In the second innings of the Centurion Test, Yashasvi Jaiswal was dropped on the first ball he faced. The fifth ball, he slashed outside off T20 style to get a boundary.
Sure he got a four but I was thinking, can this approach work, the counterattack method, the modern way? It works when you take a few risks to put the bowler off in T20, and to an extent in 50-over cricket just to unsettle the bowler for long term gains.
But in T20s, the bowler has only four overs of ‘ammunition’, in 50-over cricket a little more. But in Tests, the bowler will keep coming at you, over after over, the whole day bowling that same delivery knowing that if you miss one or edge one he’s got four people behind the stumps to catch.
As it turned out, Jaiswal got out to a ball that bounced and brushed his glove as he was trying to leave it. He lasted 18 balls.
Test cricket over the last 146 years has shown us that if the pitch has pace and bounce or lateral movement or turn, if you don’t have a good defensive technique there is no hope in hell that you will have a long career as a Test batter.
This is when Rishabh Pant comes to mind — a modern-day product who we immediately think of as an attacking player, a bit of a maverick who will reverse sweep a Jimmy Anderson bowling with the new ball over the slips. But Pant’s main strength is not playing these audacious shots at any stage of a Test innings; most of his great Test innings have had a passage of play where Pant has defended stoutly for long periods while showing the perfect defensive technique imaginable.
While hitting those big sixes Pant does look a bit unbalanced, but when defending he is picture-perfect. The defensive bat is very still and close to his body, his footwork is decisive. The front foot goes right down the pitch when the ball is full and when he anticipates a short delivery he is right back in the crease to defend. This is a fundamental technical necessity to excel in Tests.
When Pant discovers he is in position early on the back foot he will also pull a Rabada, like he did on India’s last trip to South Africa when he got a superb 100.
Indian Test cricket is at an interesting stage where we have a new, young trio of Jaiswal, Gill and Iyer occupying key batting positions. Positions of 1, 3 and 5 and this is our new lot who have grown up in the T20 era.
Their main occupation in the year is playing white-ball cricket. Sure, their heart beats for the longer format, they also have good first-class numbers to show for it, but it’s actually about putting in the hours.
Is it at all possible for modern young batters to practice defence, playing the ball late, leaving balls outside the off stump, the nuances that you see with Kohli when he defends and scurries for single hours on end?
During our times, a typical nets session where we batted for 15 minutes consisted of 10 to 12 minutes of just defending and leaving balls and only the loose balls were attacked. And when the coach shouted “last round” that’s when we tried to play a few attacking shots with an element of risk. This we did virtually every day of our career.
Earlier, batters had to adapt to white-ball cricket, this generation will have to adapt to Test cricket.
For a few years now, I have believed that it’s unfair on our part to expect Test cricket to be of extreme high quality, whether you’re talking about batting, bowling or for that matter tactics, which by the way in the Centurion Test was quite poor from both sides.
Simple logic of life and of sport is that you get better at things you really care about, that’s when you put in the effort.
Fame, and yes, some money were our incentives to becoming a top cricketer; we knew if we didn’t have a sound defence our chances of having a good life was basically gone.
The cricket landscape has changed and what held true for us is not the case anymore; now you will have fame and money without having a good defence, and if you have exceptional hitting power you will make exceptional money.
Really, we need to be patient and yes, pragmatic as followers of Test cricket, for it will never reach the standards of the earlier decades; the practitioners then only focused on one thing, one format.
Todays or future great Tests teams will never be as great as the great Test teams of the past. It’s not like the cricketers of the past were better cricketers, they were just better at Test cricket.
So, let’s tone down our expectations and watch Tests where every team will have players who will make some rookie mistakes; a lot of them are learning on the job. Pakistan’s current captain Shan Masood averages 29 in Tests.
In the end though we will still have something to take home and cherish after a Test, like a Rabada spell, or a Rahul 100 or a Virat who showed us he still very much has what it takes.
You want to see sustained excellence in cricket? Watch T20s, you will find it there.