GAME PLAN: Test cricket: The format that inspires, still

Jaideep Ghosh

Kanpur: Indian vs New Zealand Test match at Green Park in Kanpur, September 22, 2016. Photo - PTI

Kanpur: Indian vs New Zealand Test match at Green Park in Kanpur, September 22, 2016.
Photo – PTI

This day is remarkable in the history of Indian cricket. The country plays its 500th Test, in a journey that has covered 84 years in a format of the sport that defines a battle in every way, from stamina to patience.

Irrespective of how much limited-over cricket made serious inroads into the Indian psyche, every real cricket follower will agree that nothing provides for more satisfaction than a Test match, won in the last session of the last day.

The sheer joy of the tactical battles, the battles within the war, the individual rivalries and the team campaigns is what makes Test cricket what it is.

Cricket-England-AshesThe sight of a tearaway fast bowler steaming in with four slips and two gullies in position will take your breath away every first morning, I promise you. You will throw up your hands in exultation as a classy opening batsman thrashes one through the covers. You will applaud as the middle-order batsman steps out and hoists the spinner over the fence and you will laugh as the tail-ender swats one cross-batted in the rush for runs.

You will then lean forward and watch intently as spinner spins his web, with slip, bat-pad and silly point encouraging the probing batsman to be brave.

In all of that, you will see the highs and lows of every war ever fought. You will even see life lessons. Test cricket is where you see your real stars too. Can you imagine where we would be without the sport in white, with the red cricket ball?

Would we have seen the perfection of Sunil Gavaskar? Or the class that has come to us through the likes of Gundappa Viswanath or Mohinder Amarnath. There would be no spin quarter, no Bedi, Chandra, Prasanna or Venkat.

You wouldn’t have egged on Kapil Dev to become the world topper, or Anil Kumble to become the bowler he did.

It was Test cricket that saw VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid blossom as two of the best, not just in India but in the world of cricket. It was Test cricket that made Sachin Tendulkar. It was the same format that defined leadership, in the shape of Sourav Ganguly.

We would never see the triple-centuries that Virender Sehwag hit, in the manner only he could.Where would you see the battles that we did, unless there were Test matches.

Cricket-Ind-wins-SL-2Tendulkar taking on Shane Warne is a battle of quality; or Harbhajan Singh facing off with Andrew Symonds is a clash that was possibly more memorable. Or the battles involving a Laxman or Dravid taking on a Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath or Curtly Ambrose.

The transition of India from a collection of talented individuals who played within the spirit of the game but lost everything for most parts, to a side that can take on anyone anywhere is thanks to Test cricket.

We had the era of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, a mystifying period when the limited-over world beaters just could not win anything in whites. Nothing of consequence anyway.

Then came the times of Virat Kohli, and things changed. He is the paragon of aggression and loves to win, under any circumstances, a more abrasive from of Ganguly.

That has made a tremendous change to how India has begun playing Test cricket again. Once Kumble was brought on board to make it a real Indian effort, the team has looked good enough to take on all comers. Away as well as home.

Test cricket is here the spirit of the sport lies. As India touches history, it is a long list of players who have made this such a fascinating book to read.

Names like Nayudu, Phadkar, Mankad, Manjrekar and Sardesai, to the times of Tendulkar, Ganguly, Kumble, Dravid and Laxman, to the Kohlis and Ravichandran Ashwins – this is where passion lies, along with history class and sheer joy of watching Test cricket.

Kanpur: India's former test captains pose for a group photo with dignitaries after a felicitation to mark the 500th cricket test of the team in Kanpur, September 22, 2016. Photo - PTI

Kanpur: India’s former test captains pose for a group photo with dignitaries after a felicitation to mark the 500th cricket test of the team in Kanpur, September 22, 2016.
Photo – PTI

One hopes that the threats that have surrounded the format, unfortunately often generated by those who are supposedly the guardians of the game, are kept at bay and the format flourishes.

Those who play the game will swear by Test cricket. Each real player wants to play for India, though there are many now who would rather go and play the money league.

As for the viewers, don’t think they are having a bad deal. The positives that limited-overs cricket has brought to Test cricket is the tendency to speed things up, which brings more results. And as long as there are results, there will be people to follow Tests.

One still wakes up in the morning to prepare for a Test match, set up a cup of tea as the first ball is bowled. The sheer anticipation of Test cricket will stay forever unmatched.

It will be a sad day indeed, if that anticipation is lost. For, there won’t be any cricket without Test cricket.

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