Thursday, December 9

Never mind the banner: the future of test cricket looks bright on days like these | England v India 2021

IIt was a lavish, slow burn of a third day at Headingley, one of those days when all moments seem to blur into some kind of ambient hum, a day when nothing is wasted and nothing is resolved, when everything moves but nobody leaves. anywhere. The Indian batsmen seemed content to score time; England bowlers and outfielders entered with determination but little urgency; the clouds were drifting; electronic billboards silently moved their products.

In part, this was a surface function, slow and lifeless and seemingly unhurried. Partly it was the state of the game, with England dominating and India playing largely out of pride and thoughts were already beginning to head to the Oval and Manchester. In part it was a function of the cool-headed Cheteshwar Pujara, who is the type of hitter who slows down the game at his own pace: he hits until one can no longer remember a moment before starting to hit nor can one imagine a moment when he no longer it will be. .

Of course, there were some scattered bits of drama. Jonny Bairstow’s catch to fire KL Rahul at lunchtime felt at the time like a more seismic development than it turned out, a surprising left-hand grab that felt mostly like a triumph of concentration and determination. You can often tell from body language which players are already mentally browsing the lunch menu. Bairstow, restless and intense and twisted to the extreme, has never been one of those.

Similarly, the removal of Rohit Sharma immediately after the tea interval, tantalizingly confirmed in the review, threatened to herald greater things for England. Jimmy Anderson was theatrically summoned to throw a dart at the incoming Virat Kohli, then quietly dispatched after he had thrown two overs for 20. After the drama and looting of the first morning, Headingley was not going to give up his treasures without a fight.

And so, as India prevailed over England’s gigantic leadership, the crowd began to come up with their own forms of entertainment: songs and sketches, extended trips to the bar, the ubiquitous Yorkshire beer snake. Part of the excitement of attending a test cricket day is this inherent lottery. The knowledge that when you buy a ticket there are no guarantees. You could end up watching the best cricket of your life. Or you could end up seeing a grand total of two grounds from England, a trapped crowd and a guy like a nun being chased down the steps by a guy dressed as the Pope. And here’s the thing: they’ll probably end up remembering each one as fondly as the other.

There was a plane flying a banner over the ground shortly after lunch. “REMOVE THE ECB AND SAVE CRICKET PROOF,” the banner read. Perhaps this was a good time to remind ourselves that no statement of value has ever been released from the back of an airplane. By its very nature, the airplane banner is a blunt and lumpen form of communication, sacrificing nuance and context for readability and aerodynamics. Anyway, how do you “fire the ECB”? Perhaps by forcing him to dissolve his own constitution at the next executive meeting by majority vote. At that point, one has almost certainly run out of characters.

The sentiment expressed in the second half of the banner, on the contrary, may resonate with certain people. “If the art of cricket is to survive, many people must contribute to its survival,” Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies wrote in Wisden’s centennial issue in 1963. This was by no means the first time the calls were sounded. alarms for the future of the game. On some level, someone is always trying to save Test cricket, which by extension means they must always be dying.

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In fact, part of the very essence of test cricket is this sense of permanent, melancholy loss; that even as it unfolds, it is somehow regressing as well. That while it is happening in the flesh, it is simultaneously happening in the abstract. Cherish Anderson; There will never be another bowler like him. (Statistically, unlikely). He mourns the death of English bat skill, slain on the altar of short-form cricket and programming. (The mock obituaries for English cricket date back to at least 1882, eight decades before the Gillette Cup.)

The uncomfortable truth is that test cricket has rarely been in a better place in most of our lives. Ragged and underfunded, yes, but no more than before. More countries are playing it now than ever. Now it even has a leaderboard, a vaguely intelligible format, and a world champion. In the Caribbean, Pakistan and the West Indies a dazzling series has just played out, illuminated by Shaheen Shah Afridi, 21, and Jayden Seales, 19. Test cricket has survived world wars, decolonization, Kerry Packer, Twenty20, Ten10, and a global plague. It may resist the launch of the Birmingham Phoenix.

“The spectator naturally loves a good sliding tackle, with some sixes thrown,” Menzies warned in 1963. “But you also have to have the time and intelligence to admire the art of goalless defense against aggressive, crafty bowling.” And as both teams crawled off the field after a tense, harsh but ultimately bloodless day, the warm reception they received was a sign, perhaps, that they still do.

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