As the clock ticked on in the Test match at Sydney, no shots were played. For nearly 30 overs, the two Indian players, R Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari, doused Australian passions with a dead bat, ball after ball. Yet millions of fans of the sport were enthralled, no one was keeping count of the runs. In the dressing room, the Indian players clapped at the end of every over. In living rooms across the country, sighs of relief filled the air, one less over to face. The balls crashed into Ashwin’s chest, rammed against Vihari’s ribs but seemed to make no dent in their resolve. The jugalbandi of tick-tock and tuk-tuk kept the audiences in their seats. Welcome back to Test cricket.
It’s a much-abused and also a much-celebrated format, a contradiction that speaks of the changing times. The conventional wisdom is that the fans have spoken — they love T20, not Tests. Consumption drives business and the Test match is consumed in a different way. It’s like a relationship — there is, in no particular order, thrill,
boredom, dislike, apathy and the ever-present hope that love will return. And then, along comes a game like the one that was played in Sydney to set off the sparks again. On the other hand, T20 cricket offers a three-hour time frame, and hectic action to satisfy fleeting urges. The Test match is a commitment made over time. You watch, go about your work and check the score online; it’s a backdrop to the rhythm of daily lives. Sometimes, it feels banal and then suddenly, it catches fire, as it did in Sydney.
Some of the criticisms are misplaced. The last 10 years have thrown up more results than ever before in Test history. Not just Sydney, but the Boxing Day Test in New Zealand produced a cracker. One Day Internationals and T20s produce several mind-numbing games, coloured by a sameness. However, business can’t run on sentiment alone. Hosting a Test match is still a loss-making venture in many countries. The cricket establishment has tried to contextualise every Test by making it part of the ongoing Test championship. That’s a good start for Test cricket to build on.