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Opinion

'Thoroughly gripping': The occasion and relevance of NZ's epic draw with India

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Roar Rookie
1st December, 2021
33

I had a little bit of time to spare on Monday afternoon, and so I settled onto my couch and put the cricket on the television.

I was privileged to witness a day of Test cricket that was thoroughly gripping, in a way that few other sporting contests can match.

The two combatants, India and New Zealand, had come together on neutral turf less than six months previously in a contest that determined that the New Zealanders were to be crowned world Test cricket champions.

Now they returned to battle in the eastern Indian city of Kanpur, in conditions that could not be more alien to those in Southampton for their previous meeting.

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson lifts the trophy

(Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

Now, if I were to tell my friends that know little of the intricacies of Test cricket that you could be enthralled by watching hours of wily Indian spinners delivering ball after ball from subtly varied angles, at batsmen wholly intent on merely patting the ball back to them, they would probably question my mental fitness.

Even those that have an interest in cricket that extends no further than the quick, 20-overs-per-side version would baulk at watching a spectacle yielding less than two runs per over.

However, rather like comparing a half-hour sitcom to an Oscar-winning feature film, this was a different beast entirely. And what a wondrous beast it was.

India is the sort of place where the game moves at a leisurely pace in the most normal of times.

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Here in this dry, dusty cauldron on a patch of earth that had not seen water for the previous four-and-a-half days, the ball would bounce and spit menacingly at the batsman at varying heights, speeds and degrees of spin, so that any sort of stroke play necessitated great caution.

Early in the day, with the morning at its freshest, the New Zealanders began in pursuit of their 284-run victory target with a mixture of watchful defence and strokes that owed themselves to dare and care in equal measures.

Once the heat of the day evaporated whatever early moisture existed, the ball began to play more and more tricks, and batting became even more difficult.

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Two wickets immediately after tea effectively took a New Zealand win off the table, setting up the scenario akin to the Indian spinners wearing down the Kiwi wall, drip by relentless drip.

Ravichandran Ashwin

(Photo by Peter Mundy/Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In another nod to the glorious uncertainty of Test cricket, the fact that New Zealand survived unbowed was ultimately down to two of their least experienced combatants.

Twenty-two years earlier, the parents of Rachin Ravindra named their son in honour of Indian greats Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar.

Here he channelled these idols by defying the Indian spin triumvirate with a two-hour vigil in which he appeared at least the equal of his more illustrious peers.

For the final nine overs he was joined by an equally stoic lieutenant in ten-Test veteran Ajaz Patel.

Better known as a spin bowler, Patel decided that he would not be moved, and the series moves to Mumbai on Friday with both nations still at parity.

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The common lament of American baseball fans, and indeed lovers of short-form cricket, is that the game can go for five days and still not produce a result.

This, however, is not to understand one of the greatest complexities of Test cricket, which is that the draw is a legitimate result all its own. The skill required to save a Test match can be equally as valued to that required to win one.

This is one of the values appreciated by those that play the game at the highest level, an overwhelming majority of whom consider Test cricket the form of the game that they most wish to play.

Now that most COVID-imposed restrictions have now been lifted, it’s well worth going to one of the matches to watch a day this summer. Heck, go and watch two.

The pandemic may even contribute to the long-term health of the game, simply by reminding everyone of what they have been missing.

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