In the past few weeks we've witnessed opposing aspects of Test cricket. It has been shown in all its glory, but we've also seen many of the game's flaws fully exposed.
The Australia-versus-England series has often been frustratingly one-sided. It was apparent again when the ebullient Travis Head, aided by Marnus Labuschagne and Cameron Green, launched a defiant counterattack in Hobart
In the first three Tests it was mainly the home side displaying the grit and application that five-day cricket requires. That led to 12 days where Australia steamrolled their way to a series victory, while English cricket was exposed
for all its ineptitude.
It was only when Joe Root's batting skill was duplicated and England finally applied some bowling nous that a Test was saved
. Even then it was a close call. At the SCG, Australia were still by far the better side, expertly led and prepared to expend the required energy, but at least England unearthed some much needed fight.
Some nine hours away South Africa surprisingly defeated India
in an old-fashioned dogfight that included some enthralling cricket. It also involved ample emotion
of the sort that has notably been missing from an Ashes contest that has been surprisingly uncontroversial so far.
The South Africa series featured bowling domination
on pitches that were probably too much in favour of the fielding side, but there was also some exquisite batting. Because defiant batting wasn't prevalent, gutsy innings by Dean Elgar, Temba Bavuma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli stood out. The exhilarating shot-making extravaganzas of Rishabh Pant and Keegan Petersen
proved that aggressive batting with scoring in mind could be achieved even on testing surfaces.
In particular, Petersen's sudden rise to fame has been a revelation and raises the question of where he has been all this while. This example exposes one of the mysteries of Test cricket: do some selectors know what they should be looking for?
Petersen is in his prime, at 28, but he has only played five Tests. Despite lacking experience he has all the requirements of a Test No. 3, including a wide range of shots that he is prepared to play, plus a solid defence. So why is he only playing now? Sometimes players deserve an opportunity on potential and temperament alone and this is where good selection stands out.
Test cricket has for a long time been included in the entertainment bracket and a recognition of this has to be part of the selection process
The England side contains further selection mysteries. Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope are two talented young batters who have the credentials to be long-term successes at Test level. Sure, they've had their failures and like many before them they need a confidence boost but technically they are far better equipped than the style-challenged Dom Sibley or Rory Burns.
There's often a temptation to choose gritty players and there are times when this can be a wise selection. On the other hand, fans expect to see a few aggressive young players selected, and when these players come off, they provide great entertainment.
Ever since the introduction of T20 cricket we've been told that Test batting is now more aggressive and fielding has improved. Well, how come the public is often being told "That's a good leave" and "That ball was left on length"?
Commentary statements should be qualified so that outfielding is described as more entertaining; slip catching has regressed.
Also, I wouldn't mind betting that of late more balls are being allowed to pass. When a classy stroke-maker like Kohli fails to score off nearly 40 balls
it's time to sensibly apportion the aggression in the game.
There is a time for determination and discipline. However, Test cricket has for a long time been included in the entertainment bracket and a recognition of this has to be part of the selection process.
A good Test selector is capable of including both considerations in his choices and that is why they are highly regarded. When it comes to financial rewards, cricket should start valuing selection more highly than coaching; it would make a pleasant and worthwhile change.