December 29th 2023:The Final Frontier:The expression ‘The Final Frontier” became synonymous with cricket when Steve Waugh’s formidable Australian side toured India in 2002. They had, on the way to the Indian soil, demolished all their opponents at home and away. The final pedestal for them was to achieve a series win in India, a goal that would have established them to be the best Test side ever to have played the game.
The Australian side in 2002 started their campaign with a bang by beating India convincingly in the 1st Test match in Mumbai. In the 2nd Test match in Kolkata, India were in deep trouble when they were made to follow-on. A historical and breathtaking partnership between VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid not only saved India but also helped them to achieve a resounding victory. The positive momentum built through that victory saw India scrape through to another win and Australia stumbled in achieving their dream.
The beauty that keeps cricket lovers and players attracted and engrossed to the game is because of the performances by teams and individuals striving to surpass records and establish milestones. This then becomes the goal for showcasing progress and making new found heroes.
India, since playing their 1st Test match in 1932 have conquered the shores through cricket victories in all the Test-playing countries except South Africa. India’s 1st ever overseas Test series win was against New Zealand in 1967 and thereafter the brilliant victories in 1971 against the West Indies and England. The last remarkable overseas series win was against Australia in 2021/22.
A Test series win against South Africa in their backyard would have completed the cycle of victories for India against every Test-playing side. A milestone for any country to be proud of, however, this was not to be as India lost the 1st Test match.
One is surprised as to why such an important cricket encounter should be played as a 2-match series. Test cricket is about patience and endurance and the very essence of a testing battle between two countries gets completely diffused in playing such a short series.
To win a 2 Test battle for a touring side requires plenty of luck and quick adjustment to the conditions. The batting and bowling require major alterations for one to get accustomed to, to deliver one’s best. This is precisely why in the earlier days a 5-match series was a true test to decide a winner.
Unfortunately, paucity of time and financial reasons have made a long-drawn Test series unproductive. India playing a 3-match One Day series against South Africa ahead of this Test series is a case in point. Having just played an ODI World Cup, there was no reason as to why India should have played one, especially, as it had no major relevance.
Similarly, in Women’s cricket, the Indian women’s cricket side beating both England and Australia in a 1 off Test match encounter was a fantastic achievement. However, it would have been such a boon for women’s cricket if both the series were at least a 3-match encounter. The Indian women batters were magnificent and showed skills and technique which one was not aware of when they played in the shorter version of the game. This was a good example of one understanding the difference that exists between batting in a Test match and the colorful circus of the limited overs versions.
The two Test innings of class was what one witnessed recently in the 1st Test match between India and South Africa. Centuries by K.L. Rahul and Dean Elgar is what batting in Test cricket is all about. They both showed grit, patience, an abundance of skills and immaculate technique in batting in tricky conditions. This was what one could easily refer to as “batting at its best”.
One does understand the importance and implication of the commercial and financial reasoning that makes Test cricket a backburner vis-à-vis the limited-overs version, however, such a step-motherly treatment could result in the gradual extinction of the conventional form of the game.
What was heartening recently was the crowd of 60,000 spectators watching the Boxing Day Test match between Australia and Pakistan at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. One needs such following to keep Test cricket flourishing.
Rahul Dravid, the Indian coach, in his interview before the match stressed on the fact that India needs luck to do well in South Africa. Well, they will need plenty of it to draw the 2-match series.
Sad! India will now also need to wait for another 4 years to conquer their Final Frontier in South Africa. One hopes by then sense prevails and a full-fledged 5 match Test series is played to finally see a true winner.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer. The views expressed are personal)