As far as cricket is concerned, I suppose I would describe myself as “old school”. I have no problem at all with (in fact I thoroughly enjoy watching) the shorter versions of the game – the entertainment and skill on show in the 50-over and T20 formats can be breathtaking at times; but for me, there just isn’t anything to compare with the particular tension and drama that test match cricket can produce.
Over the five days (because test matches occasionally last that long…), there can be so many individual battles, sub-plots and twists to savour as the game develops and one set of players tries to out-think as well as out-perform the other.
Of course some matches are more “dramatic” (if that’s the right word), but even quiet sessions or one-sided games offer something for the purist; and there have been plenty of examples of test matches where the result has seemed a foregone conclusion, only for something truly special to happen – an innings, a catch, a brilliant spell of bowling, a collapse … something that elevates a game into an event that will remain in the public consciousness for years.
There will be people who look at this summer’s series against India and assume that the 4-1 scoreline represents a fairly comfortable victory for the home side – but I found this to be one of the most intriguing contests of recent years, and far closer than the bare figures suggest.
Frailties in England’s top order were exposed – India’s seamers were superb. The tourists’ talented batting line-up consistently failed to fire, meaning that skipper Virat Kohli’s performances were even more impressive. England’s lower order batsmen were magnificent, but only so many players can bat between 5 and 8. England’s slip catching was embarrassingly bad at times; in contrast India – KL Rahul in particular – were fantastic. Sam Curran emerged as a real talent (quite possibly a batting all-rounder of the future?). James Anderson became the most successful fast bowler in the history of test cricket…
And then there was Alastair Cook.
The fifth and final test, which finished yesterday, was an outstanding match on so many levels. At the end of day four, the tourists were in disarray, yet by tea on the last afternoon, all three results were possible. It was just a wonderful game that ebbed and flowed and just when you thought that the home side were in total command, back came the Indians to such effect that a ridiculously late England declaration began to look a stroke of tactical genius (which it wasn’t..!).
Much has been written about Messrs Anderson and Cook – surely two of England’s finest ever cricketers – and there’s precious little that a very average former club slow left-armer can add; other than to say what a perfect way for Alastair Cook to bring down the curtain on his outstanding test career. If he had been granted three proverbial wishes, a ton in his last knock, an England win, and his friend passing Glenn McGrath’s haul of test wickets may well have been his choices. It was simply brilliant.
What I would say though is that it takes two sides to make a great game and much as the Indians played their part with both bat and ball; it was the way they reacted to Cook’s second innings dismissal that will stick in my mind. To a man they went and shook the hand of the departing left-hander. Not one or two of the players … all of them. One even removed his hat prior to offering his hand.
This was pure class from Virat Kohli and his players – a gesture that I’m sure wasn’t lost on England’s former skipper as he walked from the field. Even in the heat of sporting battle, an entire team showed total respect for an opponent … it was a magical moment that was emotional to watch on a television screen; it must have been amazing to witness in person.
Those five days encapsulated everything that makes test cricket great … and, perhaps more importantly, still totally relevant. It has been a wonderful summer.