Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Tony Becca | Test cricket is alive and kicking

Published:Sunday | January 15, 2017 | 1:00 AM
Australia's David Warner raises his arms to celebrate his century before lunch on the opening day of the third Test against Pakistan in Sydney, Australia on January 3.
South Africa's batsman Hashim Amla celebrates after scoring a hundred during the first day of the third Test against Sri Lanka, at Wanderers stadium in Johannesburg last Thursday.
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Cricket, Test cricket, like most sports, is a wonderful and exciting past-time, and it has been so ever since it saw the light of day in 1877, as many as 140 years ago.

In 2016, however, it was probably even more so now than ever before, and the threat of ODI cricket, or of Twenty20 cricket, but for the natural flow of things, hardly contributed to Test cricket's apparent change of pace.

And they had nothing to with it when, for example, one remembers the exciting batsmen of the 1950s, the drama and excitement of the West Indies tour of Australia in 1960-61, and also, among other things, the brilliant, almost ODI-like, or Twenty20-like batting of the West Indies at Headingley in 1976 when they raced to 439 for nine and won many rounds of applause for their brilliance on the opening day of the fourth Test match.

 

Three double centuries

 

In 2016, it was no different.

The batting was awesome, especially the batsmen like Virat Kohli, three double centuries in the year, Karun Nair, and Murali Vijay of India, Hashim Amla, AB deVilliers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, and Quinton de Kock, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor of New Zealand, AzharAli and Younis Khan of Pakistan, and Joe Root of England, and, of course, David Warner, Steve Smith, Adam Voges, and Usman Khawaja of Australia.

And the bowling, in particular the spin bowling of two like Ravinchandran Ashwin and Ranjana Herath, was deadly.

The cricket of 2016 was exciting and interesting because of the huge scores, and the low scores which shadowed the high scores like twin brothers and which made the game more interesting.

Of the 14 scores over 500, and the 17 over 400, there were India's mammoth 759 for seven declared against England in Chennai and their 631 also against England in Mumbai and they were followed by England's 629 for six declared against South Africa in Cape Town and South Africa's 627 for seven declared in the same match, and Australia's 624 for eight declared against Pakistan in Melbourne.

And they were followed by such low scores as South Africa's 83 against England in Johannesburg, Australia's 85 against South Africa in Hobart, and by Sri Lanka's 91 against England in Leeds, not to mention the West Indies' 108 against India in St Lucia.

 

Emphatic margins

 

With the margins of victory showing an innings and 77 runs for New Zealand over Zimbabwe in Bulawayo, an innings and 92 runs by India over the West Indies at North Sound, 330 runs for England against Pakistan at Old Trafford, and 321 runs by India against New Zealand at Indore, some of the results were also by wide and emphatic margins.

Add to those big victories, Ali's 302 not out versus the West Indies at Dubai and Nair's 303 not out against England in two of the eleven occasions batsmen scored double centuries, and it is clear that batsmen really enjoyed a wonderful year.

The bowlers, however, the spin bowlers in particular, more than balanced the proceedings.

On 29 occasions, six-wicket hauls were registered, and for a change, the top-six performers were all spin bowlers.

Right-arm leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo, eight for 49, heads the list, and he was followed by left-arm spinner Herath with eight for 63 against Zimbabwe in Harare, and seven for 64 against Australia in Colombo, left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja with seven for 48 against England in Chennai, and off-spinner Ashwin with seven for 59 against New Zealand at Indore and seven for 83 against the West Indies at North Sound were the chief destroyers as wickets fell like nine-pins.

The wickets tumbled like nine-pins to the delight of some and to the chagrin of others, especially when the wickets fell in clusters or in bunches.

The more famous ones were Australia versus Sri Lanka in Pallekele - 139 for four to 161, six for 22; Australia versus South Africa in Hobart - 129 for two to 161, 32 for eight; Australia versus Sri Lanka in Galle - 54 for one to 106, nine for 52; Bangladesh versus England in Chittagong - 221 for four to 248, six for 27; and Bangladesh versus England in Mirpur - 171 for one to 220, nine for 49.

England versus South Africa at Centurion - 58 for three to 101, seven for 43; England versus India in Mumbai - 141 for three to 195, nine for 54; England versus Bangladesh in Mirpur - 100 without loss to 164, 10 for 64, Sri Lanka versus England at Headingley - 43 for three to 91, seven for 48, and Sri Lanka versus England at Headingley - 79 for two 119, eight for 40.

 

Skilful workhorse

 

Although the fielding of such teams as Pakistan and the West Indies left much to be desired, the year 2016 was a time in which batting, the exciting heart-beat of the game, bowling, the necessary and skilful workhorse of the game, and the glorious uncertainty of the game really showed themselves all around the world, and on different pitches, on testing pitches, and in different conditions.

Once upon a time, it took batsmen like Garry Sobers and Rohan Kanhai, Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Vishwanath, Ian Chappell and Greg Chappell, and Majid Khan and Asif Iqbal to show the way and to fast bowlers like Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson, John Snow and Bob Willis, and Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, and Malcolm Marshall to counter them with lightning pace.

Today, it is left to batsmen like Kohli, Vijay, Amla and de Villiers, Williamson and Root, and Warner and Smith to lead the way, and to a host of spin bowlers, headed by Ashwin, Bishoo, Herath, and Jadeja, and including the likes of Imran Tahir, Nathan Lyon, Ish Sodhi, Mitchell Santner, Adam Zampa, and Bangladesh's teenaged Mehedi Hasan Miraz to keep the batsmen in check and to keep the game more interesting and fit for the sophisticated appetite of the fans.

And the new year has started well also, probably setting the pace for 2017, and thanks to Warner.

Warner joined the illustrious company of Victor Trumper, Stan McCabe, Don Bradman, and Majid Khan as the only batsmen in the history of the game to race to a century in the first session of a Test match.

The Australian achieved the feat when he scored 100 runs out of his 113 off 78 deliveries in the first session on the first morning of the third Test match between Australia and Pakistan in Sydney.

Test cricket is alive and kicking, and the fans are enjoying it, especially in England, Australia, India, and South Africa.