Never mind the Dominica test and the ‘no-show’ result. Never mind the dreary stodginess of Chanderpaul’s piece de resistance. And never mind the weather. For the 2000th time, Test cricket is simply The Format of the game. Defending Test Cricket has become like defending the classics – too many people are going on the lines of ‘hey Beethoven is the best because Beethoven is Beethoven, you know – classic and timeless’. That’s not quite the right line of reasoning, I am afraid. If you have to make people believe that the value of something being classic stems from the fact that it is considered, well, classic you’ve got yourself running around in circles more confusing than Google +’s.
Gideon Haigh, a writer I tremendously admire, wrote an excellent piece in Cricinfo [You can read it here] where he said ‘Cricket owes the Test match everything’ because it remains the last bastion of excellence. Peter Roebuck, another writer who’s an absolute pleasure to read also wrote on Cricinfo about how Test Cricket is the ‘Primal Contest’ between bat and ball. ‘Cricket is a contest between bat and ball, a struggle that reaches its highest form in the Test arena’ goes his opening line echoing the ‘excellence’ argument of Haigh’s. [You can read Roebuck’s piece here]
Both the views highlight how a test can have so much wrapped in itself that unravels as a treasure of trove of understanding human and sporting behaviour, learning your own little life lessons and of course enjoying the craft of cricket, with all its nuances and nips and tucks. I reluctantly learnt to love the format because my formative years were mostly comprised of The 1987 World Cup and those endless tournaments in Sharjah punctuated by an incredibly boring India v Pakistan series that was a 0-0 draw. But when I saw a few Tests Down Under and then some dramatically swinging ones in England, my understanding of the game and its nature was thoroughly reformed. Test matches’ rigor and cannot be navigated by cricketers who learn by rote, it needs scholars of the game who unfurl in front of us their deep and layered understanding of the game – an apex of their experiences that has (and will have) no parallel.
Boring contests, the ones that critics use to discredit Test cricket are a result of the absence of good conditions (one sided pitches – whether favouring bat or ball are plain bad) and motivation (matches need good context and well rested and hungry players). Me and my friends got so influenced by Tests that we started playing Test matches only in our backyards! We would love the fact that a narrative would unfurl over the week not knowing which of our teams will emerge winners (or maybe even a draw) at the end of the week. Every night we’d quietly think of what will happen tomorrow and consider all possibilities.
It’s such a shame that Dhoni and his team had to chicken out of a possible run chase that could have injected so much of life in a test series that already had seen a Test Series. But as India and England square off in Test match no. 2000 I sincerely hope they give us a clash for the ages that makes you believe in the romance of test cricket again. Even the gods seem to agree – they have provided a setting that couldn’t have been scripted if someone wanted to; two top and evenly matched teams, the game’s most storied venue and a master on the brink of a fantastical milestone. What else do you want in terms of context and background? Eat your heart out, Hollywood sports movie script writers. Test cricket is great because your appreciation of the game is elevated to a different level by it. Much like Beethoven is great because you understand so much more about music when to listen to one of his symphonies.
The orchestra is ready. The symphony awaits to be composed. Come ye, to Lord’s on 21st July 2011 and let the magic roll…