The topsy-turvy nature of Test cricket
Its the element of unpredictability that makes cricket such a lively subject for debate in sports forums. In an individual sport say tennis we know an established player, a champion talent can be relied upon to keep his or her reputation intact barring an unexpected happening say an injury.
As for instance what top-runger Novak Djokovic is now facing in the ongoing Australian Open. An injury scare has put an added pressure on his progress in this Grand Slam. But when it comes to cricket, the best playing side whom we believe success is but a matter of routine, things need not pan out on expected lines. History has enough examples.
Not long ago West Indies ruled cricket like no other side. They were unstoppable and everything they saw, they conquered. They were at their rampaging best, registering victory after another and capturing frontiers that many thought could never be scaled. Until, in 1983 in the World Cup in England, team India shocked the marauders by winning the event at the expense of what everybody acknowledged was an unbeatable West Indian squad filled with superstars!
Years later now, India again proved to be the outfit ready for surprises. The bunch of fighters proved their capability in the recent Australian series where after first sinking to the nadir in batting, rose like a phoenix to topple the host in a sensational way in the Tests to return a winner. Not even a diehard pessimist could believe what had unfolded. Shades of that resilient character seem to be surfacing again in the latest cricket series against England in India, to be specific in Chennai. The first Test showed the depth to which India could still fall despite the belief that Australia had taught it the winning ways.
On a pitch (which England pacer Jofra Archer even described in mock seriousness in his column in an England daily as one prepared by a business man turned curator!) which was anything but sporting Indian bowlers failed to take advantage the way the visiting bowlers did. England batsmen thrived and in the end, the visitors carved out a convincing win. If that was expected to seriously impact the Indian morale in this four-Test fixture then perhaps the predictions could go awry. At least the portends are there.
More importantly after the way hitman Rohit Sharma propelled the Indians to a comfortable position on a pitch that had already begun to show designs of wear and tear! His effort had come in the face of batting failures around him barring Rishab Pant whose cameo effort pushed the Indian score to respectability. England batting order then collapsed. Undoubtedly interesting times are ahead in this second Test again on at the same venue.
In fact interesting times are in store in this series itself considering it is not merely of winning but winning with a good margin. The reason being this is a contest which will decide which of the two teams (Australia too has an outside chance) can gain the remaining slot in the final of the first ever ICC World Test Championship.
New Zealand has already qualified with its performances and now the watch is whether India can carve a 2-1 win required to clinch the passage or will England manage a 3-0 margin win to close routes for other aspirants. Any other equation would bring Australia into the picture. Needless to say then the stakes are high for the reward is the prospect of wearing the crown of being the World's Test Cricket Champion.
No wonder England considered it the right preparation for this tough contest against India by going through a series in Sri Lanka. And what is more completed it with flying colours to boot. Not just that, this was the first time that England had won five successive overseas Test matches since 1914. With the first Test win in Chennai against India, England has added on and now it sits on the cusp of another landmark should the second Test also goes its way. It would then go on to level the longest winning streak by a non Asian side in the sub-continent. The record is currently held by Australia (seven from 2002-04)
But all that can wait until the last ball is bowled in this series! For the way the game makes progress, as said earlier, unpredictability looms large. They talk of the luck factor and here winning the toss is proving a huge game changer. England won the toss in the first Test and skipper Joe Root provided an exhibition of his new gained reputation of being one of the best batsman in the world with a double hundred. That set the tone for England to pile a mammoth score, enough to snuff out India's bid to fight back. India won the toss in the second and if early happenings are any indication, a reversal of the highest order is well set to take place! Funny can this game be and perhaps that is why it is so enjoyable. One thing is for sure, the Test Champion crown is not going to get decided that easily.