Once again two rivals,with a history of bad blood between them,have shown us up to be a community of hypochondriacs. We fret over Test cricket,we dissect it,we search for the smallest sign of weakness to pronounce illness and once again we have been shown up.
Test cricket is robust and,as we were taught to say by high school teachers,in the pink of health. We dont need to protect it,merely educate another generation. We worry too much.
Yes,there are trends as owners of television channels will tell you. Yes,more people are watching T20 but bell bottoms came and went and came again. Test cricket will never compete against T20 as fine dining cannot against the hamburger. But children are still learning classical music. In less than a month we have had three stirring games,heartwarming displays of character,skill and bravery. They talk about the golden age of cricket. If it was better than this month all Ill say is they had better cricket writers!
For an hour and a half at the Sydney Cricket Ground,on a pitch where one ball kept low and the other leapt at you,numbers ten and eleven for South Africa kept Australias bowlers at bay. On skill and ability alone they had no business to be there that long. But those are tiny adjectives when placed alongside mightier ones like determination and tenacity. Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini would have been pardoned for being out twice each in that much time. But the opponent had to be denied even if victory was impossible. And Steyn and Ntini denied Australia for an hour and a half. In doing so they showed that every player must have a second skill,however tiny,and be prepared to use it as armour.
Then Graeme Smith walked in. A proud,tough but increasingly genial man. He shouldnt have,but sport produces such characters. A bad leading elbow and a broken left hand meant going to the toilet would have been bad enough,packing a bag would have been tough. Putting on a glove would have been a nightmare but he was prepared to walk in to face two bowlers bowling at more than 140 kilometers an hour. With all your limbs and all your faculties available it is a challenge. And he blocked and he blocked till a nasty one crept through a fairly limp bat. Australia had won,but so had South Africa. I cant think of another game,other than life,where saving the day can be so exhilarating and heroic.
It is moments such as those that Steyn and Ntini and Smith encountered that show up the kind of person you truly are. When the going is good almost everyone can swim with the tide but it is when confronted by adversity that character emerges; or,as Warren Buffett said,when the tide goes out you know who has been swimming naked. Smiths decision to bat was brave,courageous,some might say foolhardy but he would have slept well at night knowing he had given the team everything he had. And he can now ask it of his team. In an era of political manoeuvering and lying,missiles and rockets and killing and corporate hoodwinking,it seems a pretty noble thing to do.
Soon the two teams will resume battle on another continent. Playing away is a greater challenge and Australia will have to show they are up to it. It is a wonderful concept we must have more of. After six Test matches,with each side having encountered home and away conditions,we will know which is the better team. It seems a fair and challenging way of going about things; a welcome change from the two-Test nonsense some have to endure.
Thereafter we in India will be in the grip of T20 cricket with first the IPL and then the rest of the world joining in for the World championship. It will be great fun but it will not demand of its warriors the challenges that Test cricket does; fast bowlers bowling as many overs as they like on a fifth day pitch against tail enders. And there will be no glory in blocking. It will demand different skills,different qualities and will produce different drama but it would be folly to compare the two forms. We must have both.