December 10, 2012


The stories of Test cricket

Alex Braae
Faf du Plessis celebrates a century on debut, Australia v South Africa, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 5th day, November 26, 2012
Every good story needs a hero, even one with an unlikely name like Faf.  © Getty Images

Test cricket, at the heart of the game, is about narratives. We who love this form of the game tend to romanticise it, and this leads to incredible stories and epic tales. The plot of a Test twists and turns, much like a good book, and at the end of a good match, the story is resolved in a satisfying manner.

Context is important too. A Test match can be a continuation of a theme or a turning point. Over the last few weeks, there have been multiple Tests which fans will be talking about for years: Classic matches where the advantage swung back and forth, where dreams were realised and shattered, where commentators didn't have to grasp at superlatives to hype up the games.

The significance of a period of cricket like this, even a brief one, is important. It is times like these that will bring fans back to the purist's game. Those with an understanding of Test cricket know that the result is not always the most important outcome of a match. It is how the teams got to the result that matters.

Take for example the draw between South Africa and Australia. Nothing to write home about there - on paper it was just a match that ended in a stalemate. But what if you consider that South Africa had to bat an entire day, with only six wickets in hand, to save the match? The name Faf du Plessis was not widely known before this match. In fact, it was his debut Test match. He has now become a legend. South Africa, to an extent, owe their defence of the No. 1 spot to him. Every good story needs a hero, even one with an unlikely name like Faf.

A triumph against the odds is a template that many great stories are based on. That could easily be applied to England's recent win in India. Make no mistake, England have been terrible in the subcontinent over the past few years. After being predictably thrashed in the first Test, hopes were not high for the second. It took redemptive performances from two players who have been ridiculed and mocked throughout their careers - Kevin Pietersen and Monty Panesar - for England to score an upset in Mumbai.

Sometimes characters off the field will appear in stories about Test cricket. Martin Crowe made his return recently, not with the bat, but with the pen. He wrote a fierce call to arms to the New Zealand team, in the wake of arguably their worst run of form in recent years. His intervention, like a ghostly Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, seemed to provide the impetus for the Kiwis to start believing in themselves.

Like England, New Zealand are rubbish on the subcontinent. But who will ever be able to forget Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson grinding out the first day at the P Sara Oval, followed by Tim Southee and Trent Boult tearing into the aging Sri Lankan batting order? It was a triumph of youth over experience, and about as unlikely as David defeating Goliath. Kiwi fans, so often starved of good news, have compared this win with not only Hobart last year, but other memorable Test wins across history.

Sometimes the story is one we've heard before. Bangladesh are adept at turning good positions into defeats, and they managed this in spectacular style against the West Indies. After doing absolutely everything to get the upper-hand in Dhaka, they somehow managed to let it slip away. Another debutant, Sohag Gazi, bowled the match of his life to set up a chance to win. As is so often the case with Bangladesh, the batsmen were the villains of this tale. The target was 245, tough, but considering how hard they had to work to get there, it was heartbreaking not to reach. Let's hope this story doesn't keep repeating itself.

Finally, every tale ends with an epilogue. We witnessed the end of one of the great Test players, Ricky Ponting. How fitting that his career, which has had so many challenges, should end against the best team in the world.

Ponting, in cricketing terms, has lived his life to the fullest. From fighting personal demons in his youth, to regaining the Ashes in the later years of his career, he has been the archetypal Aussie battler. He is also the last survivor from the great Australian team which conquered all. His retirement brings to an end the epic saga of one of the greatest team ever.

The nature of Test cricket lends itself perfectly to narratives like this. How else can we understand a game that takes a week to complete? After matches like what we have recently seen, it is clear test cricket doesn't need to be revived. It already is alive and well. Here's to many more great tales, yet to be told.

Keywords: Tributes

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Ram on (December 17, 2012, 7:08 GMT)

Yep. Test cricket is the ultimate pinnacle of cricket. And, what else to celebrate more than remembering 153*, 400, 375, 213, 221, 277, 196 of BCL and all the battles he endured during these innings of supreme quality against the best opposition with the weakest support? Kudos to BCL for making Test cricket to be liked during his career.

Posted by jyothi on (December 16, 2012, 9:23 GMT)

Nice read...Test match is the acid test not only for one's skills but character as well and i do not think many people can appreciate it.....Lets hope that there are sporting pitches which lead to good , entertaining test matches and there are heroes ready to play their part in such stories .

Posted by alex on (December 16, 2012, 2:41 GMT)

Cheers for the comments all. Agree with Shafaet, Smith batting with the broken hand was one of the most courageous things to ever happen on a sports field. Interesting how it is often an effort to save a match which is most enthralling.

Posted by Anonymous on (December 15, 2012, 8:05 GMT)

Test cricket is the best cricket. Simply hitting sixers and fours is not at all cricket. Then, ex-giants of Windies would have hit countless sixers and fours. It's an acid test for liquid pace against high class batting stuff, etc. etc. More important is the staying capacity of the players in the middle, which is lacking in almost all modern cricketers especially those who play too much of one dayers and T20s. The great Gary Sobers used to say "Stay there, runs will come automatically". Long live Test matches, let us totally abandon T20s once for all in the interest of the game. In T20s the spirit of the game is lost, gentleman's approach is missing in T20s, and so on.

Posted by amir on (December 14, 2012, 19:05 GMT)

Faf playing whole day was really something extra to watch SA winning 3rd test amazing sight ENG bouncing back from defeat wining two tests back to back in India resilience of Faf adaptability of English tam and awakening of black caps is what we the test cricket lovers desperately needed and it came just at time.

Posted by faizan khan on (December 14, 2012, 12:03 GMT)

I have seen the best test match was AUS VS SA in nov 2102,in that match,AUS set the 650 runs target, SA have 150 overs, but initial SA lose the earlier wkts,but the most dangerous bats man AB devillier comes and played a very smooth and consistent inning, he scored just 33 runs from at least 260 balls and change the match result into draw,and also superb inning played by Du plessis.these inning show played for nation not for our self,

Posted by Shafaet on (December 13, 2012, 15:46 GMT)

Nice one. My favourite test cricket moment is Smith batting with broken hand in Melbourne, it was epic. Test cricket often produces epic moments to remember forever, very few form of sports can do that.

Posted by Vaibhav Sharma on (December 12, 2012, 8:45 GMT)

Nice read...Test match is the acid test not only for one's skills but character as well and i do not think many people can appreciate it.....Lets hope that there are sporting pitches which lead to good , entertaining test matches and there are heroes ready to play their part in such stories .

Posted by Jyoti Swarup on (December 12, 2012, 7:40 GMT)

I completely agree in Tests Results are not Important,but its how team got the results that matter.Indias resurrection was not famous win against aussie team in eden,it was about how two players played against odds.Windies wins in 80's was not the key,it was their ability to play to their strenghts.Test will continue to conquer imagination of purists...and always

Posted by syeed zayed on (December 11, 2012, 13:25 GMT)

Indeed, Alex ,test cricket is the epitome of cricket ,it is not necessary that result should be there in every game ,the impt. is how th test have fared. I personaly enjoy the test ckt. between aus pak.,sa, and eng. because i love chin music and grounds like perth and durban, no sight is better than ,when test is at its epitome , ah love this game and supreme fast bowlers,.

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