan) on the last day. And India played against a full-strength South Africa team. Moreover, after a debilitating loss in the 1st Test (in Nagpur), most teams will have buckled to another demoralising defeat. This Indian team, however, showed that it can come back at oppositions in a tough manner and pass stern tests of resolve with rare (and hitherto unknown) resolve. India were down and out at Tea time on day-1 of the Kolkata Test. But India did come back strongly and compellingly.

But some key questions do remain.

I have said it before and will do so again. Unless India can beat Australia in Australia and South Africa in South Africa, even though I am as one-eyed as they come, I am not quite willing to accept the #1 ranking as easily as I might or should. This is more so because Australia has beaten India in India and RSA in RSA and RSA has beaten India in India and Australia in Australia.

I would like to see India achieve series victories in Australia and RSA. Her chance of a win in RSA will come later this year when India travels to South Africa. India will have to wait longer to see if she can win a series in Australia.

And for these to happen, India will need to ask some serious questions of her personnel.

From what I have seen in these last two Tests, India had better start “preparing” replacements for Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar from now. While we may claim a strong bench strength in M. Vijay, S. Badrinath, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, et al, these are mostly untested. Questions remain to be asked of Vijay and I am really not to sure that Badrinath belongs. Given that Yuvraj Singh himself hasn’t quite cemented his Test-team place in a compelling manner, I do believe that the “what happens next after the departure of Dravid-Tendulkar-Laxman” question needs a really strong answer.

The difference in batsmen’s approach between the 1st Test and the 2nd Test was obvious. Even if we remove the superb spell of fast bowling by Dale Steyn in Nagpur, the difference in the approach of Sehwag and Tendulkar was clear to see in Kolkata because they were — it is quite likely — comforted by the knowledge that Laxman was there at #5 in case one of them were to depart. The absence of that middle-order solidity led to a mind-freeze in Nagpur, in my view.

India needs a match-ready pair of batsmen and she needs them now. VIjay did have that swagger and that approach that inspired confidence. He has that “I belong here” body language. I am not convinced that Badrinath has it. While I am willing to discount his performance in Nagpur, where the ball was talking and the team was really under the pump, there can be no excuse for his approach and performance in Kolkata. He could have played calmly and with a clear head on a placid pitch. The team was in a solid position and the pitch was really doing nothing much. Badrinath did not inspire confidence in me at all and questions must be asked of his place at this level. Perhaps a great opportunity was missed.

The other concern is the bowling. Without a fit and in-form Zaheer Khan, the attack looks pale. Harbhajan Singh has his days when he can be menacing, but with him it is a bit of a lottery, in my view. For India to win consistently overseas, the team needs an all-weather bowler in the Anil Kumble mould. For that to happen, Harbhajan Singh needs to accept that he is the teams’ lead bowler. He needs to ensure that he wakes up on the right side of the bed every day. I feel that it is all in his preparation and nothing else. Someone needs to sit him down and convey to him the responsibilities that come with being the lead striker. On off days and on pitches that do not offer assistance, he needs to bowl maidens and keep things tight. An off-form Ishant Sharma and a low-key Amit Mishra are other concerns for India.

The team does boast of strong reserves in Sreesanth, Sudeep Tyagi, Praveen Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun, Dhawal Kulkarni, Ashok Dinda, Munaf Patel, Pankaj Singh and others, but these bowlers need to be tested in situations that are far tougher than the the various domestic competitions.

Another concern is team balance. Unless India finds a good/strong all-rounder, the team is stuck with a 4-bowler policy. If any one of these bowlers is off injured — or has an off day — the pressure on the other resources becomes enormous (as we saw in Nagpur).

There are some all-rounder contenders around who are either not given enough opportunities — or appear and disappear with alarming consistency. Players like Abhishek Nayar, Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja have to be given longer ropes to work with.

I feel that unless India plans plenty of A-Tours to Australia, South Africa, West Indies, England and Sri Lanka in the next year, I am afraid these questions will continue to be asked.

South Africa does have some deep questions of their own to answer. At the start of the series I did say that my main concerns with them were (a) the form of Duminy and Ashwell Prince, (b) the ability of Paul Harris, (c) their ability to play quality spin.

Questions (a) and (b) remain, while the team has thrown up a few players (Amla, in the main) that have the technique and temperament to handle quality spin!

I do believe that Paul Harris is an ordinary bowler. Any bowler who constantly bowls 2 feet outside leg-stump is essentially telling the world that he is an ordinary bowler! If I were a good bowler and my captain asks me to bowl a negative line, I would either tell my captain to find another bowler to do that or tell my captain that I am good enough to bowl to take wickets! I can’t remember who it was who said it, but it was said that “Paul Harris could not turn a door handle if he had to.” But having watched him bowl in this series, I am convinced that unless South Africa find a real spinner who can turn the ball and bowl attacking lines, the team is going to continue to choke when it matters most. And after the tremendous display of Alviro Petersen at the top, either Duminy or Ashwell Prince will, I believe, have to make way. I do believe Ashwell Prince will make way in what will be a strong team that will emerge from this series. I like South Africa’s team balance with Duminy as a good off-spin bowler and Kallis as a terrific, though under-rated, all-rounder. I will not be surprised if South Africa claim the #1 Rank from India in the near future.

Yes, India did emerge out of the South Africa series as #1 but I believe the home team has more questions and fewer immediate answers.

— Mohan