With the quick rise in the popularity of T20 cricket, shortening boundaries, and flatter pitches, the significance of test cricket is on the decline. T20 cricket in the last decade or so has affected the spectators like we would have never imagined, it’s definitely the way to go irrespective of whether you are a player or spectator. All the money, fame and recognition lies in this phenomena of our beloved game. That is why this year’s Ashes series is most important in the context of keeping test cricket alive.
Life is tough for the bowlers nowadays, at the same time it has never been easier for the batsmen. Only a few of us still remember that a test match can be won only by taking 20 wickets. No matter how exciting and adrenalin-pumping T-20 cricket can be, but it can never match the elegance, grace, and the competitiveness of test cricket. The Ashes is a big draw as far as international cricket is concerned, it is one of the few encounters which are still keeping test format relevant since it is widely followed by fans from all cricket-playing nations.
I still remember the Ashes of 2005 when an underdog English side defeated the world beaters, the mighty Australians in a crackerjack series. Simon Jones may not have featured for England in many tests but he definitely made his mark in the ones he did. The Ashes of 2005 was on a different level altogether. Who would’ve thought Australia would win the first test at Lord’s after getting bundled out for just 190 batting first. I remember the iconic picture which showed Andrew Flintoff consoling a dejected Brett Lee after England snatched the narrowest win in Ashes history. It was a moment for the ages which captured the grace and elegance of playing test cricket.
Shane Warne had a gala in the series and ended up taking 40 wickets, Andrew Flintoff was the breakout star of the Ashes. There was a debutante as well who left his mark. Kevin Pietersen with his ultra-stylish hairdo was one of the key performers in England’s triumph. The tattoos, the funky hairdos we see on today’s cricketers, this trend was started by the one and only Kevin Pietersen back in 2005. And the lad surely had to game to back it up. In my opinion, the Ashes of 2005 was the best ever cricketing event in the history. It did wonders for test cricket as a whole. I was just 10 years old back then and that series had such a big impact on my mind that it became etched in my memory forever. Twelve years down the line test cricket is quickly losing its stature as the most coveted format of the game and the pitches we have seen recently all over the world are not making it any better.
Coming to the Ashes tour of 2017/18 down under, England have already lost their best performer, Ben Stokes, the hottest prospect in the world cricket at present due to, let’s just call it “some unfortunate circumstances”. Another rising star, Toby-Roland Jones is out nursing an injury as well. Alastair Cook, as always, is looking for an opening partner who can stay at the crease with him to take the fight to the opposition. England’s chances depend on one man only, the skipper Joe Root. If he finds form down under, only then England can expect to put up a fight in this year‘s Ashes. Root had a disastrous Ashes tour of 2013-14 but he has grown leaps and bounds ever since. He was a rookie looking to cement his place in the English side back then, but now he’s one of the leading batsmen in world cricket. This time, the only problem is that he finds virtually no support in the middle order with the likes of James Vince, Gary Ballance, David Malan, Tom Westley and Mark Stoneman, all of whom are yet to make a mark in international cricket. I don’t understand why the selectors keep going back to Ballance over and over again hoping he would find some form one day.
The conditions in Australia have become much more batting friendly in recent times. We have seen scores of over 600 and 500 being scored very frequently on the Australian pitches. What that means is that the English bowlers are in for some long days in the field given that David Warner and Steve Smith don’t falter much. Just like England, the key to success for Australia also lies in their captain, Steven Smith. He may have a strange technique, he may not be the most beautiful batsman to look at but he isn’t the World No. 1 test batsman for nothing. With David Warner looking for his 8th opening partner, Cameron Bancroft will have a chance to prove himself at the top-most level after doing well in first-class games consistently. What I don’t get here is why Matt Renshaw was axed from the team in the first place? If a player like Matthew Wade can be given such an extended run, why not invest some time in Renshaw who has proven his mettle at home and overseas? Looks like the Australian Board of Selectors wants to compete with the English Board of Selectors as to who can be the most stupid out of both. One thing they have done well, in my opinion, is picking Tim Paine instead of Matthew Wade. The much talked about Australian pace attack consisting of Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, and Pat Cummins promises to be as destructive as it gets but all of these pacers are very vulnerable to injuries, that’s probably the reason why Chad Sayers has been included in the squad.
At the end of the day, the outcome of the match is not determined by the by what 11 you choose, but by what those 11 do in the field. With the widening gap between test playing nations in terms of performance, only the Ashes can save test cricket’s reputation. So let’s keep our fingers crossed. Wishing for a repeat of the 2005 Ashes would be too much to ask for since it was a once-in-a-lifetime contest but even if we get a series half as good as that, it will definitely breathe a new life into the choking spectacle of test cricket.