Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why we love test cricket

We love a variety of sports, but cricket is our oldest and dearest love. And when that love affair began somewhere around 50 years ago, there was but one format of the game at international level; test cricket.

The test match game is one for the purists. But even those with a passing interest in the wonderful game will have appreciated three magnificent test matches in the last week, one of which will conclude tonight.

England was humbled in the first test match of their series against India. Going into the second test at Mumbai, Indian skipper MS Dhoni asked for a spinner-friendly pitch which was duly delivered. India won the toss, batted and immediately struggled against recalled English spinner Monty Panesar. When England batted, another recall, Kevin Petersen played the innings of his life to give the English a large first innings lead. Panesar and Graeme Swann then bowled the Indians out cheaply for a second time, and the English knocked off the necessary 57 runs without losing a wicket. It was a remarkable turnaround from an English side which, Alastair Cook apart had been outclass by the hosts.

On to Adelaide. Australia completely dominated the opening day of the second test against South Africa. The Proteas fought their way back into the game on the second and third days before Australia left them 430 to win the match. The South Africans lost early wickets, and going into the last day were up against it. But fighting innings from AB de Villiers (33 of 220 balls), Jacques Kallis (46 off 110 balls, on one good leg) and debutant Faf du Plessis  (110 off 376 balls) saved the match and possibly the series for the South Africans. The final day wasn't pretty, but it was gripping cricket. Even going into the last few balls of the match Australia could have won. But a defiant South African batting effort saved the day.

And right now, New Zealand is poised to win the most unlikely of test victories. There's no easy way to say it; New Zealand was hopelessly outclassed by Sri Lanka in the first test at Galle. Only Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Daniel Flynn emerged from that match with any credit.

There must have been some frank words exchanged en route to Colombo because it has been a transformed team performance. There are still worries about the top order batting, but Ross Taylor (142 and 74) has led from the front. Kane Williamson batted superbly in the first innings which helped to establish New Zealand's dominance, while debutant Todd Astle provided terrific support to his skipper last night before being dismissed in bizarre fashion. He swept a ball from Sri Lankan spinner Suraj Randiv, the close-in fielder turned away, and in doing so the ball rebounded from his heel and ballooned out to mid-wicket where it was gleefully caught.

And before the Colombo gloom descended, Sri Lanka had been reduced to 47 for four, chasing a total of 362 to win, which would be a record at the P Sara Stadium. Key batsmen Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene have all been dismissed.

The most positive aspect of the two tests has been the form of Tim Southee and Trent Boult who are emerging as an attacking bowling combination of genuine quality. It's been some time since we had pace bowlers bowling in tandem and keeping the pressure on their opposition. And with two late wickets, and a history of taking second innings scalps Doug Bracewell could yet be a factor later today.

Needless to say, we'll be in front of the telly from after 5pm tonight to watch the New Zealanders hopefully wrap up one of the more unlikely wins in recent history. True fans stand behind their teams through thick and thin, and that simply makes rare away-from-home victories all the more sweeter. They must bowl well, and hold their catches, like this ripper that Kane Williamson took to end the Sri Lankan first innings:

Test cricket; based on what we've seen in the last week, it's the new black!

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