July 28, 2011

Two thousand Tests, I've watched them all

Test matches burn bright in the memory whether you watched them or not
46

When I find myself in the company of scientists, wrote the poet WH Auden, I feel like a shabby curate who has strayed by mistake into a room full of dukes. When I started out as a reporter and found myself in the company of Test cricketers, I had similar feelings.

I met politicians, too, and writers and diplomats and scientists and Nobel Prize winners - none of them made me feel like Lala Amarnath did when I first met him, or Dattu Phadkar or MJ Gopalan. They were from another planet. They had played Test cricket.

In an essay on George Headley, CLR James talks of the "otherness" of the player thus: "A really great batsman is to me as strange a human being as a man seven feet tall or a man I once heard of who could not read but spoke six languages."

The Test cricketer is a unique human being. No matter if, like the Australian legspinner Bryce McGain, he played only one Test, scored just two runs and went wicketless while conceding 149 runs and had no catch to show for his efforts. Or like India's Rashid Patel finished his career with no runs and no wickets in his only Test. Such men are blessed.

When I was growing up, the fact that a man had played Test cricket was enough. It automatically placed him on a level few could aspire to. Perhaps there are only two kinds of people in the (cricketing) world - those who played Test cricket and those who hoped to but didn't. Auden, it must be remembered, started out at Oxford as a science student. Shabby curates spring from unrealised dreams.

On a tour of New Zealand more than two decades ago I met Bruce Taylor, who made a century and claimed five wickets with his medium pace in his debut Test. This was at Eden Gardens, and I recalled some of the strokes Taylor had played, and how he had finally been caught by Budhi Kunderan off a left-arm spinner. I recalled how he had had the Indian captain Tiger Pataudi caught behind for 153. Taylor was impressed I remembered so much.

So was I, especially since I hadn't watched the match. I was not yet five years old. Test cricket creates false memory, in which respect it is significantly different from the limited-overs variety.

Details of matches in one-day cricket (and its bastard offspring, Twenty20) tend to slip through the interstices of the mind. India won the World Cup barely four months ago, and I watched every one of their games. A book I wrote on India's victory, complete with the scorecards, was published recently. Yet if you ask me how many runs Dhoni scored in the semi-final, I'll need to look it up.

No such problems with Test cricket, though. Pataudi's scores in the 1967 series in Australia? Kapil Dev's in the 1982 series in England? Or, better still, individual performances on India's first tour of Australia in 1947-48, almost a decade and a half before I was born?

So vivid are the false memories that sometimes I am surprised when no Christmas card arrives from old friends like Fred Spofforth or WG Grace or Ranji, players I have known intimately. I was at Lord's in 1932, when India played their first Test match, and within minutes had reduced England to 19 for 3. One cover drive by Douglas Jardine finished in front of me; I picked up the ball and handed it to CK Nayudu, the India captain, and another good friend.

If Tolstoy didn't already know the difference between happy and unhappy families, he needed to have spent just one season with a Test team. Test cricket is War and Peace and Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov and One Hundred Years of Solitude rolled into one

I stood with Bradman on the balcony at Trent Bridge when he told his team-mates to come out and watch Stan McCabe cutting and pulling in a ferocious innings of 232. "Come and see this. You will never see anything like it again," he said with the kind of authority he alone carried in world cricket.

Nearly four decades earlier, on August 13, 1902 to be precise, England needed to make 263 to win but were nine down for 248 when the great Yorkshire pair of George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes came together. I heard Hirst tell his partner, as 15 runs were needed: "We'll get them in singles." Earlier there was a famous century by Gilbert Jessop in just over an hour, an innings watched by a bank clerk named PG Wodehouse, who would occasionally walk across to The Oval during his lunch break. The tedious call of duty forced him back to work, which meant he missed one of the great finishes in Test cricket, Rhodes scoring the winning run.

Also playing in the match was Victor Trumper, whose impact on a youngster was so movingly described by the legspinner Arthur Mailey. When Mailey finally got to bowl to Trumper in a Sydney grade match, he had his hero stumped off a googly. "There was no triumph in me as I watched the receding figure," he wrote. "I felt like a boy who had killed a dove." Is there a more evocative line in all of cricket literature?

I was around when Australian captain Bill Woodfull was getting medical attention after having been struck by Harold Larwood during the Bodyline series. "There are two teams out there; one is trying to play cricket, the other is not," Woofdull told Plum Warner, England's manager. Poor Jack Fingleton, the only other journalist in the room, copped the blame for making that story public and paid for it by having to miss out on the 1934 tour of England. But Fingleton pointed out it was Bradman who spilled the beans, as he had an arrangement with the Sun newspaper. "At least Bradman was a very good and observant reporter," wrote Fingleton. "He had every detail correct." I remember thinking the same when the story broke.

Not many years later, I was at Old Trafford in Manchester when India's captain the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram (the only active cricketer to be knighted, we must remember, although it was not for services to cricket - he didn't serve cricket till he gave it up altogether as player, captain, selector and broadcaster) called his opening batsman Mushtaq Ali aside for last-minute instructions. Vizzy had been worried about the growing stature of Vijay Merchant, and instructed Mushtaq to run him out. Mushtaq told Merchant, they had a good laugh, and put on 203 for the first wicket.

Test cricket is Tolstoyan, with its long dramas and its ability to sear itself into the minds of the faithful. If Tolstoy didn't already know the difference between happy and unhappy families, he needed to have spent just one season with a Test team. Test cricket is War and Peace and Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov and One Hundred Years of Solitude rolled into one. Shorter-format games are like chick-lit: uni-dimensional and without layers, where what you get is what you see.

Back in 1882, England were set to make 85 to win against Australia, who took the field unhappy at the manner in which WG Grace had tricked one of their young batsmen into being run out. "This thing," said Spofforth, "can be done." And as I watched, he personally did it himself, claiming seven wickets as England fell for 77.

In years to come, I see myself like the Ancient Mariner, stopping people at the rate of one in three and fascinating them with stories of Test matches and Test players. "Can you wrap it up in three and a half hours, please?" someone will ask, and I will reply, "No, I need five days at least."

One thousand nine hundred and ninety nine Tests. And I was there for every one of them.

Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on July 29, 2011, 17:47 GMT

    Fantastic piece! Mr Menon, hats off to you!

  • PratUSA on July 29, 2011, 16:05 GMT

    I already find myself being an Ancient Mariner in this era of instant gratification and I was yet to be born by the time West Indies were being crowned the first ODI world champions. Some of the ODI generation, like me, still fell in love with Test Cricket. Now we have got T20 generation. Future is scary but hopefully there will always be 22 gifted men on a cricket field giving their all to continue the legacy of what they will truly believe is greatest sporting stage on earth.

  • on July 29, 2011, 11:55 GMT

    Thanks Suresh for this..very well written article, this is one for the collectors :), nice highlights package this! cheers

  • on July 29, 2011, 9:57 GMT

    What a lovely piece, and so true. Just one correction, though: Richard Hadlee was also knighted whilst an active cricketer - I remember him telling me in the Long Room at Lord's that he was disappointed not to appear on the match scorecard as Sir Richard...

  • Ram369 on July 29, 2011, 9:57 GMT

    !!! B.R.I.L.L.I.A.N.T. !!!

  • on July 29, 2011, 9:45 GMT

    "There was no triumph in me as I watched the receding figure," he wrote. "I felt like a boy who had killed a dove." Is there a more evocative line in all of cricket literature? Suresh, you really brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for such a fine article.

  • Decorum on July 29, 2011, 4:06 GMT

    What joy this piece gives! Beautifully written with passion and wit ("he didn't serve cricket till he gave it up altogether as player, captain, selector and broadcaster"!) and a real pleasure to read. Thank you, Suresh.

  • __PK on July 29, 2011, 2:42 GMT

    No, you haven't. No you weren't. No you didn't. You've just reworded some other people's observations and stats and prefaced them with the words "I was there when...."

  • kk777 on July 29, 2011, 1:19 GMT

    Can't express it in words...I second each and every comment on this page !!! I think this is the only article in a long time where I haven't seen a negative comment...In a world of billion fans with trillion opinions ...That says all !

  • on July 29, 2011, 1:13 GMT

    Hello Suresh, nice article. I just don't understand your list of novels. Why did you include One Hundred Years of Solitude in a list of ostensibly Tolstoyan novels? Did he too write a book by that title or are you equating Marquez to Test cricket as well? I feel that his books are a little light for that particular analogy. That's coming from someone who has never read Tolstoy, but knows Gabriel quite well. No criticism, just wondering ...

  • on July 29, 2011, 17:47 GMT

    Fantastic piece! Mr Menon, hats off to you!

  • PratUSA on July 29, 2011, 16:05 GMT

    I already find myself being an Ancient Mariner in this era of instant gratification and I was yet to be born by the time West Indies were being crowned the first ODI world champions. Some of the ODI generation, like me, still fell in love with Test Cricket. Now we have got T20 generation. Future is scary but hopefully there will always be 22 gifted men on a cricket field giving their all to continue the legacy of what they will truly believe is greatest sporting stage on earth.

  • on July 29, 2011, 11:55 GMT

    Thanks Suresh for this..very well written article, this is one for the collectors :), nice highlights package this! cheers

  • on July 29, 2011, 9:57 GMT

    What a lovely piece, and so true. Just one correction, though: Richard Hadlee was also knighted whilst an active cricketer - I remember him telling me in the Long Room at Lord's that he was disappointed not to appear on the match scorecard as Sir Richard...

  • Ram369 on July 29, 2011, 9:57 GMT

    !!! B.R.I.L.L.I.A.N.T. !!!

  • on July 29, 2011, 9:45 GMT

    "There was no triumph in me as I watched the receding figure," he wrote. "I felt like a boy who had killed a dove." Is there a more evocative line in all of cricket literature? Suresh, you really brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for such a fine article.

  • Decorum on July 29, 2011, 4:06 GMT

    What joy this piece gives! Beautifully written with passion and wit ("he didn't serve cricket till he gave it up altogether as player, captain, selector and broadcaster"!) and a real pleasure to read. Thank you, Suresh.

  • __PK on July 29, 2011, 2:42 GMT

    No, you haven't. No you weren't. No you didn't. You've just reworded some other people's observations and stats and prefaced them with the words "I was there when...."

  • kk777 on July 29, 2011, 1:19 GMT

    Can't express it in words...I second each and every comment on this page !!! I think this is the only article in a long time where I haven't seen a negative comment...In a world of billion fans with trillion opinions ...That says all !

  • on July 29, 2011, 1:13 GMT

    Hello Suresh, nice article. I just don't understand your list of novels. Why did you include One Hundred Years of Solitude in a list of ostensibly Tolstoyan novels? Did he too write a book by that title or are you equating Marquez to Test cricket as well? I feel that his books are a little light for that particular analogy. That's coming from someone who has never read Tolstoy, but knows Gabriel quite well. No criticism, just wondering ...

  • on July 28, 2011, 21:05 GMT

    An awesome, awe-inspiring article... Were u there , I wanted to ask, for that legendary timeless-test?? What was it all about?? How about an article on that, it would be glorious, as the test itself was. :)

  • imiles on July 28, 2011, 20:17 GMT

    Suresh, this is quite sublime.

  • on July 28, 2011, 17:54 GMT

    M amazed at ur love and passion for the game.....Jst brilliant....Wonderfully penned and one of the best artcles I've read,for sure....

  • secondwk on July 28, 2011, 17:32 GMT

    As a fellow Bangalorean Suresh makes me very proud. I watched Lindwall bowl to Indians at Brabourne in Dec. 1956. That is the only test I watched live. I saw NZ vs India at Guwahati in 2010 live and OZ vs POms at the Oval in July 2010. I have watched MJ Gopalan at Chepauk and Marina in 1948. Gadi Thimmiah and Ramdev in Bangalore, Neil Harvey and co at Central College grounds in 1959. Suresh your writing is just so vivid. I have listened to lots of Arlott and Alston, Berry and Devraj, McGilvray. Arlott never used pronouns, "Tyson walks back, slipmen bend, Tyson runs in accelarates past Umpire Chester, a good length ball to Hassett, pushes the ball to Compton. Compton picks it up waits for Tyson to reach the top of the mark, Compton throws" Does Suresh write books as well? Can't wait till tomorrow for the test to start. Cheers, Sreeni

  • on July 28, 2011, 16:48 GMT

    Felt like reliving Tests from 1877 to 2011..

  • CricketPissek on July 28, 2011, 16:00 GMT

    "So vivid are the false memories that sometimes I am surprised when no Christmas card arrives from old friends like Fred Spofforth or WG Grace or Ranji, players I have known intimately." is one the best lines I've ever read, and one that resonates with many of us! Amazing read. You're a true artiste, Suresh.

  • campbelltonian on July 28, 2011, 15:41 GMT

    RDB McCosker, before helmets, with his jaw broken in four places. walked out to bat in the second innings of the Centenary Test.

    I have read of the English response, once they recovered from the surprise that he was coming in. It was "He has a bat. He's a batsman."

    I cannot put myself in the Australian rooms. What was GS Chappell thinking? Lillee? What was their mood?

  • on July 28, 2011, 14:44 GMT

    Amazing.....i wish i watched those glorious moments....

  • AndyDingley on July 28, 2011, 12:39 GMT

    A truly great article. Speaks for many of us crickets tragics

  • Slimjan49 on July 28, 2011, 12:07 GMT

    I am not one that likes to comment on other peoples efforts. I would be amiss however if I let this opportunity pass me by. This is surely the most incredible article I have had the pleasure of reading. Thank you for sharing your passion with us. I also know and have met test players. Few of them have your obvious love for the game!

  • vertical on July 28, 2011, 11:58 GMT

    you have penned an article as good as rohit brijnath's.Amazing!!

  • on July 28, 2011, 11:57 GMT

    A lovely piece. Gave me goosebumps too. I enjoyed "Shorter-format games are like chick-lit: uni-dimensional and without layers, where what you get is what you see." But the quotes from players that Suresh picked out are wonderful and apt.

  • on July 28, 2011, 11:48 GMT

    wow,,,,,,awe-inspiring,,,!!!!!!!!

  • on July 28, 2011, 11:48 GMT

    One of the most beautiful articles i have ever read..... You made me read the whole article

  • OConnor on July 28, 2011, 11:44 GMT

    Beautifully written article, and so true.

    One small correction - " India's captain the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram (the only active cricketer to be knighted" - Sir Richard Hadlee was actually knighted on the eve of his last Test Match I believe.

  • rameshkan on July 28, 2011, 11:04 GMT

    As always, an excellent piece of poetic prose from Suresh. Being of the same generation as urs, i share ur feelings absolutely. I still crave for those days of listening to test commentaries on the radio at the ungainly hours of the day/night. The live telecasts from all corners of the world do not hold out the same romance. keep writing on the tests more and more.

  • 9ST9 on July 28, 2011, 10:51 GMT

    true story - it seems that we are ready to swear for example that Hutton was a great batsman even if we never saw him bat. Some great writers have documented these games so well that we can almost see the colors of the pitch when we read an account of a game.

  • vedanthy2 on July 28, 2011, 10:19 GMT

    Suresh,you left out an apt "memory" fit for the moment.Eddie Paynter coming from the hospital and playing with a temperature(102) to save England from defeat.But he made the winning hit.ompare that to Crocodile tears that all reporters Commentators and fans shed saying"poor Sachin was ill or else........... Bert sutcliffe bravely came out with his leading eye in Bandage scored 80N.O. and shone in glory(vs SA)he drew the match for NZ(?) Thanks Suresh for taking us down great memory lane where No quarters were asked none Given"

  • jagmagh on July 28, 2011, 10:10 GMT

    A Lovely article. Amongst the meaningless bilge that passes as cricket journalism, an article that makes you imagine, wonder and think is indeed something to be cherished! Well done Mr Suresh! May your tribe increase.

  • hotpot99 on July 28, 2011, 9:42 GMT

    Great article. So good that I had to register to say so.

    I saw a photo of the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram recently. That man does not look like a test cricketer.

    And last weekend i was introduced to a man in our village shop with the words: "This man played for England against India when England won the series 5-0". It was Roy Swetman the wicketkeeper for that series. Although he was about a foot shorter than me, in my mind he was a foot taller.

  • on July 28, 2011, 8:58 GMT

    "So vivid are the false memories that sometimes I am surprised when no Christmas card arrives from old friends like Fred Spofforth or WG Grace or Ranji, players I have known intimately" -simply brilliant :)

  • zingzangspillip on July 28, 2011, 8:42 GMT

    While you went slightly over the top, that was one of the most beautiful articles I've ever read on Test cricket.

  • CollisKing on July 28, 2011, 8:25 GMT

    I like the Tolstoyan analogy's, The Brothers Karamazov is the greatest novel ever written. International 50 overs is boring and predictable simply because there is too much of it - a 5-match ODI series: how ridiculous is that? I have never watched a 20/20 game in my life, nor do I intend to. Test cricket rules but for it's future well-being we must always get the pitches right. The days of first innings 650 plays 500 bore-draw played on a hopeless flat-track must surely be over.

  • andybaron1982 on July 28, 2011, 8:21 GMT

    Great article just like Sumeet I have goosebumps. I love other sports but none have that "thing" that this article conveys so well, here's to another 2000 tests.

  • S_Biswas on July 28, 2011, 8:19 GMT

    Superb article......Mr. Menon.....you have exactly put down on paper the feelings and emotions of millions of test cricket lovers.....thanks....

  • on July 28, 2011, 7:55 GMT

    wah! beautiful and evocative prose. what undeterred adulation! this one should compulsorily be made a part of the prose reading exercise for standard 10th or 11th school kids by the CBSE. very cherish-able read indeed. reminiscences of "beyond the boundary" CLR-james

  • bedanta on July 28, 2011, 7:42 GMT

    undoubtedly the best cricket article i have read in a long long time. feels like watching The Dark Knight!!

  • Dhoni_fan_from_a_dada_era on July 28, 2011, 7:15 GMT

    Great Article. test cricket lives on.

  • nvngupta on July 28, 2011, 7:09 GMT

    superb article Mr. Menon. i think we all have seen 2000 test matched

  • on July 28, 2011, 7:05 GMT

    Beautiful mate. Hope you see 2000 more tests to come. :)

  • CanTHeeRava on July 28, 2011, 7:01 GMT

    Fantastic! Hope other writers on this site take note.

  • on July 28, 2011, 6:47 GMT

    Superb article, thoroughly enjoyed it. Incidentally, I'm with those who say that the Trent Bridge Test will be number 2,000: if the five England-Rest of the World matches don't count (I was at Headingley in 1970, and as far as I remember it certainly counted then!), then the ridiculous Australia-Rest of the World match shouldn't count either.

  • on July 28, 2011, 6:15 GMT

    Awesome article, got goosebumps reading it. East or West, test matches are the best. Indeed.

  • Meety on July 28, 2011, 5:36 GMT

    Well done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • on July 28, 2011, 5:08 GMT

    "So vivid are the false memories that sometimes I am surprised when no Christmas card arrives from old friends like Fred Spofforth or WG Grace or Ranji, players I have known intimately" superb prose. loved it

  • on July 28, 2011, 3:39 GMT

    This definitely is one of the best articles i have read in a longest time on this site .....well done mate !!! sucha cherishable read

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  • on July 28, 2011, 3:39 GMT

    This definitely is one of the best articles i have read in a longest time on this site .....well done mate !!! sucha cherishable read

  • on July 28, 2011, 5:08 GMT

    "So vivid are the false memories that sometimes I am surprised when no Christmas card arrives from old friends like Fred Spofforth or WG Grace or Ranji, players I have known intimately" superb prose. loved it

  • Meety on July 28, 2011, 5:36 GMT

    Well done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • on July 28, 2011, 6:15 GMT

    Awesome article, got goosebumps reading it. East or West, test matches are the best. Indeed.

  • on July 28, 2011, 6:47 GMT

    Superb article, thoroughly enjoyed it. Incidentally, I'm with those who say that the Trent Bridge Test will be number 2,000: if the five England-Rest of the World matches don't count (I was at Headingley in 1970, and as far as I remember it certainly counted then!), then the ridiculous Australia-Rest of the World match shouldn't count either.

  • CanTHeeRava on July 28, 2011, 7:01 GMT

    Fantastic! Hope other writers on this site take note.

  • on July 28, 2011, 7:05 GMT

    Beautiful mate. Hope you see 2000 more tests to come. :)

  • nvngupta on July 28, 2011, 7:09 GMT

    superb article Mr. Menon. i think we all have seen 2000 test matched

  • Dhoni_fan_from_a_dada_era on July 28, 2011, 7:15 GMT

    Great Article. test cricket lives on.

  • bedanta on July 28, 2011, 7:42 GMT

    undoubtedly the best cricket article i have read in a long long time. feels like watching The Dark Knight!!