“It is here that Test cricket unleashes its mightiest force. It throws up the most unlikely of heroes, who go on to have reminisced for a role that they are not known for in a match that will be added to the most memorable games ever scripted. It thrusts forward characters and enigmas, who surprise at their resolve and their determination”.
Excitement. Nerves running back and forth. The heart rate, oscillating between the ebbs and the flows that the game has to offer. Deeply rooted on the couch. Waiting and waiting and praying for a miracle.
The above scenes will more often than not be pinned above a T20 game. With the Indian Premier League knocking around the corner, one will not think twice to locate the dramatic close affair as an event panning out in the shortest format of the game. In a generation that has survived on fast-food and even faster-technology to get their minute-by-minute updates, cricket has come to be defined in three parameters.
Tests offer frustration. It seems to go on and on and on. ODI games are ‘watchable’. The second innings, however, is always preferred. While it is the T20s that encapsulate all of cricket’s emotions into a span of just three overs. There are victors and losers. It has champions who thrive under pressure and players who fade away into the oblivion after failing to manage the stress of it all.
Vastly going against this conventional route of thinking, a five-day game in Christchurch rose above the dullness and the monotony that Test cricket has started being associated with. In the season of T20 matches, the cricketers attired in their pristine whites, pitched in with such a large-hearted performance that would have made the Don Bradmans and the Peter Roebucks proud. In the spell of slam-bang cricket, it was patience and perseverance that stood the ground, with the New Zealand team managing to win a battle that would have been more satisfying than any win in a T20 encounter.
The fifth day of the second and the final Test between England and New Zealand began on a rather anti-climactic note. With all three results possible, only the first two deliveries were what were needed to unravel the hopes of an English win after going winless for thirteen games. Kiwi captain Kane Williamson chose to bag his first golden duck on a day he would have instead wanted to make a ton in a crucial phase. By the end of the first hour of play, New Zealand had lost four of their top order wickets, including that of Ross Taylor, and well, though it is romantic to expect the unexpected in such situations, the odds of it happening remain minute and grim.
However, it is here that Test cricket unleashes its mightiest force. It throws up the most unlikely of heroes, who go on to have reminisced for a role that they are not known for in a match that will be added to the most memorable games ever scripted. It thrusts forward characters and enigmas, who surprise at their resolve and their determination.
Even after Tom Latham had stemmed the early troubles, one would not say that danger was behind the home side. Only four tail-enders needed to be scalped in the final session and England would have in no way anticipated the magnitude of hard work that was soon to be pitched in by the Kiwi bowlers. Ish Sodhi had combined with Colin de Grandhomme to bat out 25 overs, but the latter was sent back to the hut with the scorecard reading 219 for seven. In emerged Neil Wagner, with a batting average of just over 11 and along with Sodhi, who did have two half-centuries to his name before the knock but who remained inconsistent as ever, the duo thwarted, squatted and conquered the rivals.
The eighth-wicket partnership that lasted for 31 overs stood testimony to the courage and the valour that every individual who plays Test cricket soon starts to imbibe. Thrown into the waters, in a department that wasn’t their strongest point, the Sodhi and Wagner emerged as superstars with the willow. Though the Indian-born Sodhi was given a reprieve when he was on zero, it can in no way take away from his display at Christchurch.
He batted 168 deliveries for his 56 and Wagner 103 for his 7. Together they evaded the short balls that were peppered at them and Sodhi even bravely suffered a blow in the arm. Though Wagner would have loved to deposit the bowlers out of the park, the awareness that the team was looking up to him to help them secure an improbable series win kept him grounded. He defended, and he defended and in the dying moments of the game, in a clever tactic to waste a little more time, he went up for the DRS.
Though the decision was not overturned, Wagner walked back a silent figure of tenacity. By the time he had reached the pavilion, the match had been called off due to the poor light that had haunted the day’s play from the very start, with it becoming an integral part of the battle as well.
Williamson, who was visibly stoked after becoming only the fourth Kiwi skipper to head a series win over England, was forthcoming in his views of having more Test matches. “We’ve played four Tests this year, I think there’s a little bit of frustration, guys want to play more Test cricket.”
Coming from a player who has just recently been bestowed with the leadership roles in a Franchise team, the above comments appear almost magical. For it not only reinforces the importance that Tests hold amongst the current crop of players, it also highlights the fact that for all its grandeur and its extravagance, the T20s all over will never be able to soak in on the simplicity that makes Test cricket so very heart-warming and satisfying.