Test Cricket, eh ? It may be a difficult sell to some broadcasters – long game, periods of fallow play followed by explosions of activity, and an indeterminate conclusion – but Sunday showed why Test matches can give you so much more than a T20 thrash which is all over in three hours.
I saw about as much play on Sunday in the T20 game at Cheltenham as the full house at Trent Bridge did on the final day of the first Test. In Nottingham, they got less than half the play the price of the ticket was based on, but I’ll bet a refund never entered anyone’s head, given the drama of a day the crowd who were present will never forget.
In the long history of Test cricket, there have been few matches with so much going on, so many talking points, so much ebb and flow. The batting of Agar (mentioned in a piece last week) and Bell, the bowling of Anderson, the guts of Haddin, albeit in vain, and the rule that pushed back lunch on the final day by 30 minutes with nine wickets down. That break stoked the tension for everyone, and gave Australia the break they probably didn’t want with only 20 runs required. Haddin was in the mood to finish the game beforehand. Only he will know if 40 minutes in the
pavilion made a difference. And then there was DRS. I think others have said enough about that.
At Cheltenham, the first ever T20 match to be staged at the College Ground was hugely influenced by a Bunsen burner of a pitch, not that it looked it. The one next door had seen nearly 1,600 scored on it in the Championship game against Kent which had finished on the Saturday, all but 200 of those against genuine bowling. It was docile and slow, so it needed a session of “help yourself” for Michael Klinger and Dan Housego on the third evening to set up what in the end was an exciting finish.
On Sunday, a track which was visibly similar could not have played more differently. The talk before the game was a par score of over 200, given that in 1994 Kent made 227 in a 40 over game cut in half by the weather, with Matthew Fleming and Carl Hooper peppering the pavilion with big hits. 19 years on, batting was much less certain, as the ball gripped and spun for the Warwickshire slow bowlers.
Backed up by variations of Steffan Piolet and some good catching, Gloucestershire could manage only 96. It meant the chase was more a gentle pursuit, achieved comfortably inside the time and with no real concerns.
Gloucestershire captain Michael Klinger apologised afterwards for the pitch, but it will have meant an anxious 24 hours for Ross Spry, the College groundsman. The pre Festival plan had been to use Sunday’s wicket for Tuesday’s game against Northants. That now looks out of the question, so it could be back to that feather bed pitch from last week. Either way, Northants, who don’t have a great T20 record and have never been in a Final, will start as favourites given the form shown already by Cameron White and Mohammad Azhar Ullah.
Ultimately, however, the crowd, which will again be a big one, want a contest. I know of at least a handful of people among the near 5,000 who packed the temporary stands and marquees on Sunday where were T20 virgins. With only two sixes and a lot of runs steered through third man and fine leg, it was not the explosive afternoon they would have hoped for. I, more than anyone, love a close finish, but especially so when runs are not too cheap. That was
Trent Bridge. That was unbeatable drama in an open air theatre.
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