Monday, 31 March, 2008

Test cricket at its boring best

There was a time in the 1970s when the Chepauk was considered as the bounciest wicket in India. So when the West Indies team led by Clive Lloyd reached Madras to play the fourth test of the 1974/75 series, they were pretty confident of wrapping up the series. They had a potent pace attack of Andy Roberts, Brendon Julien and Keith Boyce to take advantage of a lively track. Soon enough, they had India struggling at 117/8. It was from here that the eternal stylist of Indian cricket, Gundappa Vishwanath, took charge of Indian batting. Employing his fierce square cuts to deadly effect, he helped India to a respectable first innings score, from where they could level the five test series, two all! That innings of 97 n.o. was described by Bishen Singh Bedi as one of sheer artistry, belligerence and technical finesse. It was also an innings that Wisden Asia ranked as third best amongst all time great Indian innings, behind only VVS Laxman’s epic 281 at Kolkata and Rahul Dravid’s monumental 231 at Adelaide.

The just concluded Chennai test may have seen Virendra Sehwag score more than thrice the runs that Vishy did in that test against WI; Hashim Amla, Neil McKenzie and Rahul Dravid may have helped themselves to easy centuries, the runs scored in the first innings of this test may far exceed those scored in the entire match in 1975, but it has certainly left an unsavory taste in most cricket fans.

Chepauk, in past, has been witness to some remarkable test matches, beginning with the third and final test match of the 1933 home series against England. India’s first ever victory in a test match (1952) and the near victory against the WI in 1966/67, Vishy’s superb batting (1974/75), the tied test against Australia (1986), Hirwani’s dream debut against the West Indies (1988), Sachin’s memorable knock against Mark Taylor’s Australia (1998) and the standing ovation to the visiting Pakistan team (1999) bear testimony to it.

So isn’t it sad that a test in which Sehwag became only the third player in test history to score two triple centuries, in which Dravid became only the third player ever to cross 10000 run mark in both ODIs and Test cricket, the sole talking point should be the Twenty Yards - truly the graveyard for bowlers? Isn’t it a matter of shame that Sehwag’s innings, in spite of being the highest ever by an Indian, would rank nowhere close to the all time great knocks played by his fellow countrymen?

At a time when test matches all over the world are becoming increasingly result oriented (the recent Aus Vs India, England Vs NZ and Sri Lanka Vs West Indies series), India has been of late, dishing out tame and dull ‘draws’ with alarming regularity – last year’s India Vs Pakistan test series just being another case in point.

In the preface to his book, ‘Playing for India’, Sujit Mukherjee has this to say:

The English lexicon and the game of cricket became permanently wedded when the word ‘Test’ came to mean the highest form of elevation known to cricketers all over the world. Much as touchstone tests gold, so does Test cricket reveal the essential substance of cricketer.

Unfortunately, the latest Chennai Test miserably fails this ‘test’.