I have made no secret of the fact that when it comes to cricket, I like the long form of the game that lasts for five days rather than the shorter forms that last for one day (50 overs per innings) or that utter abomination, the three-hour version (20 overs per innings). The reason is that the longer form allows for all the skills and strategy that make the game what it is (or should be) to be brought in to play. With the shorter forms, the need for many of those skills is eliminated in favor of mainly big hitting and defensive bowling.
The last five days saw a perfect example of why Test cricket is so glorious. England is playing Australia in a five-Test series in a long-standing traditional rivalry for a trophy known as the Ashes. Australia won the first Test and the second Test was drawn (i.e., a no decision).
In the third Test that began on Thursday, Australia batted first and scored just 179, a very poor score for the first innings of a Test match and England were on top. But then when England batted, they were bundled out for a paltry 67 runs. a pitiful score by any standards, giving Australia a first innings lead of 112 runs and seemingly well set to win. Australia than scored 246 runs in their second innings, not a great score but still leaving England with a formidable target 359 to win.
Batting last in a Test match is very difficult because the wear and tear on the pitch after many days of play makes the ball behave more erratically and thus helps the bowlers. Also, by the fourth innings, time is usually running out, putting pressure on the batters to score quickly and thus take more risks. Any fourth innings target of over 350 runs is considered extremely difficult and in the entire history of Test cricket it has been successfully achieved only 11 times.
And sure enough, while England made a valiant effort, they lost their ninth wicket with the score at 286, still short by 73,with one of the batters at the crease being a bowler Jack Leach, who would normally not last long. Since getting just one more wicket would end the game, Australia seemed on the verge of wrapping it up. But in an extraordinary performance, the other batter Ben Stokes so successfully ‘farmed the strike’ (i.e., by judicious scoring managed to face most of the deliveries) that Leach had to face just 17 deliveries and scored just one run while Stokes scored all the other runs in their partnership of 76 runs, thus pulling off one of the most sensational comebacks in Test cricket as England scored 362. This was the highest successful run chase in England’s history.
This is the kind of match, full of swings in fortune, that any fan of Test cricket will savor and talk about for years to come. It is games such as these that make me convinced that Test cricket is the best form of the game.