Cricket is no blood sport. It is a highly-evolved ritual combat. Here, the opponent is put on the mat through guile and deception. Forget the apparent violent muscularity of the fast bowler running in to hurl fireballs at the batsman or raw power in the straight hit over the bowler’s head for a six, it’s eventually mind game at work. It can sometimes be more thrilling than any blood sport, infinitely more captivating than any other contact sport.
If you are looking for proof, search no further than the just-concluded Test series between India and Australia. It was Test cricket at its pristine best — full of twists and turns, both literally and figuratively; intriguing and elevating between sessions; and a rewarding experience in the end. For those fiercely arguing that the long format should be abandoned for the abridged varieties should pause and ponder. ODIs and T20s give you the adrenaline rush alright, but they hardly deliver you the original beauty of the game.
Starting off as underdogs, the Australians drew the first blood in the series with a comprehensive 333-run victory over the hosts in Pune. It was a spinning track and weren’t Indians the best when tackling turn? Steve O’Keefe subjected them to a rude reality check in the first Test. The abject collapse of the hosts, thanks to a match haul of 12 wickets for 70 runs from the bowler, put under threat their aura of invincibility on home tracks. O’Keefe, so far, was only an average bowler with average abilities. The better one in the Australian squad, Nathan Lyon, was playing second fiddle. On a difficult pitch, India played only 74 overs to Australia’s 182.
If the defeat was a wake-up call for the hosts, they responded well in Bangalore. It’s not often that a team with a 87-run deficit in the first innings, comes back in this fashion on a hostile track and registers a victory in a low-scoring match. Lyon stamped his class with an eight-wicket haul in the first innings, but it was finally a complete team effort that saw India come trumps. The hosts levelled the series with a 75-run victory, but more importantly provided a glimpse of the great never-say-die spirit it has come to internalise under the captainship of Virat Kohli. Interestingly, the prolific Kohli was making no statement with the bat.
Steve Smith’s glorious 178 and Chateswar Pujara’s sedate double-ton were highlights of the high-scoring third Test at Ranchi. But these scores do not quite reveal the tension underlying the five-day event. The Australians could have lost the match after conceding a 152-run lead. Ravindra Jadeja was getting it right again like earlier in the series and the visitors hung on to a draw by the skin of their teeth. Kohli again was not amongst runs. The takeaway: the team is strong enough to take the battle to the rival camp even without him.
He didn’t play in the fourth Test. The emphatic victory at Dharamsala under Ajinkya Rahane reaffirms that the team has truly arrived and it’s destined for higher achievements. The Australians were no pushovers like the Brits who played a series earlier. They didn’t have many of their batsmen firing but still they packed enough punch to give India several scary moments.
It was a tough series, the best played in India in recent times. The final 2-1 scoreline does not reflect the intensity at work over the four-match series. Both teams packed guile, deception, passion and aggression — all this does not necessarily have to do with the success of spinners; pacers had their say too. The combativeness shown through in bad words that were hurled off the field and on it too. It was mind game at its best. The Indians proved they were equal to the Australians at it. When ritual combat resembles blood sport, you know you have something exciting.
Whoever says Test cricket should be dumped must sit back and think better.