27th Nov - 4th Dec
I have struggled to write this article all week. Simply, because it is difficult to express exactly what I think and feel. As I attempt to edit it for the fifth time, Debutant Dean Elgar has just faced three of the most vicious bouncers you'll ever see from Mitchell Johnson at the WACA in Perth in front of a full house. And the fourth ball he was trapped LBW to the one that was bowled full. This is Test Cricket at its best. And I have been saying that all week.
As a kid all I ever wanted to do was face bouncers and play swing bowling for the rest of my life. And like with most of you reading this it is unlikely to happen in this life time (at least at the State or country level :P) . I still dream of playing professional cricket around the world and will die trying if I cannot do it. Cricket is an integral part of my mental and physical constitution. I shadow practice all the time.
Let's focus though on things that I can do at this moment - write about it!
Now, the thing with cricket writing is that everyone in India knows, talks and writes about it. In India, when you say you are passionate about cricket, it is akin to saying I believe in God. Everyone feels they are passionate about the game. Countless blogs and continuous media coverage numbs you about the game. But I am anyway going to express my gratitude and feelings for the great game. More specifically, Test Cricket.
The beauty of Test Cricket is that the game lasts for so long. Every Test match is a story. Every cricket tour is like a life time. When teams are evenly matched and there is a fair contest between the bat and ball, magic happens. The journey of each session from Day 1 to the end of the match becomes fascinating. Throw in the personal circumstances of the lead actors in the story and you have legends. Few sports offer the audience the prospect of being emotionally involved over days. Over after over, session by session you become connected to the fortunes of the teams and the cricketers.
What can be more entertaining than watching Dale Steyn bowl at his best to Sachin Tendulkar in a Test Match? How can you not be engrossed seeing a young Rahul Dravid trying to figure out a way to play Curtly Ambrose and finally coming out trumps? How could the 2005 Ashes series not move you? Can we ever get bored of watching Shane Warne bowl with his plethora of tricks and acts? There is just so much that an Test match has to offer. On that momentous day in Kolkata when Laxman and Dravid did the unthinkable few noticed the commitment of Aussies in the field.They had been battered and bruised all day by the genius of two men but till the final over of the day they kept diving and running around the field showing the world why they were no.1. I once saw Ranatunga win a match with a broken thumb against Pakistan. A couple of seasons back Graeme Smith tried to save a test match for the Proteas with a bottom hand that wouldn't move. Have you seen the adrenaline pumping deadly spells of bowling by Pakistani fast bowlers swinging the ball in ways unknown to over a century of test cricketers ? Brian Lara beat the entire Australian team alone on their tour to the West Indies a decade back and brought such wild joy to people of the Carribean that every WI victory ended up in an invasion of the pitch by them in delirium.
Test Cricket separates the special ones from the ordinary. The last 10 days has seen some of the most incredible Test Cricket around the world in a long time. Peter Siddle may not be the most skillful bowler in the world but when he ran in over after over in pain, stretching his body and mind to the limit the entire world took notice and stood up to applaud. Faf Du Plessis batted two days (yes 2 days!) in Adelaide as if the future of the Republic of South Africa was on his shoulders. It was an extraordinary feat for any batsman in the world and here we are talking about a debutant. At 28, most debutants succumb to cynicism and DuPlessis had been branded as a ODI/T20 cricketer. Remarkable. Kevin Pietersen is so outrageously talented, its almost scary. He batted at Bombay as if he owned the city and the Indian bowlers were school cricket bowlers. It was not only his best innings but one of the best innings by any foreigner in India. For a man who has to keep proving to his own team that he is not an outsider, he seems to possess a weird mental strength. Exactly at the same time, Alistair Cook provides the class and temperament of the quintessential Test batsman. He is turning out to be a great batsman of the new era. He looks like someone who can score in any part of the world and in any situation. Most captains would be deflated after watching one's team bat so timidly in the first innings in Ahmedabad. If England manage to draw or who knows even the series, it will be because the captain led from the front. His body language and his batting both display a steely resolve that will be hard to beat. Test Cricket is also the great leveler. Ricky Ponting, the king who ruled the world for years seemed like a novice who could be got out with a rubber ball in your building.
On the India front there is one man we need to talk about. I witnessed Cheteshwar Pujara's century(clearly his best till date) at the Wankhede in person. Here is a 24 year old guy playing in his 6th Test match and handling arguably the world's best off spinner (Swann) with an authority you associate with the World's best. It was a difficult pitch to bat on as most other Indian batsmen found out and Pujara was decisive with his foot work and was hardly ever beaten by either spin or quick bowling. The moment of the day was watching Sachin and Sehwag come out and applaud when Pujara walked back to the dressing room at the end of play. They knew that it was a special innings and not just another century by a young Indian batsmen on a flat deck. We had great view of this as we were in the Garware Stand next to the players dressing rooms. For most of the day, the stands reverbarated "Pujaraaa ...Pujaraaa...." signalling the new order in the Indian Test Team. It's time to make way for the new. The old and spent must go. In that sense, Rahul Dravid timed his retirement perfectly. It almost seems as if he checked up on Pujara - 'Are you ready?' Pujara must have nodded humbly but excitedly and Dravid must have passed on the baton. Pujara's story is moving and full of personal turmoil. But it is also that of resilience, hard work, patience, determination and dedication - words often used loosely but rarely seen in practice. Do read up on him. It is quite inspiring. Also, he is a player who has come up the hard way scoring tons and tons of runs in domestic cricket. Luckily, he has got a break at a young age unlike many who toil away on the dust bowls across India. I just pray to god he remains injury free.
Test cricket is like a vice and it stays with you for life. If you start appreciating the format at a young age it is impossible to lose interest for the rest of your life. In so many ways, it is a metaphor for life. The concept of a 2nd innings itself tells you that everyone in life deserves a second chance and should be allowed to start afresh. It teaches you that despite the best preparations and the most positive intents things will not always go as you had planned. Tells you that to conquer it all there is no alternative to hours of purposeful practise. It makes you believe that no situation is too dire for a miracle. Mental toughness and a spirit to fightback can turn around the most treacherous situations. That there is no greater compliment from your colleagues than to be respected for doing your job well.
Test Cricket is simply the joy of watching a great contest between the bat and the ball. That confident leave out side the off stump. The rhythmic out swinger that takes the edge. The ferocious bouncer that converts a batsman into a dancer. That inspirational catch in the hot sun. The magnificent revolutions of a spinning ball. That sound of the red ball hitting the middle of the bat.
Thank God for test cricket.