The fourth day of England’s first Test against India at Trent Bridge needed none of the enforced fun, hurried speed or overzealous marketing that so defines the Hundred. It was not just cricket in its purest form, but sport; not a product moulded for financial gain, but eight hours of human emotion played out on a field. It is for days and Test matches like this that so many are fretful in the face of diluted, Americanised white-ball competitions.
Go back to day two, for instance, and the pure theatre of James Anderson’s dismissal of Virat Kohli. Jimmy’s uncontrolled, raw celebrations were mirrored by thousands at the ground and watching at home. You realise that, without meaning to, you are on your feet, and a broad smile is etched across your face. Test cricket has, for the umpteenth time, made you emotional, unwittingly vulnerable, in your own living room.
The Hundred is not all bad, of course it is not. But head to day four and we saw in more detail its inherent lack of jeopardy compared to the unequalled tension of Test cricket. Joe Root batted like a dream for his first 96 runs. As expectation grew and he suddenly began scratching around to find the vital four more required, this intangible nuance that is being human once again invaded our most gripping of sports. With an on-drive for four, the almighty tension was released, and you found yourself, again, inestimably thrilled for a man you have not met, yet for whom you feel such personal empathy after years of following his story.
Context, jeopardy, emotion. You just will not find a better home for these three strange, abstract ideas than Test cricket. As Mohammed Siraj, a young paceman looking to stamp his authority on the game’s most scrutinised format, sent off Jonny Bairstow with his finger to his lips, the theatre intensified, and the crowd engaged as the knowledgable, mocking twelfth man. As India came into bat, yet more palpable stress flavoured the air. Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul battled against England’s two best bowlers ever, Rahul eventually undone by Stuart Broad’s relentlessness.
England are not a great Test team. Their top order has been widely condemned, Joe Root described as their Atlantean saviour. But what should really be taken from England’s collapses, resurgences and relatively stable periods, and indeed those of every other Test team, is that people genuinely care. The Hundred perhaps will be given the time to gain historical context, but such will never match that of the longest form. Test cricket is life over five days, it is about legacy, pressure and genuine sporting brilliance. It needs not to be saved, only revelled in.