Samir Chopra July 29, 2010

Begging for mercy

Sometimes, even the cricket-fan-in-exile can be spoiled for choice when it comes to live cricket

Sometimes, even the cricket-fan-in-exile can be spoiled for choice when it comes to live cricket. Today, I was presented with the opportunity to watch not one, but two Test matches: India v Sri Lanka and Pakistan v England. So what's an Indian fan like me to do? Watch Pakistan v England of course.

The reason for that goes back some thirty odd years to the late seventies. That's when I became aware that there were an awful lot of drawn games played in India (they were also the years that India played host to a couple of promising, but severely World Series Cricket-weakened teams). But nothing quite drilled that message home like the snorefest of the 1981-82 series against England. I don't think I'm alone in saying that something in me died that year.

Since then, the subcontinent has seen its share of exciting cricket but it's also provided some of the most pointless and turgid games in the history of the game. While it might seem that there have been more of these in recent times (I'm thinking in particular of the India-Pakistan series of 2005-06), I suspect the proportion of drawn games has remained roughly the same over the years. It's just that our collective patience has run out.

So this morning, there was little chance that I would tune in to the SSC Test. Why not watch a game instead where you could see the world's most promising fast bowler in action, in conditions that might help him? A game where there promised to be some movement toward a result? (As I write, my pick has been an inspired one - Mohammed Aamer has put in a beautiful spell for three wickets, and Mohammad Asif has bowled Kevin Pietersen with a peach).

Meanwhile, the carnage taking place at the SSC reminds us that spectators don't like fast scoring in Tests if it doesn't lead to a result. India and Sri Lanka have combined to score at some 328 runs per day. But it all feels a little flat, doesn't it?

No one, not us bloggers with too much time on our hands, or cricket fans the world over who vote with their feet, has tired of making the same point again and again: run-fests like the SSC one will kill Test cricket more surely than the IPL ever will. But there is little evidence that anyone is listening.

The most astonishing thing about the current state of affairs in Test cricket is that the world of cricket could have had it all. The way Test cricket had been played had changed for the better thanks to the influence of limited-overs cricket: the fielding was better; batsmen had a wider range of attacking strokes (and a slight concomitant loss of defensive technique); technology had aided in making more close-line decisions go the fielding side's way. The balance of the game had the potential to tilt, finally, just a little away from the batsman. Test cricket could, and would have, settled into a more result-oriented trajectory had the last piece in the puzzle been taken care of: the pitches.

But, no, the urge to self-destruct lies deep within Test cricket. And so we find ourselves at this pass. Where even a devoted fan of Test cricket cannot bother himself to check the highlights of a game. (I haven't done so for the SSC Test).

So, thank you, Aamer, Asif and Umar. And thank you gloomy English summer. It's brightened up this day of mine in a way that the glaring sun at the SSC hasn't been able to.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here