From 30-4 on the first morning to being in control at the start of the fifth, England have shown why Test cricket is king.
First an admission: With the curtain to the eighth Indian Premier League having come down, I’ve mildly enjoyed the past seven weeks or so. It hasn’t been the interminable tournament of previous years and, as usual, the organisers have done a fine job in ‘packaging’ the event. It has also been more enjoyable when Danny Morrison hasn’t been commentating, but that is a subject for another day.
As expected from a tournament which puts an emphasis on runs and entertainment, the statistics are eye-watering. An overall 10 580 runs had come from boundaries – out of a total 18 332. That’s 58 percent of runs in boundaries, of which there were 692 sixes, four hundreds and 89 fifties. There were also 686 wickets with the highest team score 235 for 1.
If anyone needed any further convincing that cricket, particularly in T20s and ODIs, has become a batsman’s paradise, those above stats surely prove it. This is the game that the founders of T20 visualised. Three hours of big-hitting, aided by some spectacular field and catching, and the spectators – and TV viewers – could still go out for supper afterwards.
Spare a thought for the bowlers though. One of the greatest fast bowlers in Test cricket history, Dale Steyn, was reduced to an ineffective part-timer. He took one wicket for the Sunrisers Hyderabad and was more of a tourist in India than a player. Still, he toured with a smile on his face, one that said he will be laughing all the way to the bank. Little wonder he showed no interest in the upcoming tour of Bangladesh.
So, while the IPL has filled a nice hole in the calendar following the marathon that was the World Cup, how refreshingly pure it was to see cricketers wearing white as the first Test between England and New Zealand at Lord’s got under way. A five-day Test mostly always separates the contenders from the pretenders and it becomes a war of attrition. Batsmen can’t simply take advantage of field restrictions, leg side deliveries that are called wide in the shorter formats and they are required to play proper cricket strokes.
One thing that has always amused me is watching a batsman walk onto the field ahead of a T20 innings and automatically play a forward defensive push, but you hardly ever see that stroke out in the middle. Yet, when it comes to Tests, it’s a vital part of a batsman’s armoury.
On that opening morning things weren’t going too well for England when they were reduced to 30-4 by a rampant New Zealand seam attack making the most of favourable conditions after electing to bowl first.
It was at that point when Piers Morgan, predictably, got in on the act on Twitter. He has a huge social media attraction, some 4.45-million followers in all, and he’s also the self-appointed president of the Kevin Pietersen fan club. Morgan, a former newspaper editor and the man who took over from talk show host Larry King on CNN, has been in full voice these past few months, defending Pietersen against any and all criticism.
Morgan has often waged a bitter, personal campaign against the England cricket establishment and some players who Pietersen hung out to dry in his explosive autobiography – and yet still wonders why there is an ‘anti-KP sentiment’ out there.
However, with England 25-3, Morgan trumpeted in a tweet ‘#BringBackKP’. At 30-4 he told his audience ‘Not sure I trust this batting line up‘. And then another. ‘REMINDER: Kevin Pietersen scored 355* last week & was available for selection.’ Then, ‘What the **** are you laughing about, ‘Straussy’?‘
All well and good, taking advantage of the dire situation England were in. However, even Morgan seems to have forgotten that Test cricket is not ODI or T20 where a team at 30-4 would be dead and buried. From that precarious position England recovered to 354-7 at stumps and Morgan was trying to do what he does best, spin stories.
‘Thank God for Root. Such a good player.’ And then one that suggested he was frantically trying to paper over his own bluster. ‘Terrible start, great recovery. Excellent batting from Root/Stokes/Buttler/Ali. KP should be in the team, but credit where due.‘ Finally, ‘England 354/7. KP 355/0. Imagine if they played together.’
In the second innings the much-maligned England captain Alastair Cook scored his 27th Test century with a grafting 150-plus. This is the same Cook, who Morgan has previously said of on Twitter, ‘After the way he betrayed @KP24 I wouldn’t trust Alastair Cook to take my dog for a walk. And I don’t even have a dog. #Judas.‘ His relentless campaign, pro-Pietersen and anti-Cook, has also included, ‘As for you Alastair Cook what a repulsive little weasel you’ve turned out to be. Aside from worst ever Ashes tour captain.’
And therein is a snapshot of cricket in the modern world. Opinions and ‘facts’ are articulated in the 140-character Twittersphere and T20 has become more popular than the five-day format. But class will always remain when he reached his hundred against New Zealand on the fourth day Morgan reacted, ‘Cook’s got a ton? Good. He’s an excellent Test opening batsman. Just shouldn’t be captain.’ And Pietersen himself Tweeted, ‘He [Cook] is a fantastic batsman.’ What he didn’t say, needless given their history, is that he has no respect for him as a leader.
Such twists, turns and drama, which Test cricket often throws up and which shows why it’s the blue chip format of the sport. Now, name me the IPL matches, over the last eight years, that stand out in the memory as classics? Answers on the back of a postage stamp.