March 3, 2023: The conventional and traditional form of the game, ‘Test Cricket’ cannot be made into a farce. A 5-day encounter is specifically there to bring forth the essence of what the royal game stands for.
It brings out patience, tenacity, concentration and several other characteristics that make up the battle between two teams. Victory is the ultimate aim, however, getting to it over the 15 sessions and 450 overs provided, with war-like planning, is what makes it interesting and absorbing.
The instant world that we live in has brought about a completely different mindset, not only amongst the spectators and followers but also in the way the cricketers and the cricket administrators perceive it.
Capturing ‘eyeballs’ seems to be the order of the day. The commercial aspect of exploiting it requires exciting cricket to keep the fans interested. The slow and steady pace is not at all appreciated and a respectable draw becomes a disappointing result.
In order to pep up and create a drama, doctored wickets are prepared and the fashionable approach of aggressive cricket, now popularly referred to as ‘Bazball’ has made its way into the popularity chart.
The third Test between India and Australia in Indore and the two previous Test matches are good examples of under-prepared wickets. It may be an exciting prospect to see wickets falling or batters struggling to keep afloat, however, the contest between the bat and the ball, unfortunately, diminishes to favour the bowler. The outcome of it is that an average Test match bowler is seen as a demon. Whereas, the batters, however, accomplished, seem to be praying to the almighty to survive.
India, quite understandably, wants to win the series against Australia convincingly to qualify for the final of the ICC World Test Championship. However, to have matches finish in three days, definitely does not augur well for the game.
The home and away concept is an acceptable format. An International cricketer looks forward to playing in unfamiliar conditions, as it is a challenge and one in which one looks forward to succeeding. The bouncy wickets of Australia and South Africa. the green tops of England and New Zealand and the turning pitches of the Asian countries are what make cricket so enduring and absorbing. A cricketer revelling in these unfamiliar waters is what differentiates the men from the boys.
In India, the curators at all the Test centres were expert groundsmen. They lived every day of their lives nurturing each strip of the wicket and knew exactly the characteristics of each one of them. They all loved cricket as much as any enthusiastic player and their aim were to ensure that a wicket was prepared to give that tad of an advantage to their team, however, ensuring that the very essence of the game remains intact. Unfortunately, the days of this unrecognised loyal and die-hard breed of local curators have gradually disappeared.
The BCCI now has a team of curators who are given the task of preparing wickets at various centres. The problem that arises is that although each one may be competent, however, they may lack an understanding of the layers of what is underneath the surface. With the effect of climate change that seems to have taken over the world, the unconditional weather would play a huge part as well for them to understand.
This is precisely why a diktat of preparing a turning track in India has gone totally awry. The easiest way to do so is to ensure not to water the wicket and keep it dry. Similarly, in cold and damp countries, a layer of fresh grass would be the course of action. Both these easy ways have not proven to be an ideal solution.
Cricket somehow has lost the true breed of wicket-preparers. In India, one played on tracks that were prepared to cater to good cricket for two and a half days of the Test match and thereafter, spin and cutters of the ball came into play. One still needed the skill to out-fox the batsman. On the green tracks, it went the other way round.
One’s technique was tested to the hilt when facing the moving ball in the early part of one’s innings, however, as the days went by the wicket became a wonderful one to bat on. Both the batter and the bowler had that short period of time to flourish and this battle between the bowling and the batting side was what made Test cricket a treat to watch.
The Bazball has misfired where England is concerned against New Zealand in their last Test encounter. Overconfidence and brashness have brought them down to reality. Test cricket is not a joyful adventure but one in which the one who succeeds is the winner. England can console themselves for their loss by the fact that they showcased positivity. However, a defeat even by a single run is one that hurts internally and will linger on for quite a while.
India, on the other hand, have been shaken and not stirred through their own homemade strategy. The behaviour of the wicket that was now curated by the so-called professionals proved to be their nemesis.
One hopes that the newly built Narendra Modi stadium in Ahmedabad brings good fortune to the Indian side in their next Test and final encounter against Australia. The Indian team have the firepower to succeed without any intervention.
For God’s sake let us not make Test cricket into a farce, just to qualify.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)