Michael Jeh January 6, 2010

Why Test cricket isn't dead

What’s best about Test cricket played on this sort of pitch between two relatively evenly-matched teams is that it has provided a platform for every type of cricketer to be villain and hero
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I write this post hastily; Pakistan delicately poised at 101 for 5, chasing 176 for what is an impossible, inevitable, guaranteed, 50-50, uncertain, comprehensive win. It is a measure of the quality of the Test match and the SCG surface that any of these adjectives can be used to describe this wonderful contest. In fact, by the time I finish writing this brief post, any of the earlier words might be redundant. That’s the sort of game it’s been.

What’s best about Test cricket played on this sort of pitch between two relatively evenly matched teams is that it has provided a platform for every type of cricketer to be villain and hero. When was the last time we had a game that created a stage for cricket’s entire cast to play the lead role at different times during a single game?

There we go … as I speak, Kamran Akmal has sewn up the role of Chief Villain in this performance. For a brief moment there, I was wondering if the sheer romance of this gripping, see-saw encounter would have seen him claim ultimate redemption by leading Pakistan’s fragile tail to a glorious victory. Such were the depths of despair he plumbed when dropping those four chances that it was almost tailor-made for the Hollywood script with poor old Kamran smiting a six to win the game by one wicket in the lengthening Sydney shadows.

Brad Haddin may already know what that feels like. Having played a dreadful shot in the first innings and a careless flick across the line to Danish Kaneria in the second, his shot at redemption came when Salman Butt glanced one down leg side. Whatever transpires in the next hour or so, his place amongst the “greatest wicketkeeper-catches by an Australian” is assured. Alas, not so for Akmal Snr.

Younger brother Umar, a breathtaking talent if ever there was one, still has the winning of the game in his hands, having started off in inglorious fashion by spilling a regulation chance in the second over of the match. Who would have thought the future of the game would still be in his grasp? When he launched that stunning assault on Nathan Hauritz in the first innings, it would have taken a brave man to predict these two would still control the destiny of the match two days later. And so it has come to pass …

This game has offered everything. Fast bowlers, legspinners, offspinners, great catches, straightforward drops, good umpiring, lots of overturned decisions, edges that have gone unnoticed, brilliant captaincy at times from both skippers and some very ordinary tactics too. Amazingly, Ricky Ponting, much-vilified for choosing to bat first, may still have the last laugh if his bowlers can make best use of bowling last on this fourth-day pitch which is still doing enough, yet without any real demons.

It may well come down to which team can conquer their demons in the next few minutes. Surely there’s another twist left in this game. I’ll sign off on this post with Pakistan edging closer at 120 for 6 and the game still in the balance. Test cricket dead? Not bloody likely!

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane