Thursday, October 14, 2010

India-Australia classic lifts the shadow

Test cricket is alive and well and lets thank India and Australia. These two teams, no matter what the rankings say, or where they play, have developed an extraordinary competitive chemistry that takes the highest form of the game to the highest plane.

Uncannily, when the shadow of corruption looms darkly over the game, it seems to fall on these sides to bring light again. In 2001 they delivered one of the greatest Test series of all, after cricket's foundations had been jolted by the match-fixing scandal. The spot-fixing allegations were relatively less damaging, so suitably, they restricted themselves to one great Test this time. Notwithstanding the wretched saga of the IPL, which rumbles on, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy managed to put cricket on the front pages for the right reasons once again.

Australia aren't the team they used to be, and it will be long before they can elicit awe again, but it must not be forgotten that they came within inches, literally, of winning the first Test. The Indian batting had far more class, and their bowling more experience and nous, but despite the 2-0 margin Australia were not rolled over. Even in Bangalore, where India ended up jogging to a win, Australia weren't out of the game until the second hour of the final day.

The Mohali Test will be impossible to better, but in its own way, Bangalore produced a multi-layered and satisfying game. And most satisfyingly, it was played before stands vibrating with passion and enthusiasm. It was a largely partisan and raucous crowd, and a few of them shamed themselves by booing the Australians on the opening day, but sitting in the stands it was also easy to find those who were knowledgeable and appreciative of the unique appeal of Test cricket.

In the row ahead of us sat a gentleman who spoke of the days when the great Indian spinners, and then Sunil Gavaskar and GR Viswanath, sustained his love for the game. He had travelled from Chennai and was spending five days in a guest house in Bangalore to watch the game. He applauded the Australians and appreciated the judgement of the umpire who ruled a close lbw decision in favour of an Australian batsman, but the sight of Sachin Tendulkar brought out the child in him. His whistling was one the highlights of the day. It was piercing and energetic, but the joyousness of it was striking. It was infectious.

There were many like him, and they went home rewarded, not merely by an Indian victory or a virtuoso performance from their adored hero, but by a game that stayed alive and full of possibilities for the most part.

The worry about dwindling crowds for Test cricket is legitimate and justifiable. But it is sometimes overstated and some of the suggested remedies are based on unsound assumptions. Sections of the print media have begun to realise the folly of trying to compete with the immediacy and visceral appeal of television. The sensuous and contemplative aspects of Test cricket are what appeal to its followers. It is true that it has gained from the energy and vitality that the players have brought to it from the shorter forms, but it doesn't need to tart itself up to remain attractive.

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