Tuesday, 26 July 2011
Test is Best
Test Cricket. Well, there are those of you who think that it’s about as dull as sport gets but I tell you, that’s garbage. It’s still the acme of the sport.
In a brilliant article earlier in the week Simon Barnes described the long form of the game as being like a novel. I’d prefer to say that the Test Match is the tantric version. One-day cricket is a back of the alley knee-trembler and Twenty 20 is a quick Sherman before you leave the house of a Friday night.
But like Barnes I like to think I have the intellect, the stamina, the discretion to enjoy something that lures you in, that ebbs and flows, that has its apparent doldrums and its mighty storms, and be able to appreciate it for its full and glorious nature.
I don’t mind your abbreviated snack-food stuff but it feels like it’s been structured for the goldfish-memory, sound-bite generation.
To back up the analogy of the well-told story, the latest instalment of Test cricket had more sub-plots than a Swedish crime novel.
First, take a look at the characters involved:
the Little Master, Sachin Tendulkar – as refined a piece of batting machinery as has ever set foot on to an outfield. A living legend destined to fulfil the arithmetical nicety of scoring his 100th international hundred in the 100th Test match between the two sides and the 2000th Test match of all time. Only actuaries would have believed that this meant that it must happen.
Then there was Stuart Broad, a lanky prep school pretty boy with a temper shorter than Shaun Wright-Phillips; a man who could hardly buy a Test wicket and whose place seemed to belong to the less media-friendly face of Reliable Old Tim Bresnan. Broad bowled like a genius, arcing devious deliveries in and out and off the pitch like Glen McGrath had supped from the fountain of youth and found a decent haircut and an English accent.
There was Rahul Dravid, who like Sachin had never quite mustered a hundred at Lord’s. He’s nicknamed The Wall is Dravid because of the stoutness of his defence, unlike Martin Keown who has a similar moniker cos it’s very much like talking to one. Dravid struggled manfully to three figures despite the consistent excellence of England’s bowlers.
Dravid’s doggedness was to be expected, however, unlike that of one Kevin Pietersen (remember him? He was very big in the noughties).
KP’s innings was precisely the sort of grind that would’ve left most superfast broadband customers thumping holes in their laptops. Such was his bind of self-restraint that at times he resembled nothing less than a fat lass sat in front of a never-ending conveyor belt of treacle puddings. But he held fast, did KP, until finally with 150 to his name he gorged himself on his just desserts.
There was, too, Matt Prior, a sort of NCO of the England XI, marching busily to the wicket in the wake of some pretty meek batting from the top order. With help form the rejuventated Broad, he tonked the ailing Indian attack to the four corners of Lord’s with such assurance that it almost looked inevitable.
England were very indebted to an injury to Zaheer Khan a bloke who hoop a delivery around like a Ronaldo free-kick when the force is with him.
The last day’s play was marvellous, not least cos the ground was packed out with fans who could barely believe they were there. Swathes of Indian fans attempted to get a touch of Tendulkar as he went to his nets, as if he were the cricket equivalent of the Blarney Stone.
Dravid and Laxman, another wondrous batter, were at the crease. Jimmy Anderson, at his best a promiscuous bisexual of a bowler in that he really swings it both ways, was ready at one end. At the other there was Chris Tremlett, built like a tower of brick shithouses. To come was Broad and Graeme Swann, the best spin bowler in the world.
Slowly but surely they chipped away at the Indians like four men trying to upend a boulder with the trunk of a tree, until eventually the rock shifted and the whole cliffside caved in. You needed patience to understand it. To understand the stoppered rage after Broad’s plumb lbw was turned down by the umpire Billy ‘Oooh look at me, aren’t I quirky!’ Bowden.
To understand the agony of Dravid’s lame waft and nick behind, or Laxman’s pull to midwicket, or hothead Harbhajan’s brainless waft to mid-on.
Let’s be clear. There is nowt wrong with this whole yarn taking five days to unveil itself. Long may it continue, especially cos as a Sky Sports refusenik I enjoyed most of it on Test Match Special on the radio. To me TMS is as much a part of the English summer as sheltering under trees during a thunderstorm and getting botulism from a not-quite-cooked piece of barbecue chicken.
Sometimes the private school and chummery and vowels more fruity than an Innocent smoothie have me reaching for my Teesside Book of Working-Class Outrage but the advent of Tuffers and Vaughany seemed to have redressed the posh monotony. (Although hearing Tuffers give good counsel to Test Match batsmen is a bit like Peter Stringellow starting up a line in Marriage Guidance.)
And there’s always Boycott. Straight-talking no-nonsense Geoffrey. I bet he’s never done a cryptic crossword. Or changed the font on his computer. Cricket is bloody obvious to Boycs. Not so much a tantric week of sensual love as a steady straightforward me-on-top shag with the missus. Not a rambling saga but the Haynes Manual to the Honda Civic. What a cracking pundit he is.
"I'm off down the Corridor of Uncertainty to the Bar of Utter Truth for a glass of Simple Fact"
Despite all that, I’m gagging for the footy season to begin, particularly if Balotelli continues to entertain so royally. The lad’s head must rattle from all them loose screws.