New Zealand v Pakistan, 1st Test, Dunedin, 5th day November 28, 2009

Test cricket at its finest

Just for the high quality of consistent fast bowling throughout the match, the Dunedin Test needs to be celebrated

Sheer pace? Shane Bond. Wily craft? Mohammad Asif. Swing and reverse-swing? Mohammad Aamer. Persistence? Chris Martin and Umar Gul. Coming back and seizing the moment? Iain O'Brien.

Just for the high quality of consistent fast bowling throughout the match, the Dunedin Test needs to be celebrated. Add to that the match itself ebbed and flowed so beautifully that almost every session had a story to tell, and even in the last session either team could win, and there was an outside chance of a draw too.

And the relief at watching Bond and Asif in their national whites, and realising that they still had it. That the Asif wrist still controlled what the ball did. That Bond could still bowl bouncers at 150kph, and yorkers, and quick legcutters.

And the joy of watching Umar Akmal's debut, rivalled - in a long, long time - only by Ajantha Mendis'. Also that his elder brother was with him for the majority of his first-innings century, and that he was the first person to congratulate him. That Umar changed his game completely in the second innings, when he had much more to be responsible for and much more to lose.

And that the first ball of the match was a swinging yorker from Aamer to clean Tim McIntosh up. And the same bowler reducing New Zealand to 0 for 2 in the second innings too. Also, the captain, coach, selector, major batsman, major bowler, all in one, rescued New Zealand from a rut again. Relentlessly good fast bowling is mine; pick your own story, and tell it. And the bottomline was that despite the rain, despite the bad light, the match was wide open in the final session.

This hasn't been a good year for Test cricket. Australia in South Africa couldn't replicate South Africa in Australia; Ashes were a good story because England regained them, but not many of the neutrals will remember them for sustained high-quality cricket; India played one tense Test in Napier, but the pitch there hardly tested the batsmen; and West Indies and Bangladesh played out a farce in the Caribbean. India didn't bother to play one for more than seven months, and when they finally did, they did so on flat roads. Sri Lanka in Pakistan is best forgotten.

And it's not just what happened or didn't happen in Tests. It's what happened outside the Tests that has been bad news for the format. The ICC talked of four-day Tests, and pink-ball Test cricket. A Test captain turned up for a series with his mind still back in the IPL, and openly talked about how - compared with Twenty20 - Test cricket is not where it's at. The crowds found more entertainment in the shorter formats, and in the modern consumer-driven world it was no surprise that questions were raised about Test cricket's survival.

For entertainment, though, don't look beyond Pakistan in Sri Lanka, with all the myriad collapses and sharp turns, but how those collapses came about still remains inexplicable. Younis Khan couldn't make any sense of them, Kumar Sangakkara smiled and accepted the gifts, and those who watched are yet to get over it.

In this Test, though, you could see the build-ups, the plans, the execution. And then the extraordinary knocks to foil those plans too. Bond v the Akmal brothers in the final session of the match was one such plan that came through. Four times in that spell he made the batsmen play and miss outside off, and twice he got edges that fell short of slips. Twice Kamran got close enough to those balls reversing away, and drove them for four. Then came the first ball to jag in, and got Umar. Game over. This, and other such plays, over a eight-over spell; no other format affords such sustained contests. Such plays need to be preserved. Such plays need to happen more often.

This was perhaps the Test of the year. Unlike the Cardiff Test, which came alive only on the final day and was played on a lifeless pitch, this one kept going back and forth throughout. The fragile batting line-ups on both sides gave the proceedings an edginess, a feeling that there was drama looming. It was played on a fair pitch, despite this being the first-ever November Test in Dunedin. The surface provided just enough help to the bowlers, there was no maddening seam movement, and batsmen got value for their shots too.

This was a reiteration that when played the right way Tests are superior to any other format. That such one-off matches come as reassurance for Tests cannot be good news. That these Tests come at all, given so many duds in the year, cannot be bad news.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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