Test cricket is unmistakably under some pressure this summer. The Hundred has arrived, bulldozing any preliminary plans for red-ball preparation and undermining the cultivation of England’s four-day talent crop. My word, how it has responded, and we have two of the world’s most watchable teams to thank for it.
On the evening of the second Test’s final day, when Jimmy Anderson heard the rattle of bails and roars of Virat Kohli, he would be forgiven for finding his side’s fondness for unlikely failure rather tiresome. England fans were no doubt cursing their love of the sport, wearily setting up emotional camp on that familiar site of dejection.
With the necessary vilifications, scrutinies and commendations for India having found their way into print, it seems about right to start looking forward, and what a few weeks we have in store. England lost in such impossible, inevitable fashion on Monday, and in so doing summarized their nature as a Test team. There are few more watchable – on cloud nine one moment, plummeting towards calamity the next.
England are not good enough, that seems obvious, but it would be amiss to question their heart. We thought they had lost this game on Thursday, when India found themselves just three down having been put in to bat. They came back, largely thanks to their familiar amulets Anderson and then Joe Root. We thought they were tasting defeat when Pujara and Rahane soaked up an entire session. They came back, this time through Wood, Curran and Moeen.
Then, in a way that only England can, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with almost comforting ineptitude, evidently envisioning the prospect of an uncomplicated day-five chase and declaring it a mundane one. It deserves the criticism it is receiving, but this loss encapsulated a team whose below-par potential clashes enthrallingly with their soaring ambition and fleeting fightbacks to produce a wonderful mess of inconsistency.
Put in front of said England team this Indian outfit, and you have a wonderful recipe for the best of Test cricket. India are so together, boasting a resoluteness that not many of their predecessors have had, and are the most talented red-ball team in the world to boot. Their tenacity, as it did at Lord’s, will pounce upon England’s commitment to relinquishing the upper hand, and their relentlessness will, of course, smell more blood amongst that most Kafkaesque of top orders.
So, as we rally around cricket’s purest form, we are perhaps doing so somewhat ineffectually. Best, I think, to leave it to India and their hosts, the two most exhilarating teams in Test cricket, to at times erratically and at others emphatically gain their respective strangleholds over their next three encounters. Come out from behind that sofa, England fans – your sport, if not your team, is alive and well.