Today we saw another example of how incredible Test cricket is. There has been a bit of hand-wringing in recent times about bat starting to dominate ball to an unreasonable extent. It isn’t all founded, but it is true that there has been an increasing sentiment that a ‘good’ pitch is a road on which both sides can score 500 in the first innings. Today blew that out of the water. Today we saw the ball finally make a comeback. Twenty-three wickets fell, nineteen of them in the space of about three hours after lunch. It was, as I mentioned earlier, the most incredible day of cricket I have seen.
We have already seen some spectacular tests this year when the bowlers were on top of the batsmen. Sri Lanka collapsed so spectacularly in Cardiff, England collapsed at Lord’s to set up a close finish, India collapsed to Stuart Broad at Trent Bridge to set up an English victory that had looked impossible, India collapsed to the West Indies earlier this week before the West Indies returned the favour and set up a thrilling finish to the test. This one will trump them all. Hopefully groundsmen and administrators are finally learning that a good pitch has something in it for batsmen and bowlers.
Today was also yet another reason why Test cricket is the greatest form of the sport. In what other sport could you have the match so utterly transform not once but twice? In what other sport could a side have a historically bad performance and still have a good chance to win? South Africa are in a good position on 81-1 needing 236, but at the start of their innings 236 looked like a very daunting target. The ‘ebb and flow’ of Test matches has always been considered a benefit, today it was a tsunami. How frustrating then that what should have been a third Test was scrapped in favour of more unremarkable limited overs matches? There were a pair of good contents in that leg, but most were one sided and dull. By contrast, when have these two sides not put on a thrilling exhibition of test cricket? Already England have played five meaningless ODIs in India. Next year they will have five more against Australia instead of a fourth Test against South Africa. This after the ECB and CSA agreed that the Test series ought to be a five match ‘marquee’ series. It is maddening, and there is a petition for the ECB and CSA to see sense. (I know I’ve plugged it before, but it is all the more obvious now why it is needed.) A three match series last winter would have seen the Ashes drawn 1-1 and a two match series here will certainly not be enough to determine a proper winner. We’re finally getting decent pitches, now we’re losing the matches to play on them.