Test cricket is finally back in the calendar of Indian cricket. India is taking on the World Test champions, New Zealand, at Green Park, Kanpur. The match is such a pleasant sight to watch. The lush green outfield on a sunny north Indian day, with players in pristine white is what signifies a true game of cricket.
The Green Park ground known historically for India’s first Test victory against Australia has, on most other occasions, been a paradise for batters. The irony for New Zealand would be the memory of their last Test played five years ago in Kanpur, when India beat them. They lost through some excellent bowling by Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. The duo along with Axar Patel one feels will be difficult for New Zealand to handle as well this time around.
The wicket, which used to be a peach to bat on, is already playing slow with uneven bounce with a bit of spin. For New Zealand batting last on it would be a challenge which could turn out to be a nightmare.
The Test series is very important for both India as well as New Zealand. This is the start of the new cycle of collecting points for the second Test World Championship. One, therefore, is amazed that some of the important Indian players have opted out of playing the Test match citing various personal reasons.
India played their first Test match in England in 1932, just short of 90 years ago and there have been only 303 Test players who have worn the India cap so far.
The ultimate dream for a cricketer was to play Test cricket for ones’ country. The thought of missing one for no rhyme or reason was unthinkable. One does respect the present pandemic situation that has arisen due to the virus and the restricted isolated conditions that the players have to bear up with. However, then the onus should be on the BCCI to ensure that the players are consulted before a Test series is finalised.
When one looks at evaluating India’s progress in the development of Test cricketers, this match at Kanpur is a good indicator. Even without some of the established players, the Indian team has six players from the 2016 side that beat New Zealand. This shows how India has remained quite consistent with their selection and still relies very much on its older stalwarts.
The batting and spin bowling are areas that have not had significant changes. However, young fast bowlers have emerged but have not been able to establish themselves because of the older ones.
Rahul Dravid, the newly-established coach, has started off well by winning all the three T20 matches and, therefore, the T20 series against New Zealand. This should give him the boost and confidence required to get his future plans in order. This will be important especially when India tour South Africa later on in the year.
One was pleased to see Shreyas Iyer, the debutant, make a mark for himself. One wonders whether he will be pursued with once Virat Kohli and KL Rahul are back. This is where Indian cricket seems to be in a dilemma. A good example of this was when Karun Nair scored a triple hundred against England and in the very next match had to forfeit his place to Ajinkya Rahane on his return. Karun did get an opportunity much later but could not show the same form and never played for India thereafter.
India has plenty of talented players and with the fitness and health facilities available presently, age has become just a number. The finance of cricketers has also seen a well-deserved increase and so cricket has become a profession that one could stretch into ones late thirties. MS Dhoni is a good example of this trend. He was signed for another three years by Chennai Super Kings.
This is what is making the Indian teams selection so difficult. With retirement being a no-no at the International and domestic level, the normal process of players retiring and giving way to the next in line is not taking place.
This is causing a deluge of Indian cricketers as they have no other profession to pursue but to carry on playing.
This is where the BCCI has to play a part. They need to have programmes and certification for not just cricket-related activities but also in other fields. Educating cricketers in areas of finance, marketing, technology, etcetera. This will then give cricketers job options in the latter part of their lives.
But coming back to the romance of cricket, the ordeal of getting 20 wickets in a Test match for a team to win is what makes it so interesting. 90 overs in a day have become difficult for players to concentrate on and to sustain themselves in. The bowlers are looking battered by the end of play as the limited-overs versions of the game have made taking wickets not as essential as compared to scoring runs.
The lack of playing Test cricket has made bowlers non-resourceful. They seem to lack a concrete plan as the limited-overs game does not require them to do so. Test cricket is all about pursuing a weak spot in a batter’s armoury and concentrating on it till his demise. For this, a bowler needs patience and consistency, which, one gathers, is lacking.
Fortunately, the royal beautiful game of Test cricket seems to still have an aura of purity around it.
Cricket lovely cricket!(Yajurvindra Singh is a former India cricketer)