When I donned my cap of retrospection over a cup of tea, I thought about the past few months of the calendar year and the only discernible pattern that emerged was some high-octane cricket matches that I enjoyed as a fan, in stark contrast to a banal semester that I endured in toto. And that was the spark that my mind needed to conjure a story-line for this piece, which portrays the ebb and flow of the Test matches against the backdrop of a rather grim semester. And why Tests? Because just like engineering they are touted to be boring, arid and soporific. Are they really so, well the jury is still out on that.
The previous semester ended six months back, on a surprisingly positive and happy note which slyly hinted at invincibility for the semester to come. This was exactly what Australia might have thought, when they set foot on the Island Nation for the Warne-Muralitharan trophy, as they faced a rebuilding Sri Lankan team. Their hopes of stretching their unbeaten test run to over a year were jolted by the rude reality of the Asian soil by a 21 year old Kusal Mendis, who struck a pugnacious 176 off 254 balls when the chips were down to help the Lankans set the Aussies a target of 268. By the end of the 5th day when the Aussies sat licking their wounds inflicted by Rangana Herath’s 24th fifer, they had a harbinger about the rest of the tour.
We suggest you: ‘Aye Captain! Why?’
(Aussies were duly routed in all 3 tests, with Herath picking 28 of the 60 scalps to fall.)
It would not be an exaggeration to state that the 3 days of my first internal examination felt like the 3 tests that New Zealand endured in India a couple of months ago. New Zealand, looking to avenge the humiliation faced by their geographic cousins in Sri Lanka, plunged to new nadirs after every test on square turning landmines, with the margin of defeat becoming more and more emphatic. As if the patterns of Sri Lanka had taken xerox copies and travelled through the Ram Setu to Kane pur, Kolkata and Indore, the New Zealand batsmen fell prey to a wily spinner named Ravichandran Ashwin, who took 27 wickets in the 3 tests to ensure that the Black Caps never touched 300 whilbatting. (do I have to tell you about the result of the series?)
When the end of the tunnel was nowhere to be seen in the semester, an attitudinal reinforcement arrived in the form of two matches; Bangladesh vs England and Pakistan vs West Indies in UAE. They reinstated that when you’re staring down the barrel, old school determination and grit are what it takes to come out on top. The 2nd test between Bangladesh and England exemplified that, as Bangladesh came back to defend 296, after trailing in the first innings, to win a test match against the founders of the game for the first time. In a similar vein, West Indies displayed their steel in the 3rd test against Pakistan. After taking a first innings lead, owing to the exploits of Kraigg Brathwaite, who was unbeaten on 142, Jason Holder extracted prodigious seam from the pitch, to skittle Pakistan out for 208, helping his team to a 5 wicket victory; a first in the UAE.
This revival, though seemed short lived, as the semester exams began in the first week of November, opening the Pandora’s box that I had tried to shut for the past couple of months, and Australia, seemingly induced by similar emotions, put up a farcical show against the touring South Africans. In the first game of the summer, they bundled out the Proteas for 242 in just over two sessions, and looked set to continue the record of being unbeaten in the first game of the summer since 1988 when they were 158 for 0. But they somehow managed to lose all 10 wickets within the next 86 runs. And that was the opening the Proteas needed as they piled on the runs and misery in the second innings, leaving the Aussies with 539 to chase, and by the time Australia found themselves 1-0 down, I was 1 down too, with 4 more exams left. When the series ended 2-1 in South Africa’s favour, Australia and I had both saved faint vestiges of pride, but both of us knew that our performances were well below par and that much was left to be done before we could touch the zeniths of yesteryear.
(At the time of writing, the writer was enjoying a display of searing fast bowling by the Aussies against a touring Pakistan, optimistic that his fate, like the Aussies, would take a turn for the better, reminiscent of Joanna of ‘The Last Leaf’).
Here are the scorecards for some of the matches discussed in the article: