February 21, 2009

Mike Holmans

Another win for Test cricket

Mike Holmans



It is at least amusing that in the week that Allen Stanford fell from grace, the two teams whose affairs he has most disrupted should produce a match exemplifying all the features of Test cricket that he professes to dislike but which was so absorbing that it will live in the memory longer than most quickfire thrashes.

It’s not that Twenty20 isn’t very good, just that it gets rather samey. Our local kebab shop does some wonderful variations on grilled lamb and chicken but man cannot live by shish alone – there is also a time and place for lobster thermidor, sweet and sour pork or macaroni cheese.

And what you cannot get at your local Twenty20 outlet is cricket reduced to its primal essence, as occurs in a last hour when the batting side has no chance of winning and only a couple of wickets left. The outfield is empty and irrelevant, the only figures on the scoreboard which matter are the wickets and the overs remaining, and the only point of each ball is to see whether the batsman can prevent it hitting his stumps without giving a catch to one of the ravenous mob surrounding him.

The electricity in the crowd has the crackle of static, the batsmen’s fans squawking their approval as a ball is safely fended away and yelping their fear at misses or miscues while those supporting the fielders catch their breaths at each run-up and snort their disappointment at each survival. And at the end, whichever way it goes, there is overwhelming relief for those who succeeded and agonising disappointment for those who failed to reach their objective.

That is the cricket of pure emotion, not played or watched with the brain, but felt through the heart.

At the end of the ARG Test, I felt both the disappointment and the relief, since I have realised that I want this series to be drawn.

I don’t want England to lose, mostly because it will unleash a torrent of tedious doom and gloom articles which we will be swimming through for months – and all of them will drone on and on about the internal workings of the ECB and none will acknowledge that West Indies played well. But I don’t particularly want them to win either because I want West Indies back as a major power.

Every country has their own style. A good Australian team is ruthlessly tough, a good English team displays the virtues of classicism while a good Indian team does the same for the baroque, a Pakistani team will be furiously aggressive, good South Africans functionally efficient and good New Zealanders will be patronised for punching above their weight and given a lollipop. But the West Indies on song bring joy, the pure joy of exulting in excellence, the feeling that nothing can be so much fun as being good at cricket, and that is a joy we need in these otherwise depressing days. It’s no surprise that Usain Bolt played cricket in Jamaica before taking up sprinting: showboating to the world record in the Olympic 100m final is something only a West Indian cricketer could do. (I apologise if Sri Lankans feel left out of the above, but the only thing that has so far characterised good Sri Lankan teams is Murali taking hatfuls of wickets – they need some more history yet.)

As every team which has had to pick itself from the floor has discovered, the first step is becoming hard to beat. Allen Stanford may affect indifference, but right now even he ought to be able to see the pleasures in getting out of jail as Chris Gayle’s men did at the ARG. They have probably gained more from this whole-team backs to the wall effort than they did from the win at Sabina - which came off a once-in-a-lifetime performance from a single bowler and an English batting order in outright panic, a recurrence of which one can dream about but not plan for.

Test cricket’s image has suffered because too many recent games have been mismatches, the eventual result predictable by tea on day one. Yet though the boards are doing their best to distract us by ostentatiously sacking coaches, captains, stadiums and financiers, this series is advertising why Test cricket remains the game’s most fascinating form.

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Posted by Angi on (February 26, 2009, 8:14 GMT)

the only thing that has so far characterised good Sri Lankan teams is Murali taking hatfuls of wickets – they need some more history yet

I would have to disagree with that. Sri Lanka is a wonderful example of playing within their limitations and turning weaknesses into strengths. And aside from Murali, there are some truly great players : Jayasuriya revolutionizing big-hitting in 1996, Chaminda Vaas heralding the new age of swing bowlers with Waqar and Wasim, Ranatunga setting the way for aggresive leadership (followed by Ganguly) and Aravinda Da Silva, truly one of the most under-rated batsman in the world. I consider Da Silva a better batsman than Matt Hayden or Kev Pietersen...

Posted by Rex on (February 24, 2009, 6:35 GMT)

waterbuffalo: Your post is the perfect example of what everyone calls wishful thinking.

No player is going to say T20 is a joke and disregard it. As for the players who opted out of the IPL, it's not that they hate it, it's just that they want the rest.

And tell me, won't you listen to boss' frivolous demands as long as he pays you well? Surely staying up a few hours late won't hurt your eyes too much? Surely playing for 4 weeks won't hurt the players too much?

It's not just the boards, but the players too who are nodding their heads to Modi's demands. And come on, he's just being a businessman.

The IPL wouldn't fall like Stanford did, because the Stanford incident was for a single man's satisfaction. The IPL is serious business involving all the countries and many companies. If one company fails, another buys the franchise.

The IPL is safe. Stop dreaming, wake up to the reality that India is the new paymaster of Cricket.

Posted by www.cric4all.wordpress.com on (February 24, 2009, 1:29 GMT)

You can add fielding to the Sri Lankan side. They have always fielded exceptionally well when on song.

Posted by matthew on (February 23, 2009, 1:04 GMT)

so glad to hear you acknowledging how NZers are constantly patronised for pushing above their weight, as a NZer i reckon the players we have developing and the core we have combine for a really exciting 5 years. The likes of Guptill, Ryder Flynn, McIntosh, Southee How (when in form)O'Brien, Elliott in the ODIs have put their hand up and when combined with the core of Oram, Vettori, McCullum, and Mills we have a pretty decent team, we just have to set our standards higher. The longer we claim to be underdogs and be given the status of hard tryers who "punch above their weight" the longer we will have the mentality that mediocrity as a good performance. If we could get our current set up of talent to strive for success like someone of lesser ability, like Richardson did, then we will see some fantastic results.

Posted by waterbuffalo on (February 21, 2009, 22:25 GMT)

Looking forward to the demise of BCCI's IPL. Cricket Boards from Australia to England, to SA to NZ to S Lanka and Pakistan are not going to be patient enough to put up with Lalit's Modi's demands. "Have to play 2 seasons" etc, after a while you will rub the players the wrong way. It is not like football, where the game is always 90 minutes, and the Champions League in the same as the EPL and the World Cup. 20/20 is a joke, and world class players are going to leave that joke behind for the sake of a few more years playing for their countries. Consequently, the IPL will be full of veterans discarded and unwanted, hence, no more KP's or Freddies, or Clarkes or Pontings or Gayle's. They will be left with leftovers and young players with no reputation. And that will be the end of it, because without current superstars, you have no product to sell. Or the product you dish out will be cheap and sub standard, with bowlers like Chris Harris pretending to get a guy out.

Posted by James on (February 21, 2009, 7:31 GMT)

I love the tight test match- I was trying to convince my USA friens that the exciting cricket match i was following had gone for 5 full days, but the match ended in a draw because they ran out of time, they didn't get it. Would be awesome to see the windies back as a major force in test cricket.

Posted by Roger@1stSlip on (February 21, 2009, 5:12 GMT)

Absolutely Mike.

Cricket-lovers are so lucky as they have the unique opportunity - that no other sort offers - of bring able to enjoy & savour a contest for 5 whole days ! The vast majority of other sporting contests are all over in 3 hours or less !

Long-live the 'long' form of the game. Long-live Test Cricket.

Posted by Owen (New Zealand) on (February 21, 2009, 4:21 GMT)

Couldn't agree more, coming from New zealand i see my fair share of mismatches on both sides and competive test series have been hard to come by in recent times. I just hope this is not the last Indian tour for a long time.

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