February 7, 2010

Fourth Innings, My Foot !

February 07, 2010 Posted by Vijay No comments
At a time when there is supposedly a threat to test cricket, more and more exciting matches are being turned in. Honestly, the past decade has been a blessing in disguise for Test Cricket, and not surprisingly, it has been Australia at the forefront of redefining Test Cricket. Their aggressive batting, with the likes of Hayden and Langer and then a marauding Gilchrist ensured that Test Cricket was being redefined forever. The mantle, one would say has been handed to another simple, yet devastating batsman, Virender Sehwag. Sehwag has been instrumental in India moving up the Test rankings in the past eight years, with an astonishing strike rate of over 80 and also scored the fastest triple hundred in Test Cricket.

Why Test Cricket is still alive and will thrive has been proven by just the last 2 years of Test Match cricket. And its more than just a mere coincidence that this is the same period when T20 cricket has taken the cricketing world by storm. This format has been a major boost to how Test cricket is being played of late. While Australia showed the aggressive intent in posting mammoth scores, and then pummel the opposition, T20 has increased the belief and self confidence amongst teams in chasing down astonishing fourth innings scores. A startling example is the Duleep Trophy Final yesterday, which West Zone won by chasing down a near improbable 536 to win. What stands out is the kind of innings which made it possible. Yusuf Pathan struck an unbeaten better than a run a ball double ton, and remained not out on 210 to capture the victory. Incidentally, this is the highest ever run chase in the history of first class cricket.

The audacity of test batsmen, especially over the past two years has a remarkable coincidence with T20 cricket's arrival on the big stage in 2007 with India emerging the first ever T20 world champions. More batsmen since then have gone out in the fourth innings with the self belief of a fourth innings chase as a possibility, even if it be a huge score. The impetus that T20 has provided is the pace at which runs are being scored in Test Cricket. Almost all teams, including Bangladesh are posting runs at more than 4 an over in Test Cricket. That means, more Test match results than ever before, and more excitement for the crowds. In the Ranji Trophy final a few days back, Manish Paney dared Mumbai and almost pulled off the highest chased total in Ranji finals. He compiled an almost run a ball century in the fourth innings effort.

Not only have draws become more exciting in Test Cricket (the England - South Africa matches were enthralling to say the least), even run making is becoming faster, year on year. Just to give an idea, in the last 1 and half years alone, there have been three high run chases achieved, and that too on different playing conditions. South Africa chased down 414, the second highest run chase ever, at W.A.C.A in Perth. India then chased down a memorable fourth innings score of 387 against England in India, following the ghastly 26/11 attacks. The other notable chase was by South Africa against England at Edgbaston in 2008. Exciting batsmen like Sehwag and Dilshan are making a mockery of the age old tradition of block and play in Test Cricket. Strike rates continue to reach the high 60s and this is only going to keep increasing.

The benefits of such fast paced scoring is already showing in the number of result oriented games. The public should now look forward to high scoring, fast paced test matches as well. There is plenty of runs, as well as wickets to fall. Any cricket fan would be thrilled to watch result oriented matches. Not to mention, the nail biting draws which England are repeatedly pulling off on the fifth days. The unfortunate casualties of this transformation of Test Cricket are the bowlers, especially the faster breed. While the batsmen's strike rates surge, the averages of the bowlers keeps increasing as well. Fast bowling as a breed is reeling under the psychological hammering of T20. Only bowlers like Shaun Tait who can breach the 160kph (he clocked 160.7kph against Pakistan in the Twenty20 win over Pakistan), can dare batsmen who come down the pitch to fast bowlers. May God help the rest!