Test cricket is a unique sport. To outsiders, it seems like the most boring thing since Friday afternoon Math class. Why play five days (or 450 overs) without a result? It’s an alien concept in today’s results-heavy game, driven by the Twenty20 cash cow.
The first Test between Pakistan and England in Abu Dhabi looked like heading towards a mundane high-scoring draw.
Batting first, Shoaib Malik scored 245 and Asad Shafiq 107 as Pakistan declared at 8/523 after 151.1 overs. England captain Alistair Cook (263) helped himself to a double century as England declared at 9/598 in 206 overs. Pakistan finally got to bat again early on day five. With two more Tests to follow, both teams would surely settle for a draw and move on.
Debutant leg spinner Adil Rashid had been hammered during the first two days. The slaughter was compared to poor old Bryce McGain and the infamous Cape Town Test which started and ended his career. South Africa scored over 600 in their first innings and McGain never got a second chance, but Rashid did…
In 18.5 overs, Rashid turned the game – and his Test career- around, taking 5/64 as Pakistan were dismissed for 173 in 58 overs. It’s a credit to Rashid’s mental toughness and a great sign for his Test career.
Suddenly, England needed 99 with an hour left. Surely they couldn’t do it?
The game took another twist, with England losing 3/35 in 5.5 overs. Could Pakistan pull the unlikely win? Sensibly, Joe Root (33 not out) and John Bairstow ensured the draw, with England finishing at 4/74 in 11 overs. With a run rate approaching seven, they’d had a decent crack at least.
Days one to four had seen 1092 runs for 16 wickets. There were fifteen wickets alone on day five (one in England’s first innings, all ten for Pakistan, and four in England’s second innings).
When the dramatic conclusion dies down, some may argue it was four days of boring, batsman-dominated cricket with one exciting final day. That may be so, but what about the “Amazing Adelaide” Test of 2006? For the first four days, 17 wickets fell for 1123 runs, with a double ton to Paul Collingwood, and centuries to Kevin Pietersen, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke. It’s Australia’s fifth day charge – led by Shane Warne’s 4/49 and Mike Hussey hitting the winning runs– that made the highlights package.
Same with Abu Dhabi. What sticks in the memory are Rashid’s five wickets and England’s frenzied last innings chase which nearly stole a game they had no right to win.
That’s why Test matches have endured for over a century, outlasting every attempt to make cricket shorter and sexier. You can milk Twenty20 for all the money in the world and it’ll never be as exciting as one captivating day of Test cricket.