A Summer (2021) of English (men’s) Test Cricket
Today, should have been the first day of the final men’s Test cricket match of the English summer, this being between England and India. My intention was when this last Test match was ended, with either India winning the series or England managing to draw level, only then would I write this blog. But it was not to be for, two hours before the match was due to start, we were told the match had been called off. Covid was given as the reason (and as often happens, concerns around the pandemic were cited as the reasons for calling a keenly anticipated event off). As tempting as it is to discuss this unforeseen, disappointing development and controversial decision, I intend to rather focus on the cricket, as originally planned.
As can be seen, England played two Test series. One series was two matches against New Zealand in early June, with New Zealand winning one match and the other drawn. The other series was against India in August and early September, with India winning two matches, England one and one match drawn. I have no doubt both New Zealand and India were the better teams. But in mitigation, they are arguably the two best Test sides in the world at the moment, evidenced by appearing in a World Test final in-between the two afore-mentioned series – a match New Zealand won against India, and deservedly so, although rain played a part, and refreshingly so due to their good sportsmanlike attitude.
As is often the case these days, I follow the games live on the Internet via TMS and sometimes by listening to the end of day podcasts. England, as has often been the case in recent years, have flattered to deceive, showing flashes of brilliance and what could have been but failing when it truly mattered and not showing the consistency needed or enough of what it takes to win in challenging or benign conditions. While there is no doubt potential in all departments, the thought of this England side going to Australia and winning, when they tour this winter seems unlikely – but we can hope! New Zealand and India, on the other hand, made the most of their opportunities and no-one can begrudge their victories.
I have often reflected on the question of what makes a Test cricket team great and it seems to me that to be called great they need to consistently win against other Test cricket teams, home and away, over a period of a few years. In my lifetime, only two teams fulfilled that criteria: West Indies under Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards and Australia under Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. Qualities that come to mind include outstanding talent, mental toughness, the ability to bounce back after setbacks and a team where one or more members deliver big time when it really mattered. England have at times appeared to be close but never close enough. I would be interested to find out if today’s New Zealand and India teams will enter that great category. Sadly, the cynicism of today’s cricket, where money and commercial interests play significant parts (some suggest the imminent lucrative IPL competition was the main reason for the most recent cancellation) makes me wonder.
Even so, I have enjoyed this summer of English cricket, made possible by the discipline, consistency and sportsmanship of this New Zealand side and the talent, creativity and determination of India. As for England, there were moments, especially when the conditions suited their game, but sadly too much fragility.