“But cricket, and Test cricket more specifically, nowadays usually treads a similar route. It ends not with a bang, but with a whimper. And that adds to the melancholy of it all”.
We set ourselves up. We build upon things, sometimes brick by brick, and sometimes by exaggerating mere rivalries into world conquests. A simple sport between the bat and the cherry, quite ironically, transcends into the vastness of ungentle-manliness even months before a series is underway.
“Yet another Ashes tourney. Will England manage to sort themselves out and win Down Under?”
“A “real” series in cricket after a long, long time. Two sets of great bowlers from two different sides. It will be phenomenal.”
“India visits South Africa in what will be their “real” test after Virat Kohli took over.”
“The home bullies will end up being tamed yet again. Or will they extract revenge? Will Kohli finally prove that the Indian team has emerged a world beater, worthy of being called the number one team in the world? Whatever it is, this is their “real” contest.”
What exactly defines that word in cricket?
Clearly, in no match do the phantom figures of twenty-two men take the field, and remain determined to thwart down the opposition. Even if the side is facing a minnow team and the end is inevitable, we do know that the hours in the gym and the moments spent practising and running rounds will remain the same. And when a team does get out on the field, it gets as real as it will ever be. Ten wickets still need to be taken and the runs still need to be scored. Then what is a “real” battle that they keep talking about?
It shall be exciting. Enthralling. Even enticing. And why not? It is not wrong to have our expectations. Cricket, since time immemorial, has remained a game that has rushed through our DNAs; a game that united all generations of the family on an evening when Sachin Tendulkar was mercilessly thrashing Shane Warne on the dusty bowls of Sharjah. But back then, the intensity on the field had remained the talking point. Matches were anticipated and matches were keenly awaited, but rarely were they made into battleships of brotherhood and revenge.
When England landed Down Under, sans Ben Stokes, much was expected from the Joe Root-led squad. James Anderson and Stuart Broad would comfortably unite to make life difficult for Steven Smith’s team and the rolling in of the excitements had set forth since the beginning of 2017 itself.
“It is the year of the biggest rivalry in sports. The rivalry that has attached with it, traditions and history. A series which is loved and followed all over.”
Anything that involves the shadow of a lost legend holds with it immense warmth and nostalgia. From the days of the Chappell brothers to Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, one and all played the very series which is being contested today and high hopes were but natural. But Alastair Cook hardly rose above the aura of Mitchell Starc and youngster Pat Cummins and before one could even realise, it was done and dusted. 0-4.
For the fans closer back home, it had all been building up to the overseas venture that the Kohli-led team would embark on, starting with the stop in South Africa. They were well-equipped with a strong set of fast bowlers and a batting unit that had made its name in the sub-continental conditions.
In Cheteshwar Pujara, India had its reliable ally and in Rohit Sharma, the graceful elegance of form. In Kohli, they had charisma and in Hardik Pandya oodles of nonchalance. Yes, the series would be fun. Any series between the world number 1 and world number 2 sides is just that, but this really brought forward with it a lip-smacking prospect. The sight of four fast bowlers tearing down and unleashing themselves upon the Indian top-order, who would have to fight it out to survive.
But twelve days later, the story had unfolded. The story of technical flaws and selection egotism. The story of a pitiable state in Test cricket, where interests haven’t flabbergasted but where competition levels have fallen down the abyss. As we saw Murali Vijay shuffle across, putting himself vulnerable, we cringed.
As Pujara continued with his poor show abroad, we realised that the white flannels bring with it a different level of skill altogether. When Ajinkya Rahane was made to sit out, we experienced the stubbornness of a coach and a captain; a duo who base their selections on contrary statements and judgements. But more than that, we experienced the fans wait with bated breath for a “real” battle to finally take place.
In the Rainbow Nation, it hardly bore fruit but all talks of Test cricket losing its charm amongst the spectators was finally laid to rest.
Contests are awaited. Contests are made into bitter rivalries as cricket fans have seen a swivelling in the levels of passion offer. They hope for bigger moments on the field. They wait for excited memories to take along, once a series is long over. But cricket, and Test cricket more specifically, nowadays usually treads a similar route. It ends not with a bang, but with a whimper. And that adds to the melancholy of it all.