How are we doing Test cricket? It’s a question that is asked every time a couple of cricket fans sit together for any substantial discussion on cricket. Test cricket's existence is unique in the way it has been eulogized for decades while it has been very much around.
In one of the promos for the documentary “Death of a gentleman” (yes, more eulogies), Harsha Bhogle said something that stays with me. "Test cricket should have died thirty years ago. It's proved to be a very robust patient."
Only a couple of weeks back, the latest challenge in the existence of Test cricket was the David vs Goliath contests. Sri Lanka vs India ended in a whitewash for the hosts at home and West Indies were humiliated by England in the first match of the series. The one-sided nature of the defeats gave fuel to the ongoing calls for establishing a two-tier system in test cricket. It kind of made sense too. What other options do we have if we want to restore a sense of competitiveness to the games?
Yes, the mismatch between the qualities of the teams gives us several boring no-contests. But they also give us the holy grail of sporting theatre: The underdog story. A win for the underdog is a win for the game, it’s as simple as that. Imagine if cricket World Cup was played between the top four nations in 1983 to ensure competitiveness, India would have never got a chance to upset the mighty West Indies and who knows, the landscape of world cricket would have been different. It’s not always the top dog that people pay money to watch.
This week, Test cricket hit back with not just one but two lower ranked teams beating stronger, mightier ones. The West Indies win in the second game at Headingley was against all odds, and then some. As West Indies arrived at Leeds, hometown legend Geoffrey Boycott didn’t mince words when he called their team the worst he has seen in his 50 years of following cricket.
What would have hurt the men from Caribbean more was the onslaught from their very own Curtly Ambrose who called the loss embarrassing. Ambrose was the bowling coach with this team in the past, and current coach Stuart Law reminded him that pretty much. Surely, Ambrose should have known better than to take a dig at the pride of a group of young, inexperienced men who are trying everything in their power to compete.
It’s understandable when an average fan goes a bit overboard in his criticism, but surely ex-players can be smarter to choose words that are less cringe-worthy. Players can be inept, unfit, lacking in skill but as long as they are trying to compete, there is no reason to be embarrassed by a loss, no matter how one-sided it may seem.
Ambrose himself has seen his share of bad losses. He was part of the team that was drubbed 5-0 by the South Africans in 1998-1999. The home series that followed started with what Ambrose would surely term an embarrassing loss where his team was bundled out for just 57 in the second inning. But then thanks to Brian Lara’s 213 and 153 in the following two matches, West Indies managed to win the next two Tests when no one gave them a chance. Ambrose should have known better that no matter how big the difference between the two teams appears to be before the game when you step on to the pitch you always have a chance to win if you play out of your skin on a given day.
West Indies had no Brian Lara this time but they still had Hope! Shai Hope scored a hundred in each inning and Kraigg Brathwaite almost emulated the same feat to give their team a historic win that will be cherished for ages.
If the win for the men from Caribbean gave hope of stemming the slide for the once mighty West Indies, the win for Tigers at home was another stepping stone in the rise of the plucky Bangladeshis who look like a better unit every passing season. They had already beaten Sri Lanka and England in the last one year and many fancied them against Australians given how dismal they have been in Asian conditions. Still, a win against Australians will provide a fillip in the rise of the Bangladeshis.
Bangladesh continues to have a team that has a good mix of youth with experience. While Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan have long been recognized as world class performers, younger players like Mehidy Hasan keep bursting on the scene to ensure the team always has the X-factor.
Test cricket teaches us many things but above all, it teaches us the virtues of patience. Perhaps that’s what it demands from its fans and administrators. Perhaps, we should just stop worrying about its health for once and stop trying to ring in the changes every time there is low attendance for a particular match. Test cricket wants us to accept the slightly dull times and hang around for epic theatre. Let’s try and do that for once. As the meme goes, let’s all keep calm and watch Test Cricket.
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After winning by seven wickets, Root telephoned Rob Lewis, who had been cheering from Galle fort overlooking the cricket stadium.
Bairstow, 31, scored a century in his last one-day international and then amassed 345 runs in the IPL Twenty20 tournament for Sunrisers Hyderabad between September-November.
Lewis, who scored 16 first-class centuries in a career spanning nearly two decades, is also an experienced coach, having led Durham to three trophies between 2013 and 2016.