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The Test of defiance

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Four test matches played, and only one of them lasted five days. And this came about only because of the now seemingly rudimentary tactics of the South Africans, who looked to be content to merely tap the ball defensively rather than hit it around the ground.

The Indian team members and other international past players didn’t like it one bit. The commentators seemed to be amused with what was taking place. The fans wondered what had gone into the South Africans to transform themselves so starkly. Compared to these billowing numbers, the number of people, taken back in time to a different era of test cricket where defensiveness was the glorious norm, were quite few. These low numbers were also left disappointed in the end of the test match as India completed a 3-0 victory against the world’s best test side.

Not that India’s win by itself was a disappointment.

Coming after the loss in the T20 and ODI series, the series win in tests was a good turnaround as far as the Indian team’s morale was concerned. But more than India’s win, that the South Africans should lose after displaying such a fight back – with their backs against the proverbial wall – was a hard fact to deal with.

To those then clamouring about the wrongness of what Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers tried to do, the reaction feels derivative, going by the current adoptions towards playing test cricket. Of course, by today’s standards, merely tapping and slightly nudging the ball are aberrations contradicting the existence of fours and sixes.

When Virender Sehwag used to come up with those scintillating sixes and fours of his, timed right at the cusp of him inching towards a big score, the transition seemed to provide an interesting differentiation. Almost a decade ago Sehwag, and others of his ilk who came after him, never however tried to change the fundamentalism upon which test cricket was based.

 

Coming onto the front-foot to hoist a few random shots across the park was never intended to be the mainstay of test cricket. But it was intended to be a tactic to demonstrate the combination of assertive-aggression with the basic painstakingness that test cricket embodied.

The change in time and the need for the sport to keep evolving to suit the dictates of time, thus, also affected test cricket. A curiously dichotomous situation also developed. Many players found it sluggish, not enough to whet their interest as much as the shorter versions did, and stopped playing it altogether. On the other hand, there were those who continued to play, but went on to display their ideas on how to play tests.

The results didn’t take long to emerge. Singles started being converted into twos, twos into threes and boundaries went onto be replaced by a regular scattering of sixes. Where previously captains attempted to bring a test match to a close by trying for a stalemate, draws became synonymous with defeats.

In the recently concluded test series between Australia and New Zealand, David Warner was the pick of the Australian squad, especially in the first two tests. His on-field onslaught reduced the Kiwi side to seemingly coming across as minnows, rathen than being a side full of experienced and talented players.

While there can be no questions about Warner’s explosive talent, it is interesting to draw a comparison between his play and AB de Villiers’ performance in the second innings of the final test against India.

Much touted as de Villiers is contemporarily, his performance in the second innings of the Delhi test showed that not only could he play in any format, he could also adapt himself to the intrinsic needs of each format. Thus, while many thought de Villiers to be playing regressively, he was merely going back to one of the basic rules of test cricket – to stave off defeat, however possible. This strategy also extended to the rest of de Villiers’ team-mates, especially Amla.

In contrast, if such a situation ever presented itself before the Australians, it would be hard to say whether Warner – or the rest of the Australian squad – would be able to come up with such a strategy. Or, even if they did, whether they could execute it with such patience.

Perhaps this is why the South Africans are the world’s best test side. For all the hue and cry raised about the quality of pitches and their inability to master the Indian spinners, the South Africans did end up establishing their high quality standards once again. They lost the series, but gave a glimpse of old-school test cricket by trying to revive its core essence in front of the new generation of cricket lovers and pundits.



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