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Ashes, you beauty! Thanks for saving test cricket

Mahavir Rawat

“What’s the score?” asked one of my friends while travelling along in a Delhi Metro. “They are just not able to play Bumrah and won’t make even 100,” was my quick reply. “Not India yaar, it’s a boring series. Tell me about Ashes,” came the quick reply.

India has got nothing to do with Ashes, but don’t be surprised if the TV ratings for the on-going series between England and Australia is much higher than the one India was playing against West Indies. Yes, just in case you have already forgotten, India did play a two test match series against the West Indies and comfortably won it by 2-0. But most Indian cricket fans were hooked to the enthralling exhibition of test match cricket in England. Well, Ashes have always been of great significance to players of Australia and England, but of late they have found a great following in India also. Thanks to some exciting top notch test cricket and also to the lovely coverage that Sky Sports brings to table.

The Ashes this time were supposed to be a cakewalk for England, as it had just won the ICC ODI World Cup and its confidence was on cloud nine. Also, Australia had shown no signs of recovery from the slump that they were in after the ‘sandpaper ball tampering’ incident, which led to the suspension of Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft. Such was the slump in Australian cricket that the team couldn’t find a replacement for any of these players and they walked straight into playing 11 of the first test match. David Warner had shown great form in the IPL but his technique and temperament was to be tested in the red ball game. In addition, no one knew how Steven Smith would perform after his average IPL stint and his elbow injury.

On the other side England was on a roll. The World Cup celebrations were going on: Jason Roy was picked in the team to open on the base of his day one form, James Anderson was declared fit and on top of that England was playing in their home conditions. English pundits were talking about a 5-0 sweep in the series by the Pommies. But such is the beauty of test cricket that it makes all the experts look like fools. The skill set needed for success in red ball cricket are different than the one in white ball cricket. And England understood it right from the first test match at Birmingham. Steven Smith made two centuries in two innings on the test match and announced that he is not going to give up his place as top test batsman so easily. Nathon Lyon took nine wickets in the match and Australia won handsomely by 251 runs. But that was just the beginning.

Every session of every day had something or the other happening on the field. From Jofra Archer’s bouncers targeting Steven Smith, to Ben Stokes playing like a true Viking and standing tall amongst all the English players, to Stuart Broad making David Warner a bunny, to Jack Leach being cheered for every delivery that he faced. Whenever you would switch on to Ashes something or the other would be happening. As a true cricket fan, you would cherish every moment of the game.

There are also some other factors that make the Ashes worth watching. The crowd is superb. You hardly find such cricket fans anywhere in the world like the ones in England. They always act as the 12th man of their team. They booed Steve Smith whenever he came to bat, but they also applauded whenever he made a good score. They sing, they dance, and they enjoy their game which makes it look so good on TV. There were some complaints about the some bad behaviour of the fans – but there are rotten apples everywhere.

Another thing that made these Ashes so special were the pitches. They were not those typical English pitches where you just have to throw the ball and it would do something or the other. These pitches had something for anyone who was ready to apply themselves in the game and do some hard work. The result was that there were some pretty amazing spell of fast bowling and superb batting from both the sides playing the match. Though English fast bowler James Anderson was not too happy with the type of pitches that England gave to the visitors – but being a neutral cricket fan, I loved these pitches.

And the most important aspect was the commentary of the broadcaster during the Ashes. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that it just lifted the game one or two notches above. Commentary is slowly becoming a lost art. There are people who either have verbal diarrhoea or who just throw so many statistics at you that you get baffled. Commentators like Naseer Hussain, David Lloyd, David Gower, Shane Warne, Micheal Holding, etc enriched the game so much. The best thing was that they not only knew when to speak and what to speak, they also knew when not to speak. Their honesty about their opinion always stands out. They never say anything to keep the board or the captain happy.

Ashes is a prime example of how test cricket should be. But on the other hand, India’s two test series against West Indies were examples of how test series shouldn’t be. I think it was one of the least watched test series that India has played in recent times. The quality of cricket was so poor from the hosts that no wonder their fans have deserted their team. Let’s just hope that India’s home series against South Africa has some good pitches and some good cricket to watch. Else, we all know where test cricket is heading.

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