Mike Holmans December 15, 2008

Cricket at its best

This game was due to be remembered as the one which defied the terrorists, but that will now be but background colour adding extra lustre to the tapestry which should be woven in commemoration of one of Test cricket’s greatest epics

This was the stuff of which dreams are made. If it had been made up, it would have seemed unbelievably mawkish. As reality, it was intoxicating.

While England were still debating whether to come back to India, Andrew Strauss was the one who said that they had to make every effort to come back because they owed it to the game of cricket. Whatever debt he was referring to, it was paid back with massive interest in Chennai.

Instead of cricket doing duty in the war on terror, terror was unceremoniously dismissed as cricket pursued its own sense of history. All the horror in Mumbai achieved was to make it that much more exquisite that in this match it would be Mumbaikar Sachin Tendulkar who hit the boundary to simultaneously post his own century and top off the fourth-highest run chase in Test history, thus wiping away the pain of January 1999 when at the same ground he scored 136 in what many think of as his greatest innings but India fell so agonisingly short. This game was due to be remembered as the one which defied the terrorists, but that will now be but background colour adding extra lustre to the tapestry which should be woven in commemoration of one of Test cricket’s greatest epics.

There will be time enough tomorrow to strip down the engines and see which parts functioned according to specification and which failed – and the pit crews are no doubt already embarking on that given that the next match starts on Friday – but today we can but revel in such a glorious affirmation of our infinitely resilient sport.

India won the first and fourth days, England days two and three, so it was dead even as the last day began. That is roughly the ideal for Test cricket, which is at its best when four days of intense struggle get thrown out of the window and it’s down to a bowling attack and a batting order and may the best team win. Of course I’m disappointed that the best wasn’t the team I support, but a match like this needs both a euphoric winner and a dignified loser – and to be honest, no-one does dignified losing better than the English, so perhaps it’s for the best that it was this way round.

As I write, the game has been over for an hour. Usually when England have lost a Test, I want to kick the cats and I’m difficult to talk to until at least the next day; strangling seems too good for the incompetent bunglers responsible for throwing the game away and the opposition team can go and burn in the nearest waste incinerators for all I care.

But today, well, apparently we drew the short straw and had to play the losers’ parts not because we particularly deserved to but because someone had to if the game were to have a fitting conclusion. Today I just want to get on a cloud and float, happily burbling about what a fantastic game Test cricket is.

Tomorrow, though, the cats had better not annoy me….

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