It might seem like a shameless grab at a "told you so" opportunity to be writing such an article on the night of the Indian men's cricket team's heroics at the Brisbane Cricket Ground (commonly known as the Gabba), and it is. The number of times I've been asked why I was watching a game that consisted of "literally no action" and was "worse than watching paint dry" and the number of times my well worded and entirely reasonable responses were laughed at is quite high. But you know what, it's still lower than the number of incomparably exhilarating experiences I've had watching Test cricket over the years. In this essay, I will…
Jokes aside, what India did in Brisbane is a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. I can say that confidently because it has never happened before. India have won on this ground for the first time in seven tries, which is pretty impressive but becomes more so when you put it in the context of Australia having been unbeaten in this venue for 32 years! An Indian victory in Brisbane was so unlikely that in the previous match, Australian captain Tim Paine was overheard on the stump mic telling an Indian batsman who was playing really well that he'd see him at the Gabba!
Test cricket is often called the longer version of the game, and that's how it works, in long spans of time. Not only does a game of Test cricket last five days, but its records are long standing as well. The records are decades in the making and decades in the breaking, and the fact that they get broken often enough for some viewers to kind of expect it but still surprises most others, is a subtle balance that this age old game (134 years to be precise) has been able to achieve.
That's the big picture, but I understand it's difficult to comprehend what makes a person sit in front of the TV for five days knowing this could well end with two captains shaking hands on the final day and deciding they were too evenly matched the entire time and calling it a draw. Well, Test cricket is grand in scale, but it's extremely intriguing in its details as well. When Cheteshwar Pujara scores a 50 off 194 balls, with maybe 30 scoring shots in his entire innings, some people will only see the 30 moments of real action in that innings. What actually happened was that a group of six-and-a-half feet tall men had 194 carefully thought-out and planned attempts at getting this diminutive Indian dismissed, consistently bowing a hard leather ball straight at him at 140 kmph, and Pujara survived it all, managing to squeeze in 50 runs in between. Tell me that's not exciting.
I remember being at work when English all-rounder Ben Stokes single-handedly won a Test match he was supposed to only save back in 2019. After five days of cricket, no team had won it, but both of them had the opportunity, up until the last ball. The tension built and built and built some more, until the last day, when Australia had three clear chances to win the game. They only needed one wicket, but they wasted an umpire review on a bad call. Then they had a very good call that the umpire didn't give out, but they'd just wasted their umpire review and couldn't challenge it. It was hilarious at this point, but then, Nathan Lyon missed one of the easiest run out chances of all time, and soon after that, Ben Stokes hit the winning runs. I was on the ground at this point, head in my hands, shocked at what I had just witnessed.
That's really what Test cricket is, grand in scope and scale, but the real entertainment is in the details, in the ball by ball action, because every defensive stroke has a novel worth of stories behind it.
It takes time to get into Test cricket, but once you do, it's literally the best thing ever. I, personally, will never forget how the entirety of Notre Dame College erupted in cheers when Bangladesh beat England in a test match in 2016. Students in every classroom up and down the three academic buildings were following every ball, celebrating every time Shakib Al Hasan spun another ball out of the reach of the batsmen. That was a rare example of the magic of Test cricket being enjoyed by many at once, which I have to say, doesn't happen often enough. I wish it did though, then people would stop asking me why I watch Test cricket and I wouldn't have to wait for matches like the Brisbane Test of 2021 to tell people why.
Azmin Azran is a sub-editor of SHOUT.