The televisions are up on since 5:30 am in the wintry mornings in India. The channels steadily change as Neil Wagner’s spell seems more enthralling than the cover drives of Steven Smith. Somewhere the patriot rises as well and half-heartedly pauses the sifting channel screens as Virat Kohli is on the cusp of yet another history. The joy of the double ton is short-lived as it is now time to pray for a Smith encore. Somewhere, you even hope that West Indies would offer the Kiwis a resisting fight. Or that James Anderson and Stuart Broad can bring out all the tricks in the bag and stop the monumental Aussies from a high score. And as for the Sri Lankans, well it’s never been a bleaker story.
As the phrase “more the merrier” goes, three simultaneous Test series was always a cricket enthusiast’s dream. The longing to spend the weekends crumpled up in the blankets, away from the chaos that the professional sphere offered is discarded away sans regret, as one remains glued to the happenings in the world of cricket. Really, there never has been a better sight. As the cameras zoom in on a bunch of players attired in white, spread across the lavish green fields, the excitement levels perk up. The monotony of the long week behind evaporates as the eager pieces of advice are meted out to the bowlers.
Yes, they cannot hear you when you ask them to pitch the ball shorter on the fourth stump, but well, it is a ritual that has and will always carry on. Cricket is not a mere vision; it is instead an analytic realm where each individual has his own theories and his own words of wisdom.
But something strangely remains amiss. The sight of a stump walloping in the air after the bowler has astutely planned its plight is present, but something remains amiss. The arms go up in extended joy after the man with the willow has been successful in scoring the elusive ton, yet something remains amiss. The jigs after a wicket and the sledges that ruffle feathers have not vanished either. Then what is it that remains amiss?
Every series and every Test match later in a small column the shuffle of the Test rankings are read. Almost all of the twelve months of a calendar year have some team taking on another but a few months later, the feats of that particular tour are forgotten. At times, the series itself finds it tough to be remembered. Matches go on and scores are memorised but almost like robots. One channel to the other to another. Where is that deep-rooted thrill? Where is that sense of déjà vu that the bowling of Shoaib Akhtar brought or where is that gasp of shock when Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee together united to form an invincible union?
Blame the loss of the legends to the deplorable state of Test cricket but cricket did go on even after the likes of Vivian Richards and Malcolm Marshall walked away. Blame the advent of the shortest format of the game but Test cricket had walked with pride even when the coloured clothing was introduced. The pitches have turned into a bland demon that devours the ordinary and fails to get hold of the extraordinary. Blame the constant growth of a batting paradise and the yearning for sixes but without actually realising that the game over five days ends only with the succumbing of the last wicket.
Mediocre players who excel in the ODIs are pushed into the Test arena. So many cricketers play the game in countries all over then why is it that the sport is a jumbled mess? Australia found an awfully long time to get back their rhythm after the tag of being the champion side was taken away from them and yet they cannot win in India. New Zealand have a bunch of youngsters that will do any side proud but they are unable to break into the “Elite Zone”. England are on a roll but the inability of Anderson and Broad to pick up wickets when they tour abroad have not gone unnoticed to any.
India remains a team in contrasts- banishing teams in their kingdom and surrendering meekly when in theirs. South Africa are enveloped with world class players and have the least struggles when playing in alien conditions but with most of the legends on their way out, a phase of rebuilding is soon going to hit them. Pakistan are excellent on days and the total opposite on others and well, West Indies and Sri Lanka just add a pathetic insult to the likes of Brian Lara and Kumar Sangakkara; Sir Garfield Sobers and Muttiah Muralidharan.
When the best spinner in the world is a player who struggles to get in the groove in overseas tours and when the pack of future legends is reduced to just three, with the fourth being plagued by inconsistencies, the headline is crisp and clear. The falling standards in Test cricket are a major concern and whether it is the teams that are causing this decline or whether cricket’s decline is causing the teams to slacken, the plethora of below-par battles have caused the Test loving generation to gulp down matches that make one desperately wander into the heydays of glorious games.