The first Test between New Zealand and India in Motera, Ahmedabad proved why Test cricket remains the preeminent form of the game.
I was reminded as soon as I touched down in India that cricket is not just a seasonal sport. It is 24/7 and the appetite for all things cricket is insatiable.
Cricket is indeed fortunate that one of the world’s two most populous countries has what can only be described as a serious addiction for cricket.
Granted there is a dirty under-belly, with betting a scourge for sport world-wide, but there is an unrivalled love for the game in India. The supporters are passionate and while they want to see their team do well, they appreciate good cricket.
New Zealand was expected to be sacrificial lambs waiting for the inevitable slaughter. At two wickets down just before close on the second day it looked as if it was going to turn ugly.
The crowd for the opening two days was sparse but this can be deceptive and misleading in India. The viewing audience was aware of the Sri Lanka Australia ODI’s in Australia but the interest was only in whether Sri Lanka would win their first series. Indian sports lovers are no different in their support for the underdog and there was also a perverse delight in seeing Australia humbled.
There is a grudging respect for Australia’s dominance in the last decade but also a realisation that Australia can be beaten more readily now than at any time in the recent past.
My brother-in-law, for so long suffering at my gloating of Australia’s strength, was quick to remind me that Australia is currently ranked fifth and the Ashes is a battle that is for the also-rans.
But back to the Test match.
Kane Williamson, all of twenty years old, displayed a technique that was as pure as anything in the coaching manual. Here was a young man schooled in the watchful forward defence and the classical high left elbow. It also proved that without a solid defence attack can at best, be short lived. There is an old adage that you cannot score from the dressing room. Unless you are employed as a score-keeper.
Is Kane Williamson dreaming of the IPL? I would think not.
On becoming the 10th Kiwi to score a ton on debut he would have been chuffed to see the spontaneous applause from his hero, Sachin Tendulkar. Suresh Raina, himself a recent debutant centurion, ran past young Kane and patted him on the back.
This was not the corny and bottled applause of a quick five ball twenty. It was a serious examination spanning 308 minutes and over 200 balls. Endurance, technique and the self-belief that seems so prominent in sportsmen from the Shaky Isles. Was there ever such a misnomer in a country’s description?
For me, watching Kane Williamson bat was a reaffirmation of why this game enthrals me.
It is seeing the simple things done well. A batsman that knew where his off stump was. Keeping your eyes on the ball. The limbo-sway out of harm’s way. The lean forward with the slightly bent left knee and the transfer of power from the elbows to the toes and the lift of the head a long while after the ball was on its way to the cover fence.
Talking of simple things it was astounding to see Brendan McCullum, a wicket-keeper himself, being stumped because he did not know the foot on the line is out. Do our modern cricketers need a white cane to see where their foot is? Clarke in Bangalore was similarly blind.
It is depressing that administrators continue to serve up pitches that are so bland that any self respecting cow would be disdainful of. How can players be expected to show enthusiasm for a sandwich that is two flat pieces of cardboard with asbestos filling?
There is a heartening appreciation of the longer form of the game now that India is ranked number one.
There is anticipation that the December series against South Africa will be a chance for India to confirm their new standing. And people are starting to talk about the series against Australia in 2011-12. Test cricket is being discussed and for this I am thankful.
India will dictate which way cricket heads and the signs are encouraging.
I have been cynical about India playing innumerable ODI’s. I have pointed out that Tendulkar has played more than 400 ODI’s and the Indian Board has grown rich on the back of the Little Master.
Kane Williamson may just prove that Test cricket will endure long after the cheap thrills of Twenty20.
The embrace of Vettori and Williamson was a poignant moment for New Zealand cricket. For so long Vettori has been a one man team but today proved that he has willing and Kane-Able lieutenants.
Just as Michael Clarke and Viv Richards announced themselves in India, Kane Williamson has shown that there is a new world class batsman to help Ryder and Taylor. The world rankings perhaps do not mean as much as we are led to believe. You can be beaten by Bangladesh in an ODI series but come back to challenge the number one Test side in their own backyard.
Test cricket can be as perverse as life itself.
India started their second essay 28 in front and Sehwag was expected to propel them to a lead that would put New Zealand in their proper place of 8th on the rankings ladder.
Chris Martin was the only fastman standing and he bowled with an inspiration that surely quickened the heartbeat of an often stoic nation. India was reduced to a staggering 5 for 15 and Martin had four in a spell that reminded of Richie McCaw at his foraging best. There was nothing in this miserable pitch but Martin probed like a miner desperate in the Gold Rush.
Guptill chipped in with a memorable interception and backhand flick down the line that stranded Sehwag mid pitch.
Only that man Laxman stands between new Zealand and a famous win. India is a bare 110 in front with four wickets standing and one day to play.
And if there is a final message in this for Australia’s beleaguered cricketers it is that the size of your bank balance is not an indicator of your on field performance.