In another two days, the India-England Test series resumes. Two of the five Tests have been completed, England won the first, and India grabbed the second. Needless to say, the series is now interestingly poised, and if all that has happened in the contest thus far is any indication, cricket lovers should be in for some feast indeed. And that is saying something considering where Test cricket stands in contemporary times in the midst of the shorter versions, the T20 and ODI! Indeed, whichever way one looked at it, this current series in India is proving to be a great advertisement for Test cricket in general.
Gone are the days when Test cricket would be looked on not just as the essence of this sport but for the lazy charm and also skills steeped in techniques and whatnot. There was a certain charm in seeing a batter hold one end presenting a dead bat for anything thrown at him. In short, he would keep blocking for hours without concern for scoring runs. That great English player Ken Barrington’s name would come to mind. Known for his impregnable defence, Barrington was one of the success stories of England cricket. Then there are the kind of bowlers who would tie up one end with their accurate spin bowling. The name Bapu Nadkarni would come to one’s mind! One of India’s top spinners in the sixties, Nadkarni even has a record of bowling 21 maiden overs in one stretch in a Test against England! Undoubtedly, these cricketers brought the joy of a different kind and won appreciation for their skills, which made what Test cricket was all about once.
Cut down to the present times; How many now would prefer to spend hours at the ground watching such cricketing action? Old timers would still go down memory lane to talk of the flowing cover drives or square cuts. As a popular radio commentator of the sixties, P. Ananda Rau would describe such shots as “the ball racing away to the boundary hugging mother earth on its way.” Something was riveting about them which cannot be denied, but the demand now, particularly those of the current generation, is for variety. One cannot blame them for cricket has evolved, and the new shorter versions contain such excitement-a-minute action that it has virtually taken an irreplaceable place in the hearts and minds of the lovers of the sport. The lookout is for instant thrills, the big sixes and power-packed boundaries, not to mention the quickly run singles.
To that extent, Test cricket has also begun to change in complexion, imbibing, as it has done now, the new skills of the shorter versions of the sport. A sample of this was seen in the ongoing India-England series. Big-time scorers like Illie Pope for England who made a classy 196 in Hyderabad which laid the foundation for his country’s win and India’s new-comer Yashasvi Jaiswal who came up with a double ton in Vishakapatnam where India was able to level the series. The highlight of Pope’s knock was his pronounced use of the newly innovative shots like the reverse sweeps, switching stances and scooping the ball over the head! On the other hand, Jaiswal had alternated between ground and aerial shots with great felicity in his aggression-marked innings of confidence personified.
Yet for all this, the one man who made all the difference between the two teams was Jasprit Bumrah, the Indian fast bowler with a unique bowling action. Bumrah has been much talked about for some time now not only for his action and ability to generate pace from a relatively short run up, but also for his ability to send unstoppable yorkers. In Visakhapatnam, just when England seemed ready to take the fight to the Indian camp came this pacer’s magic and genius so to speak. With nine wickets in all in the match, Bumrah knit up the match in India’s favour and what is more, jumped to the number one spot in the ICC ranking. He is already a leader in the pack in the T20s and ODIs. What brought out his versatility at Visakhapatnam was the way he bamboozled Pope, the first Test hero, with a yorker who had no answer. Plaudits poured even from English writers. While erstwhile pace expert Dale Steyn, the one-time South African mainstay, thought the way Bumrah was transcending conventional challenges had attained legendary status.
How times have changed! Once it was the spin that had brought rich dividends through the greatness of men like Bishen Bedi, E A S Prasanna, S. Venkataraghavan and B.S. Chandrasekhar among others. Kapil Dev then changed the trend later, and now we have the world press going gaga on an art that Bumrah has taken to a different level. This factor alone should open up the current series to all kinds of possibilities. True India will be without its star Virat Kohli, who has chosen to opt-out, but Bumrah has raised the ante. Is it a surprise then that there should be so much more eagerness for the contest to begin? In the final analysis, whichever way the results turn, the biggest winner will be Test cricket. Undoubtedly!