England v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Chester-le-Street, 3rd day May 29, 2016

And on the third day, Test cricket rose again

Sri Lanka have been so poor, they might have mistaken for harbingers of Test cricket's doom. But the maligned sport just keeps grinding along

"Jerusalem" was playing over the loud speakers. The Burnopfield Cricket Club juniors were holding St George and Investec flags, with one solitary Sri Lankan flag thrown in, and curiously, no Welsh flag. As the umpires came onto the field, "Jerusalem" was muted to announce their arrival.

It was a moment of cynical nationalism overlapping with officious traditionalism. It was Test cricket.

On the field Jimmy Anderson yawned. His team was about to beat a team that had defeated them in the series before, but they had already kind of beaten them. The match was going through the motions, and not quickly. Sri Lanka had picked the most irrelevant time to bat at their best. And the ground settled in for a dull, inevitable crawl.

The Test was seemingly so boring that Michael Vaughan could escape it on day two to watch a second-tier football game. He did it in a helicopter, and when you need a helicopter to escape, something has gone horribly wrong. Even James Taylor, a cricket nerd, was tweeting, "Doesn't get much better!! England Vs Wales at Twickenham". As for the official EnglandCricket Twitter account, it was wishing Chris Jordan all the best in his game.

That game was a long way from the flying buttresses of County Durham, it was nearer the Neo-Dravidian structures of Bangalore.

Despite the angst about Test cricket at Chester-le-Street, the third-day crowd were enthused by what they saw © Getty Images

There, people weren't bored, they weren't allowed to be. There wasn't time for yawns; instead every spare moment was jammed with a commercially crafted catchphrase, a Spanish horn blast or women in skimpy outfits dancing at the marvellous male athleticism before them.

The contrast was quite startling. When Cricket Australia asked, years ago, that their match-day programmes stopped using the word "cricket", and people non-ironically started using the term "cricketainment" instead, it seemed like a 1984 construct. Now, even Ravi Ashwin doesn't consider the T20 format to be cricket. And Mark Wahlberg owns a CPL team.

In Bangalore, every shot of the crowd seems to have someone screaming in delight. In Chester-le-Street, there are people reading the paper. In Bangalore the seats are jammed with bodies. In Chester-le-Street, there is a part of the ground that no one ever sits in. In Bangalore, the cricket is shown to hundreds of millions of fans. In Chester-le-Street you'd have been lucky to have one million fans watching today's play globally.

That is why Chris Tremlett tweeted on day one, "Doesn't look like there are too many people in the ground at Durham. Is test cricket slowly dying?" He isn't the only one. Sky had a chat about it, and on social media it was an oft-said thing.

Of course, it has been an oft-said thing from pretty much the moment Test cricket was born. It is cricket's most consistent meme.

No one in England had time for a game that went five days in the 1800s, they said. Other countries weren't strong enough to compete with England, they said. Only the Ashes truly mattered, they said. Batting-friendly tracks would kill interest, they said. ODIs would kill the techniques required. ODIs would kill all the others. T20 was the devil, they said. They said, they say.

Lahiru Thirimanne's attempts to emulate Adam Gilchrist ended with a beauty from Moeen Ali © Getty Images

But in Durham, in the freezing cold, in a pretty empty stadium that might never get another game, with a Test team struggling to bat against a bigger, stronger and richer opponent, was cricket dying?

If this is Test cricket on its most dying day, then it's actually doing better than someone on their deathbed should be. A team that were so bad yesterday they were the living personification of the death, suddenly were good enough to outscore their entire series runs so far in one day. The crowd - so poor that Durham might not get another Test - was fairly full and quite engaged. People watched, listened, and read to follow the game. Even the weather was, well, for this part of the world, almost summer-like.

It doesn't mean the ICC shouldn't do more. Their pathetic Test Cricket Fund, US$1.25 million a year (less than a Chris Gayle Maximum contract) is silly in a billion-dollar industry. Day-night Tests could double the value of the game overnight, yet so little money has been spent to forward the concept and make the balls last, or be safe. And Test cricket is so poorly marketed and advertised in so many countries, you'd be mistaken for thinking it's illegal.

And has this series been a good advertisement for Test cricket? Sri Lanka have been so poor at times they've made batting look like an unconquerable quest, their fielding has ranged from spectacular to spectacularly bad, and their tactics are incomprehensible, both to outsiders and often to themselves. Of course, Sri Lanka have been like that in T20 and ODI cricket of late too.

And as bad as yesterday was - and it was bad - they were just as bad, if not worse, in January 2014 against Pakistan in Sharjah. And yet, six months later, they had won for the first time in England in more than a decade, after two Tests that went to the last ball and the second-last ball respectively. Did that exciting series win prove Test cricket was living, and this dull loss prove it is dying? Is it that easy? Could one Test series - the 2005 Ashes maybe, or India against Australia in 2000-01 - save cricket, and one more disaster, such as the 1912 Tri-series kill it forever?

Sunrisers Hyderabad celebrate after winning the IPL: people loved it, people hated it, people watched it © AFP

Can a sport that has close to a million people watching on TV over five (four, or maybe three) days actually die in a market where broadcasters are desperate for sporting content to fill their subscription channels? Can it really die while so many who love it are still around to say that it is dying?

None of this really mattered when Lahiru Thirimanne was batting with the tail and trying to turn himself into a Gilchrist-esque slogger. Nor when Moeen Ali slid one past Angelo Mathews and Jonny Bairstow stood sullen behind the stumps, looking at where he fumbled the ball.

Nothing mattered when Milinda Siriwardana effortlessly pushed a ball through the covers with such timing the ball must have been part of an inside job to get to the boundary. Or when Mathews, making up for one of his worst days ever, batted stoically until he was deceived by a ball so subtle he barely knew he was being grifted by Jimmy Anderson. What about that Kaushal Silva boundary? Or that over between Mendis and Anderson? Not to mention a bizarre no-ball when there were three men behind square.

There wasn't a sight such as Virat Kohli charging and slamming the Fizz through the covers. No 117-metre sixes were hit off Shane Watson. No one eased their way to a two-run-a-ball half-century. And at no stage was the ball bouncing off the furniture. There wasn't even the hope of a Sachin Baby miracle.

Both existed, both made people happy, sad, and frustrated all at the same time. Both did what sport, and cricket does. Made us talk, made us yell, made us question, made us forget our worries, and invent new irrelevant ones.

In Bangalore, a franchise made up of a Sydney captain and Bangladesh's greatest bowler beat a franchise with some of the most expensive batsmen of all time. People loved it, people hated it, people watched it.

In Durham, a side that might have been mistaken for harbingers of their own sport's doom, played their best cricket in a near no-hope situation and entertained a crowd who had really come to see their team win in a form of cricket they may not see live for a very long time to come. People loved it, people hated it, people watched it.

At the end of the day in Durham, the players walked off - not with a conclusion, not with a winner's cheque, not covered in champagne - but with the knowledge they will have to come back tomorrow and go through the motions again. One fighting to win the series, the other fighting to survive it.

Test cricket fights and survives as well. It has done for 139 years and counting.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber

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