Sorry, IPL fans, Test cricket is alive and rollicking

ALOK PRASANNA writes from Bangalore: While the Indian Premier League (IPL) winds down towards the knockout stages, two of the most engrossing Test matches in recent times have been unfolding half way across the globe in Kingston, Jamaica, and in Old Trafford, Manchester.

Getting a close fought Test match between two supposedly mismatched teams is hard enough, but to have two of them happen at around the same time in two different matches in two different continents is, well, fantastic.

In most pre-match reviews, the fancied teams, Australia and England, were supposed to stomp all over the bottom rankers of the ICC Test table, West Indies and New Zealand, respectively, and prove once again, why Test cricket is boring and IPL is not.

Fortunately, the pundits have been proved wrong again.

Daniel Vettori‘s New Zealanders fought off England in a rain-affected match before threatening England with a follow-on on home turf. In the end, England did manage to score the 290-odd required to stave off the ignominy of going one-down at home, but it was thrilling stuff.

On the other side of the Atlantic, another dogged effort by Shivnarine Chanderpaul inspired the West Indies into giving Australia more than a run for their money, threatening to extend Australia’s loss/draw sequence to three!

Only a small mater of 287 runs stands between them and a stunning victory that will no doubt be cheered by pretty much every Test supporter in the world (Aussies included).

More than the contest itself, the cricket on display has been thrilling and engrossing (yes, even compared to IPL). A true cricket fan (such as yours truly) has a hard time switching between three channels at night trying to get all the action.

For those who predicted the death of Test cricket, matches like these are an all-you-can-eat word buffets.

Granted they will probably not get the kind of eyeballs the IPL is getting in India, but the rest of the world will tune in, once the IPL is over, of course. West Indies may yet choke, and Andrew Strauss did take England home, but the matches have been engrossing and evenly matched.

More interestingly, the players who have performed in the Tests have been those willing to go aggressive and, remarkably, the list of fifty getters and wicket takers in both matches is filled with IPL returnees.

Brendon McCullum, Jacob Oram, Daniel Vettori, Kyle Mills and Ross Taylor have attacked and driven off the threat of seam, swing and bounce from English bowlers. Likewise, Vettori has used guile and attacking fields to torment English batsmen on seemingly placid surfaces, with Jacob Oram contributing with the ball as well.

Across the “pond”, apart from Chanderpaul’s heroics, Dwanye Bravo’s all-round performance and Ramnaresh Sarwan with some aggressive captaincy have ensured that West Indies are more than just “competitive” against the formidable Australians, for whom surprise, surprise, Andrew Symonds, Brad Hodge and Ricky Ponting have scored fifties and one blistering hundred, while Brett Lee has made the ball sing.

All of the above players are established performers but the fact of all of them performing at the same time is too much to be attributed to form and coincidence alone. Maybe, it is too early to tell, but as one who recently “converted” to Twenty20 cricket, but believes that it can and should co-exist with Test cricket, this is most heartening.

Younger players like Bravo and Taylor have admitted that the stint in IPL, alongside with the likes of Tendulkar, Jayasuriya, Pollock, Dravid, Kallis and Chanderpaul have helped them in no small measure to improve their cricket.

One can only hope that the same is true of the Indian domestic cricket players. But, if the performance of the IPL stars in the Tests is anything to go by, then Test cricket, ironically, will be the better for it.