In an era of instant gratification, where activities and events that entertain the eye and not the mind reign supreme, the wonderful and compelling game of Test Match Cricket struggles to keep pace with its contemporaries. Yet in the last month or so this captivating sport has shown the world that it is still the most challenging, ruthless and brilliant to be played, and witnessed.
Incase you blinked, here’s what happened. Four weeks ago in Johannesburg Australia defeated South Africa by 2 wickets. The home side started with 266, Australia then at 0/174 before collapsing to be all out for only a 30 run lead. South Africa wrestled the advantage again, heading to a 200 run lead with 7 wickets in hand. The match swung again and at its conclusion Australia required 310 to win. At 5-165 it seemed like a pipedream. Then an 18-year-old who took 6 second innings wickets for the Aussies ultimately hit the winnings runs. It was his first Test match, and he won the Man of the Match award. The match was exhilarating as it was intense, as heart breaking for the South Africans as it was euphoric for the Australians.
Juts as that match wrapped up, India were hosting the West Indies over in Mumbai. In a vastly contrasting match the Windies posted a massive 590 with India responding with 482. Just when it seemed the game was heading to a dour draw, the pitch offered something for the Indian tweakers and the visitors crashed in their 2nd dig to be all out for 134. This left India with a meager 243 to win in 64 overs. At 1-100 it all seemed to be going to plan. Then, like in Joburg, the tide turned again. Batting greats Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman all came and went.
With 15 overs left India needed 55 runs with 5 wickets in hand. Yet wickets continued to fall, more due to the escalating pressure rather than skill or ability. With an over to go the game had reached fever pitch excitement and intensity. India needed 3 runs, the West Indies needed two wickets. You couldn’t script what happened. Even with two balls to go all 4 outcomes were possible (an Indian win, a West Indies win, a tie or a draw). The least likely eventuated and for only the second time in 2019 Test Matches, the outcome was a draw with the scores tied.
Then a few weeks later New Zealand headed to Hobart for the 2nd Test in their series against their Trans-Tasman rivals. The odds were heavily in the Aussies favour as New Zealand were without Harry Potter, sorry – Dan Vettori. The match seemed like a mere formality when the Kiwis were sent in on a green, bowler-friendly pitch and were duly bowled out for 150 on the first day. But as we have seen, only in Test Cricket does the game change so quickly and so vehemently. Australia wilted to 7-75, only pushing their total to 136. New Zealand had to pinch themselves – they had a 14 run lead and it was only the 2nd day.
They went about setting an unassailable total. Yet the conditions hadn’t changed. Unlike the batting road in Mumbai, the fast bowlers always looked dangerous. Australia turned the match again, skittling New Zealand for 226, setting themselves a target of 241. Day 3 ended with Australia at 0/72, in the box seat. But just before lunch on Day 4 a 21-year-old Kiwi playing in only his 3rd match reared the match on its head, taking the wickets of Ponting, Clarke and Hussey in the space of 9 balls.
Yet at tea Australia only needed 68 runs with 5 wickets in hand. Many were drafting their accolades to David Warner, the T20 slogger who inexplicably became the rock upon which Australia’s match was now built. But the Kiwis were dogged, and ruthless. They took the next 4 wickets for 7 runs, leaving Australia on their knees at 9/199. The game was now equally gripping and unbelievable. It remained that way until its climax (for those of you living under a rock, on Mars, with their fingers in their ears: the Aussies came oh-so-close before falling 7 runs short). T20 slogger Warner unbelievably became only the 3rd Australian in the 4th innings of a Test to carry his bat. It was fantastic drama and theatre to end an historic Test Match.
But what’s the big deal, I hear you ask? I mean, for starters I’d probably rather watch paint dry, or have my eyes gouged to prevent me from the sheer and utter boredom that is cricket. Besides, there was no World Cup on the line, nor was there a noteworthy championship or title. In these aforementioned matches the outcome actually didn’t matter (to the outcome of the series). So, in fact, these matches were effectively dead rubbers. What the hell?!
So, why do you care? Why should anyone care? Well, the fact is: Test Match wins are precious. Moreover, they are extremely difficult to win. It is the ultimate test of sporting character and ability. It is a game where youth and inexperience can triumph over age and wisdom. You can be king of the world one day, then trashed like last week’s leftovers the next. It is as unforgiving as it is rewarding – where concentration, application, dedication and luck all contribute equally to success or failure.
In no other sport all over the world is there such a game that mixes slow burn with fast pace, raw power with delicate intrigue. Breathless moments are mixed with awe-inspiring, which are mixed with moments of complete frustration and emptiness. Ultimately, however, it is utter anguish contrasted with ultimate ecstasy.
So here’s hoping for more of the same this summer. Forget about the Big Bash – I just can’t wait for Boxing Day.