It was a pitch that even the best bowlers of all ages would have struggled to come to terms with… a pitch that had the batsmen licking their lips and the bowlers praying for the heavens to open up and provide them with much needed reprieve... a pitch that faced tremendous criticism and bored the spectators to death. In short, it was a pitch that was ideal for murdering Test cricket.
The occasion was the second cricket Test between India and Sri Lanka played at the Sinhalese Sports Club Ground in Colombo. From the first day when Sri Lanka skipper Kumar Sangakkara won the toss and chose to bat, there was only one result possible…a dull draw. Sri Lanka scored a massive 642/4 in their first innings with Sangakkara cracking a double ton. India replied in an equally emphatic fashion with Sachin Tendulkar scoring 203 of the huge total of 707. Although runs flowed like the Ganges in all its fury, it was a Test that did not evoke any spectator interest at all because of the lack of
contest between the bat and the ball.
At a time when Test cricket is struggling to survive in the wake of Twenty20 cricket hogging all the limelight, such pitches can only be termed as assassins of the purest form of the game.
Gone are the days when less than half of the five-day games produced a result and people expected it to be that way. Today, in the era of fast paced action, every tedious draw is nothing short of a nail in the coffin of the ageing Test cricket. The organisers of Test matches around the world are finding it difficult to fill stadiums and such dreary encounters will ensure that the trend continues.
The Colombo humdrum also brought memories of another Test played between the same two nations a few years ago. It was the 1997 season when an Indian side led by Sachin Tendulkar visited the Emerald Isles in a quest to achieve a rare Test series victory in Sri Lanka.
The first game of the two-match series was played at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. India won the toss and predictably elected to bat first on a batting friendly turf. In spite of losing the early wicket of Nayan Mongia, India, riding on fine tons by Navjot Siddhu, Sachin Tendulkar and Mohammad Azharuddin, made their way to a commanding total of 537/8 declared.
The pressure was now on the Sri Lankan batting order and an early success in the form of Marvan Atapattu’s wicket, who was removed by young spinner Nilesh Kulkarni off his very first ball in Test cricket, had the Indian bowlers in high spirits. However, the Lankan batsmen had other plans and from there on the Test took a completely different turn.
Sanath Jayasuriya along with Roshan Mahanama shattered umpteen records as the Lankans raked up the highest ever team total in the history of Test cricket (952/6 declared). Such was the domination of the duo and the dullness of the pitch that the Indian bowlers could not pick up a single wicket for almost two days. Jayasuriya finally got out for 340, just 35 runs (due you mean short of) of the then highest individual score record, while Mahanama, too, scored a double ton.
But Alas! The game also proved to be a dragging affair with statisticians the only people managing to find some interest.
The second match of that series also proved to be a high-scoring draw and the lifeless pitches on offer had to face a lot of criticism from the players and spectators.
If such is the state of affairs for the turfs, especially in the sub-continent, it would not be the use of a hyperbole if one was to say that if the trend continues, it would become a boring Test of the batsmen’s batting stamina rather than a test of the willow and the cherry.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)