The Painful Joy of Test Cricket - an anachronistic love affair or a contemporary oxymoronic affliction?
Diary of a devout and anonymous fan.
Today marked the beginning of the much -awaited and highly-anticipated Test series between India and Australia. The cricket rivalry between India and Australia has taken epic proportions in recent times. The Border-Gavaskar trophy signifies the tussle between an established cricketing culture and decades-old guard versus an up and coming culture that is growing and proving to be the new Vanguard for everything cricket, Australia and India respectively.
..and so it started. As luck would have it, it was also one of my busiest days at work but a true die-hard fan knows how to rapidly prioritize!
India won the toss and elected to bat. I was pleasantly surprised by my ability to not being surprised by India's team selection. R Ashwin was in ( instead of Kuldeep Yadav ) and so was Rohit Sharma (toss-up between Hanuma Vihari and Rohit). India was playing six specialist batsmen, as was Australia. That only meant that both teams recognized that batting was not their strongest suit.
Australia came with a clear plan. They bowled in the driving arc for any top-order specialist batsman and what ensued was magical. It was wonderful, and yet comical alignment of Australia's bowling plans with Indian batter's delightfully surreal plan to score at least 50 runs of each ball. So every batsman from number 1 to number 5 ( barring number 3) hit their respective best shots and it was a shame that they did not get any runs for the shots.
It was disappointing that they actually got out playing those highly-rewarding shots because in their minds they were clear. Somehow they had gotten the memo wrong! It seemed that they had been told that it was a 'one-day' Test match and they were to go to the next venue tomorrow.
The task assigned to the batters coming at numbers 6 and 7 was ostensibly even more onerous, they were to score at the rate of 100 runs per ball. They vanquished trying to seize the initiative (of which there was none during that passage of play) but that is a story for another day!
I felt really sorry for the much maligned, often misunderstood, blissfully stoic India number 3: Cheteshwar Pujara. Apparently, he did not have the '50 runs in a single ball' shot in his armoury so he was seen grittily leaving most of the incoming balls in utter pain.
You could see it all in his face and his eyes, a mixture of self-destructive disdain and little regard for the reality of the situation. The situation was grim and we needed to score at least 2000 runs in the first session. But this guy was sticking out like a sore thumb - trying to block or leave most of the good balls and was just trying to score off the bad ones!
In an age and time when everyone quickly aligns to the captain's rule-book and tacit markers showcasing the unity and bonhomie within the team (the entire playing 11 sports a beard, not sure if that was the reason Kuldeep Yadav was left out, presuming he is the 12th man and presuming he doesn't sport a beard!!), Che Pujara is seemingly a reclusive misfit (he does sport a scraggly beard though - he tries hard, doesn't he!).
He goes about his business quietly and effectively, as and when called upon. Note that he is sometimes not an obvious pick in the playing eleven, given the obvious issues of slow strike rate in the 'one-day' cricket format!
That said, he backs his game with crystal clarity and refreshing simplicity - dogged, plucky, resolute, trusting his defence and trusting his instincts, not knowing if this would be his swansong!
After a roller-coaster day of cricket, Pujara was the last man standing. This was much to the non-dismay of all the Australian team. Their admiration began reluctantly and turned to profuse praise by end of play. Aussie and Indian commentators and columnists chimed in approval. After all, he was the guy who forced another day of cricket at the same venue, thanks to the memo he had received in stark contradiction to one that the rest of the top order batsmen had received.
He is visibly the anachronistic misfit trudging along trying to show off his wares; of which there are fewer takers than before. The numbers of the Test cricket fans are dwindling. In that sense, he is a synonym for Test cricket itself.
I just hope and pray that the both of them - Pujara and Test cricket, flourish and give me joy for many more years to come!