Saturday, November 27, 2021

500 Test matches: From the ridiculous to the sublime, within 22 yards

500 Tests is something indeed, an entire manuscript of the game in its purest form, which has thrown up the best players we have had the good fortune of seeing.

Written by Jaideep Ghosh |
September 21, 2016 5:01:15 pm
test-captains Sourav Ganguly, MS Dhoni are India’s two most successful Test captains, while Virat Kohli has taken up the role with a lot of aggression.

So we’re nearing another landmark. Five hundred Test matches! That is quite something, given that the stalwarts running Indian cricket were on the verge of declaring Test cricket as illegal as same sex marriages, not so long ago.

It was only the collective intelligence of revenue generation over five days that kept the white flannels alive. Not only that, there is now talk of making it a day-night affair. The ridiculous is as frequent as the sublime in Indian cricket.

But cynicism aside, 500 Tests is something indeed, an entire manuscript of the game in its purest form, which has thrown up the best players we have had the good fortune of seeing.

Where would we be without Test cricket? We’d never have paragon of perfection in Sunil Gavaskar or of poise in Gundappa Viswanath. Nor the languid class of Mohinder Amarnath, or even mystery of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar.

The modern-day stars you’d have seen in the other formats too, but still, there really would be no VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid or Anil Kumble in real terms. Nor a Sachin Tendulkar.

We would never have Virender Sehwag humming away and hammering away. Nor see Harbhajan Singh or Ravichandran Ashwin creating chaos and magic.

We also wouldn’t shake our heads in regret, at having lost leg-spinners like Narendra Hirwani and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, or ultimate left-handers like Vinod Kambli.

Or left wondering why Cheteshwar Pujara isn’t one of the best we have.

We would also shake our heads in bewilderment, about how bowlers like David Johnson got even one Test match….

But when we start recalling the 500, it always boils down to what we saw firsthand, so a little self-promotion isn’t so out of the line.

I am not good with dates, and there are enough sources to get them from, so only one will come up.

January 18, 1994. That was the day I made my Test debut. Sri Lanka were not the most daunting of rivals those days. Led by Arjuna Ranatunga, they were a set of largely unfit, demotivated players of great individual skill and little else.

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So, when I landed at the K.D. Singh Babu Stadium in Lucknow that chilling morning, the veterans of the day were already betting on how many days the game would last.

Nevertheless, that was my debut, for a news agency. As it so happened, the optical cables between Lucknow and Delhi went down one day, and none of the reporters could fax (yes, fax) their reports through.

Only us lowly agency fellows managed. Next morning, there were bylines in three or four Delhi newspapers. I was over the moon.

This Test may not be the most noticeable in Indian history, but this was where I saw Anil Kumble first. Bespectacled, a little thinner, with a different action, but as deadly as ever. Eleven wickets attested to that.

Sri Lanka had a thin, dark off-spinner called Muttiah Muralitharan. We spent four days (actually five, including the rest day) trying to figure his real name. By the time we did, the match was over.

But then, Kumble and I were in many dramas. His 300th against England at the KSCA in what was then a pleasant and welcome Bangalore was quite the drama too.

The entire first day went with Kumble stuck on the 299 he had gone in with. It was around the afternoon of the second day that he finally snared England No. 11 Matthew Hoggard in front.

It quite remarkable that Kumble’s 300th is remembered much more than his other landmarks. Wonder why.

Barring one other. The 10 for 74 against Pakistan, at the one and only Feroz Shah Kotla Kotla.

That one will always be the one I will remember. After all, only a fortunate few were privileged to see history being achieved. And that too in a highly-publicised series bringing the old enemy home again.

Kotla saw Kumble retire too, suddenly in the middle of the Australia series. His finger injury was just too much to carry on with.

In the next Test, at Jamtha in Nagpur, we looked on as Sourav Ganguly ended his career with a duck in his final innings.

No one can ever take away from Ganguly’s contribution to making India the side they are now. His series visits to Australia and their returns here are part of folklore for Indian cricket, the kind of test by fire that made India the steely unit they are now.

He was at the helm for many clashes that were won or lost, the common denominator being the battles that were taken to the field, unlike previous Indian sides.

The era of Mahendra Singh Dhoni then came, and Test cricket took a downward slide as priorities seemed to change all around.

Till such time that Dhoni too suddenly left Test cricket for other pursuits. That could possibly have been the best thing that happened to the Indian Test side.

So when Kanpur celebrates the 500th, come Thursday, it would be time to step back and take stock of who all have glorified the realms of Test cricket for India, and those immortals from faraway lands who have left their touch.

For, once the dust has settled, memories are the things that will make us smile.

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