We don’t need four-day Tests or any other innovation in order to inject excitement in this format. We just need 22 yards that can provide balance between bat and ball.
In the fading popularity of the purest form of the game, the dramatic Eden Test against Sri Lanka has come as an oasis in the desert.
We often complain about the lack of contest in the five-day format. But at Eden, there was plenty of competition despite 551 minutes of the match being lost to weather, all thanks to the grassy 22 yards, which kept us on our toes throughout the five days.
Prior to the game, Dinesh Chandimal mentioned that on a seaming wicket, the differences in the qualities of the two sides tend to get narrowed down. And that’s what exactly happened in the match.
The way the relatively inexperienced Sri Lanka team came out and dominated was a complete contrast to what we had seen from them three months back, against the same opponent.
After losing the toss on rain-hit Day 1, India had to fight out really hard to keep a grip on the match. In the first innings, despite the efforts of Cheteshwar Pujara and the bowling unit, visitors took a lead of 122 runs, which on that wicket could have been match-deciding. But thanks to the efforts of the opening pair and Virat Kohli’s 50th international hundred, the home team hung in.
In fact, when Sri Lanka were given a target of 231 in a maximum of 47 overs just before Tea on Day 5, many thought only one result is possible in the game — a draw.
But there was a twist in the tale.
In the final hour of play, the kind of pace bowling we saw from Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, is one of the fascinating performances by an Indian pace attack in a home Test match in a long time. The trio rattled Sri Lankan middle-order with conventional seam movement and reverse swing. There was bounce, pace and carry. Under those conditions, Indian seamers, especially Bhuvneshwar and Shami, looked like taking a wicket on each ball, which is a rare sight on the final day of a Test match in Asia.
The way the deliveries were sharply coming in or going out, at times we thought the match was being played in Johannesburg or Durban. For the first time in the history of Indian cricket, a home spinner did not get a single wicket in a Test match. There is hardly any instance of such dominance by pace bowlers in a Test match in this country.
And the final session was just the cherry on the cake.
Let’s be honest. When was the last time we saw pace bowlers steaming in with five slips in place in the final session of a Test match in this part of the world? And remember, Indians came tentatively close to a triumph, which looked quite unlikely even when Sri Lankan batsmen came out to bat in the post-Tea session on Monday.
That phase of play has been a memory of a lifetime for those who were present at the ground in that enthralling final hour of the match.
The USP of Test cricket is that in this format the pendulum keeps swinging, and we saw that on the Eden surface, which, undoubtedly is the fastest wicket in India right now. For all five days, there was something for everyone and the ball was flirting around the bat. Eventually, the drama it produced was phenomenal. And when there is drama in the game, there is no shortage of adrenaline rush, which this format hasn’t seen much of late.
Overall the match has been a great advertisement for Test cricket. It has once again pointed out the fact that when there is balance between bat and ball, we are bound to have a contest. And we don’t always need the ball to turn square to rattle the opposition, at times a little bit grass on the pitch can do the job.
Here credit is due to the Indian team management for opting for such a challenging track in order to prepare themselves for the future foreign assignments. Also, the Sourav Ganguly-led Cricket Association of Bengal needs to be lauded for producing such a track, breaking the barrios of conventional approach.
In fact, the idea of having a pace-friendly surface at the Eden Gardens is a brainchild of Ganguly. Prior to the home season last year, the wicket was re-laid and in the first-ever international fixture, played on that pitch, was the Test match against New Zealand, in which 26 of the 40 wickets were taken by pacers.
On Monday, following the dramatic end of the Test match, Ganguly has confirmed us the characteristics of the pitch won’t change in the near future.
“From now on at Eden, this [helpful wicket] is going to be the trend.”
So, brace yourself up for more such exciting contests at this iconic venue. We don’t need four-day Tests or any other innovation in order to inject excitement in this format. We just need 22 yards that can provide balance between bat and ball. Kolkata has shown us the way. Hope other centres will take a leaf out of Eden’s book.