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Re-birth of Test Cricket.

As an avid cricket fan, I am all for the purest form of cricket, that is Test cricket at its finest. That in the past few years so many people have written an obituary about it has led to many a sleepless night. Those few concerns have grown from few groans to even louder noises with each Test match passing.

Dwindling crowds at matches haven’t helped the cause. The popularity of Twenty20 cricket as well hasn’t helped the cause. The dominance of the top sides of their less powerful minnows has also led to growing concerns. The gap and massacres have become a more frequent fixture. The Windies are in decline, Bangladesh have never really put up consistent performances in whites despite their huge promise. Upsets have become too far and few between. As much as I love Test cricket, maybe it is for the best. Or is there a way back.

I grew up worshiping the great Brian Lara, after all whenever his name came up, the world record with be mentioned too, as he held the record for the highest individual score but before him, there were a lot of great cricketers from the Caribbean Islands. I would have to write a separate piece just to name all of them and their great achievements. In the 1980s, the West Indies swept all before them, back then before Allan Border revitalized the Aussies, before the Imran Khans and Arjuna Ranatungas sides conquered the world in the shorter formats. The West Indies became everyone’s second favorite team. For they were likable, they did not just win matches but Curtley Ambrose and co left bruises and scars in opposition hearts. They did so mostly in the longest format. The purest form of cricket, Test matches.

In 2007, arguably the last of those greats, Lara, bowed out of international cricket. Even then results weren’t forthcoming, but at least his sight gave the nation some hope. Fast forward ten years later, the West Indies are in disarray. Senior players and the board are at loggerheads. One would be forgiven for not even recognizing one name on their team sheet. Alas, it is not like they are youngsters coming up but inexperienced cricketers at international level. Most of their famed stars are playing twenty20 cricket around the globe. This has led to drubbings in the longer format. Many a heavy defeat has been followed by criticism from many a legend with an opinion out there, rightly so though because performances have been dismal. The “death” of West Indies cricket could surely have long term repercussions for Test match cricket.

Something needed to be done and quickly. A tour of England started with the news that a few senior players would return after a recent amnesty. Some relief at last. The tour would start with a Test series where the Windies lose by an innings inside three days in the first Test. The daggers are out but the coach asks for patience. Captain Jason Holder pleads with his teammates to improve.

A week later, the second Test comes along. Nobody gives the tourist a chance. Some in the British media are even suggesting the home side rest players for the much anticipated tougher test in the Ashes tour later in the year. There are no major changes to the Windies team, after all, they don’t have the luxury to chop and change. It is all about patience for them. It is all about hope; they had two on their side, Kyle and Shai Hope, the fifteenth set of brothers to play for the West Indies on the same team.

17 long years had passed since their last victory in England. Every cricket fan who thronged to Yorkshire expected one outcome, a home win. All they wanted from the Windies was a little bit of fight. Fight is what Kraig Braithwaite and Shai Hope did. And eventually did more than expected of them and upset the apple card. They were not the only ones though as Shanon Gabriel and Kemar Roach lit the fires early on in the first morning with some fiery spells. One could be forgiven for thinking the great Curtley Ambrose was back, for he specialised on those. Their platform gave their batsman something to work with, not that it mattered though, these batsmen are prone to collapse and falling in a heap even without scoreboard pressure. Not this time around though, the West Indies took a huge first innings lead. England fought hard in their second innings and many a pundit thought the game was beyond the Windies when Joe Root declared late on day four. The day closed with the Windies still in the hunt, 10 wickets intact, over 300 runs to chase on day five. Regardless of what happens from here, many back home were already proud of the effort.

The home crowd came with hope. Hope and confidence in a home win. Yes those four letters “HOPE” was heard throughout the day, Shai Hope with the help of Kraig Braithwaite tormented the English attack. They gave chances but took theirs too when given a life. Ironically the first day-night Test had ended on the third afternoon and the Test unexpectedly ended under the lights. The West Indies had turned it around. It was one of the greatest sporting comebacks after their first Test humbling. Throughout the five days they kept the public interested. A Windies win here was celebrated beyond the Caribbean islands. They are everyone’s second favorite team after all. Finally they had Hope for the future and with their victory hope for Test cricket arose or so I hope.

I am caught between celebrating Bangladesh’s victory and lamenting Australia’s record in the subcontinent. The former seems more appealing as Bangladesh’s victories are not that many; this was their 10th in 101 Test matches. Most of those have come against their fellow minnows Zimbabwe. There has been promise though in recent times. A Sri Lankan side in transition was beaten in Sri Lanka but more importantly they had claimed the bigger scalp in the form of England. All these victories within a one year. With the Australian tour looming large, Bangladesh fans were quietly confident. That a major cricketing nation was visiting their shores was a victory on its own.

Forgive those who believe cricket is the number one sport in Bangladesh. Their fans are that passionate despite the lack of success. Progress in the field of play was being made in recent times but a few backward steps too were being taken off it. Selection is a big issue in cricket and it was no different before the first Test here. Big name or not, talented or not, in the modern world where stats are at our fingertips, runs under your belt matter more than any of the aforementioned. Their 2015 World cup and middle order stalwart Mammudullah missed out on selection. There was a nationwide cry for his inclusion, concerns that his omission might cost them dearly but the selectors stood by their decision.

The other big names were still there, Shakib Al Hasan is a world class superstar, Tamim Iqbal has come of age, Mushfiqur Rahim is one of the better classic wicket keepers out there. So the scene was set, but one would not look beyond an Australian victory. They haven’t lost to Bangladesh before this. Steve Smith is a master at playing off spin; David Warner can destroy any attack in the world, what more of Bangladesh.

Australia have come here looking for redemption. One win in 16 matches in the subcontinent does not make for a good reading. They have endured some demoralizing tours in the subcontinent. Who can forget the homeworkgate in India that ultimately cost Mickey Arther his job. But then again this is Bangladesh.

The match started with Rahim winning the all important toss and choosing to bat. Most of the Aussie worries have come when batting second in Asia. Chasing a score in the fourth innings here is never easy and so it proved. Bangladesh had showed loads of promise in the shorter formats of the game. They are a rising force and could no longer be taken lightly. The core of their players has been around a while now. They now are delivering on their early promise. They have fought and played with heart, they have bridged the gap and now the victories are coming. Yes it is just but the first Test, but three major scalps in twelve months mean the Tigers should be taken more seriously. They are earning respect and fans aplenty. Australia has been defeated for the very first time.

Two giants have been conquered by two minnows in a space of two days. Test cricket is once again on everyone’s lips. The purest form of the game is once again making the headlines for all the right reasons. Everyone loves an upset and it is not unheard of that every neutral roots for the minnows. A great win for Bangladesh, a magnificent chase by West Indies and an even more beautiful week for Test cricket and world cricket at large.

This is but a start for Test cricket. More needs to be done if it is to regain its status as a “global” game. The smaller nations deserve more game time against the heavy weights. Competitive series are surely more appealing. Bangladesh has done their bit to close the gap, the ICC needs to weigh in now and join the ball. The gap between the minnows and the mid tier nations is closing.

Pakistan, West Indies, New Zealand are just but three of the mid to lower tier nation’s who have been enjoying some game time against the big guns. The lack of competitiveness in cricket has always been caused by revenue or lack of it thereof. India being the big daddy because of its financial power always have a big say on bilateral series. They so powerful to the extent barely any international matches are scheduled during their domestic Twenty20 competition the Indian premier league. This has left the smaller nations like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe scrambling for game time in the limited time left in the season. Up against them are powerful nations like Australia, England and South Africa. Scheduling will obviously favour the big four mentioned above. You can’t argue with the fact series against the top sides will bring more revenue for the ICC and indeed the boards and thus generate more interest from the public and media at large.

The ICC Test rankings don’t paint a true picture. The big four (three if you take into consideration South Africa are sidelined sometimes) have become so powerful that most decisions benefit them.

Is talk of a two tier system farfetched or is it a genuine concern for Test cricket. The top sides rarely play the minnows; ask Zimbabwe they will tell you they haven’t had a bilateral series with a top Test playing nation in a while now.

 So many unanswered questions. The opportunity to salvage Test cricket has arose.

Are Bangladesh that good or is it a once off victory?

Recent progress tells me it is the latter.

Are the Windies coming of age mind you they lost by an innings just two weeks back?

Good signs for the future but I am cautiously optimistic.

What’s happening to Sri Lanka?

It is a difficult period in Sri Lankan cricket. They are in transition and patience is needed. One thing for sure is that the talent is there.

Are home conditions playing that big a role?

Yes and it is killing Test cricket. Matches finishing inside three days are not good for the game. The toss is playing too much of a bigger role especially in the subcontinent and maybe just maybe the ICC should do away with it.

Aussies worry in the subcontinent.

As brilliant as captain Steve Smith and David Warner are, recent stats are worrying for the Aussies. Bar his century in the second innings, Warner has struggled in Asia. Australia’s record is does not make for good reading in the subcontinent. Their inability to play spin is costing them dearly.

After all is said and done, one can only Hope this is the re-birth of Test cricket.

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