This has been a fabulous time for those cricket lovers who believe that Test cricket is the ultimate thing. And, the series’ currently on in England, West Indies and Sri Lanka are giving them total value for their time. Post the razzmatazz of the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup, this genteel version of the game has brought people back to what broadcasters call ‘appointment viewing’.
The channel covering the India-West Indies series gave us fans a masterclass at an apt time.
What more could one ask for than a discussion on cricket by two geniuses who graced many ovals across the cricketing globe. Sir Vivian Richards giving his pointed views along with another master, Sunil Gavaskar was manna to our ears.
When two gladiators speak about the battles they fought on the field and give their opinions on current happenings, it is an enriching experience. The timing too was perfect.
The last week has seen the emergence of Joffra Archer who brought back memories of the fast men of the past. The kind of bowlers that put the fear of God in the minds of batsmen.
There were no speed monitors in the 70s and 80s to tell us how quick pacers of that era were. Speeds achieved by Jeff Thomson, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Imran Khan, among others, were judged from the look of fear on the faces of the batsmen they tormented.
Richards and Gavaskar were among those very few who stood up to the terrors in their own inimitable way. While one counter attacked with his own version of bullets, the other gracefully kept weaving away, wearing them down. This, at a time when there were no restrictions on the bowlers and pitches, uncovered during the early part of their career, were always suited to the hosts preferences.
The timing of their discussion was perfect simply because we are seeing well stacked (at least on paper) batting line-ups capitulating against sheer pace (of the Archer variety) and swing. The era of fast bowlers dominating and playing a major role in match results is back with stellar performances by Ishant Sharma, Josh Hazelwood and others apart from Archer — as Dean Jones ‘welcomed the batsmen to the 80s’ — he forgot the searing 70s!
For modern batsmen, changing their approach and style from the shortest (Twenty20) to the longer (Test cricket) formats of the game is a big challenge. There are very few, among the current lot who have mastered this art.
The Virat Kohli’s, Kane Williamson’s, Joe Root’s and Steve Smith’s of the world morph brilliantly between the three versions of the game and make batting look so easy no matter which format they are playing.
The aspect that they have not been exposed to sheer pace and have to switch between playing the red and white balls, makes the batsman’s job difficult when it comes to moving from shorter to longer forms of the game. The red ball swings prodigiously while the white one does not as much. Fielding restrictions assist batsmen to play shots that look attractive while playing T20 but become the cause of the walk back to the pavilion in Test cricket.
England’s chances of regaining the Ashes, as one writes this, are hanging by a thread. The third Test, at Leeds is precariously poised and the English batsmen need a huge amount of grit and patience if they have to climb the arduous road to capture the tiny but significant ‘urn’. The kind of application that was shown by Ajinkya Rahane, when the Indian top order collapsed in the first Test at North Sound, will need to be exhibited by Root’s team if they want to claw back into the series.
This year, England went below the hundred run mark thrice. The scored 77 runs against the West Indies at Bridgetown Barbados in January, scraped a shoddy tally of 85 against minnows Ireland at Lord’s last month and were skittled for a mere 67 runs in the first innings of the current Test. This, obviously must be a cause of worry for the team.
An on air conversation between Sir Vivian and the brilliant anchor Graeme Swann may probably have summed up the cause of England’s worry. While Swann was rounding up the scores and spoke about England’s sorry effort of being dismissed for 67 runs, the Antiguan legend mentioned that having won the Word Cup, England was still on a honeymoon.
An embarrassed Swann replied that it was the shorter version of the game that his former team had finally conquered. Swann may have inadvertently accepted that England’s plans were only focused on the World Cup and the Ashes were sidestepped in the bargain.