Day 2 at a test cricket ground – this is fun. We have all played at grounds of varying amenity over the years in a wide range of places. How many of us have played at a test venue? This is a much bigger deal than we originally envisaged. The opposition is deadly serious. The Poms and the Aussies and the West Indies thought they were coming to a cricket carnival; India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were here to play to the death. By now the Aussies ‘get it’ – it is time to crank it up boys, get your aged and broken bodies in the field of play, strap on your game face and play like your life depends upon it.
Sri Lanka batted and made a score but Australia thought it was reachable. The highlight of the Sri Lankan innings was Mr Pudding’s second close shave with death. In defiance of the law that lightening never strikes twice in the same place, it did. The ball was similar; the shot was the same; and the result, astonishingly the same too. If he had missed the first catch it would have hit him in the centre of his forehead, half way between his eyebrows and his hairline, directly over his nose. It would have killed him. Here we are, 3 games later; same bowler, same end; the ball would have completely covered the previous cranial entry point. His meaty hands came up to meet the ball. This time he appreciated his good fortune. Somewhere over the last few days his extreme good luck in game one had sunk in. This time, his blank expression as he came up with the ball was ‘I cannot believe it – I have dodged a second bullet’. Never previously, in the history of the world, had the confluence of ability, brute force and blind luck ever converged for such a benevolent outcome.
Australia set off in determined pursuit of the score. Sri Lanka opened with a left hand quick in the test ‘train on’ squad. He bowled 2 overs of utter terror and then slunk away. His first ball almost cut the old left handed opener in half. The second ball almost killed the square leg umpire. He was fast and he was out of control. The opener then adjourned to the dressing room, found a helmet and resumed. It was a seminal moment, where the older generation met the realities of the modern game – safety first.
Batting on a test ground is a joy. The ball does not deviate off the pitch, so it’s a lot like playing on a cement pitch of one’s youth. The outfield was smooth and manicured – a sort of enormous oval billiard table with a camber from the pitch square sloping slightly downwards to the boundary, presumably to deal with monsoonal drainage, but how the ball loves to run downhill to the boundary.
It was tight; it was exciting; but Australia ran out of good enough batsmen at the end.
It was filmed live and the local version of Richie Benaud commentated throughout. In 2007 Hyderabad local TV had 3 channels devoted to cricket matches 24 hours a day. Our games were run on one of the channels. It was a weird experience to play at Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in the morning and then go home to our hotel and watch re-runs of yourself on telly, playing at a test ground, that night. We were really onto something here. This tournament was a good idea, unfolding in an excellent way.