February 21, 2010


Vive le rankings

Andrew Hughes

Did the Kolkata Test matter? Ask the gent with the beehive down his trousers © AFP

India are still top dogs. Yes they were at home, but home means expectations, nay demands, of victory, and the press after Nagpur left none in doubt about the retribution that would be dished out should Dhoni and Co fail to seal the deal in Kolkata. Three fluffed catches on the last day suggested sweaty palms and jittery fingers. But Test cricket demands patience, even when the margins are shrinking. Ten balls to go and things looked ominous. A few seconds later, they were cavorting in the outfield.

The Kolkata Test was a vindication, not just for MS Dhoni, but for the oft-derided ICC ranking system. It was once considered an ingenious but entirely superfluous statistical contrivance for measuring how much better Australia were than the rest. Sometimes it was 20 points. Sometimes it was 18. Jolly interesting and all that, but what’s the point? When your car is covered in cold white stuff, you don’t need to consult a meteorologist to find out it’s snowing.

Well ranking-sceptics should now recant. That list of numbers is not only a barometer of who’s good and who’s not, it has become a competition in itself. Thanks to the ICC spreadsheets, this match meant something; it wasn’t just one more stop on the bus route of reciprocal competition. The pre-match hype had everything except Don King. Newspapers competed for hyperbole. Would Bhajji have screamed like a lunatic and raced off towards the stands as though he had a beehive down his trousers if this had been just another game?

Best of all, Eden Gardens was full. For a Test match. It isn’t pink balls, floodlights or cheerleaders that the punters want. It’s context. Every Test, as far as possible, should mean something; it should be a small piece of a bigger picture. This doesn’t pollute or detract from Test cricket; it adds another delicious layer to the anticipation and the tension and helps marketing men sell it to newcomers without having to give it artificial injections of razzmatazz.

And non-cricket fans, strange folk though they are, deserve to experience the joy of Tests. This five-day stuff reaches parts that other formats cannot. It ebbs and flows, it has currents and undercurrents, and you can’t take your eyes off it. The slow siege of the South African second innings demanded attention, the fielders creeping closer and closer as Amla, exhibiting stony impassiveness, dead-batted and flicked the Indian spinners, reading every ball from the hand.

This series has also featured one of the game’s true artists at his best. Tendulkar, found out by a slightly loose drive in the first innings in Nagpur, avoided that tangle of technical adjustment and declining confidence that entraps so many batsmen when they can’t trust a favourite shot. In his second innings, he simply cut it out. Such self-imposed restrictions can bring out the best in an artist. Georges Perec wrote an entire novel without using the letter “e” and Tendulkar constructed a brilliant century without employing the drive. It is not facetious to mention them in the same sentence.


Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

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Posted by Abhijeet on (February 25, 2010, 6:16 GMT)

I miss your usual style, Andrew. Please do not give in to whining haters :) Hats off to the rating system, which turned a boring 5 odi series into more of life and death affair of 2 tests and 3 odis (how about 2 tests / 2 odis / 2 T20s ?). Hope all the teams get closer on the tally and it continues to work.

Posted by Sitanshu Shekhar on (February 23, 2010, 11:25 GMT)

Great article Andrew!

A series between SA and India ought to be called the Gandhi-Mandella Series. There has never been an Indian greater than Gandhi nor a Saffa greater than Mandela.

Posted by Andrew Hughes on (February 23, 2010, 9:36 GMT)

Thanks all for the comments.

On the subject of Georges Perec, it is true that he wrote a novella using only the vowel 'e'. It was called the Exeter Text. However, the Void (or La Disparation) was a full length novel that did without 'e' completely. I remember this because my copy helpfully has a large 'e' on the cover, with a red line through it.

Posted by jamshed on (February 23, 2010, 6:56 GMT)

I think they should have cheerleaders in tests.That will provide something to look at during maiden overs.

Posted by Gary on (February 22, 2010, 21:08 GMT)

Perec's novella contained only the vowel "e", no others.

Posted by Cric Lover on (February 22, 2010, 17:14 GMT)

Nice article. I liked the last few lines. Wonderful observation. Great work Andrew... keep them coming. As for the Eden Test it was just awesome. Intense rivalry, full house, noise et al just the stuff competions should be made of.

Posted by Mel on (February 22, 2010, 15:36 GMT)

Andrew, that’s a plain vanilla reporting of one of the best test match after a long time, we want more spice for page2. ;) Good observation on Tendulkar not playing his fav shot. Don’t we all take Tendulkar for granted? Another 100 from him is just routine! There sure are way too many heroes in that match.

Posted by Keith Bennett on (February 22, 2010, 10:02 GMT)

Excellent article, and I couldn't agree more. I think the rankings certainly add something to do the game. :-)

Posted by Jachin Daniel on (February 22, 2010, 9:52 GMT)

Awesome content!! Andrew, you are not just a guy with a sense of humour, but also one with a lot of sensible humour. This was one of your more serious stuff... Go!!

Posted by Shirin Sadikot on (February 22, 2010, 8:02 GMT)

Eden Test... Ohh!! The beauty of that victory was that it came on a fabulous sporting track with no 'home advantage' of a 'turner'! Not to forget, we didnt have out premiere bowler for the whole of the final day and the match was dragged into the fag end because we had only 31.1 overs' play on day-four!!!

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Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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