A light shines on Test cricket

It was tense, hard and full of incredible moments.

A light shines on Test cricket

Test cricket was shining today. And it came from nowhere. A Test side we had long since forgotten, and a side that seemed to have finally tripped on their experiment. Then we saw a comeback, an upset and a tense final day. Twice.

I hate it when people say, look, Test cricket it isn’t dying, because we have great games. It’s like when people say global warming isn’t true because it was cold yesterday. Tests won’t be saved by great days, that isn’t how the world works. It has glorious moments all the time, it’s still in the same position.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop to enjoy them. To get two matches as strange, beautiful, tense, confusing and enjoyable in one day, overlapping, and intertwining, like two long-lost lovers, is just an incredible moment for our sport.

We don’t always get days like this, stop, let it hit you. This was Test cricket at its best.

It was tense, hard and full of incredible moments. Think of the stories.

Ollie Pope and Alzarri Joseph had some redemption, moments no one will forget. There was a moment when India started the chase, the roller meant the wicket looked flat, and I thought, if England lose, Pope’s innings drifts away. It is written off as nothing.

This is a guy, who a couple of years ago, could not play spin. He turns up here, and in the first innings, he is limp. He might be England’s vice-captain, but who had money on him making the third Test, let alone the end of this series?

So he fights back. He kept fighting, through lunch, tea and stumps, past Bumrah’s killer spells, disrupting India’s finest spinners with reverse sweeps and Dilscoops. And no one is going to forget that knock now.

What about Alzarri Joseph, a man people refer to as a ‘fraud’ online? He looks every bit like an international bowler, but it never quite feels like he is at his best. Australia had had six wickets in three matches coming into this one. Here he slogged hard and then ripped out Australia’s top order to follow.

The kind of performance he flirts with often, but ends up ghosting.

This time it actually happened, and he opened up an end by dismissing Usman Khawaja in the second, and then added Nathan Lyon to double his wicket tally in Australia from a single match.

What about Steve Smith and R Ashwin, two legends before retirement who ended up on the wrong side of their battle? Smith is the mad bastard who is approaching old age for batters and thinks to himself, ‘Why don’t I start opening’? People were already looking at his early results with a side eye of suspicion, the only reason people allow it is that he is a silly man to doubt.

So what does he do?

He only carries his bat in a chase. Doing two things, scoring runs in the fourth innings - which he almost never does - and boosting his average to 60 when opening.

R Ashwin suddenly found himself down the order without one of his trusty spin friends to help out. So he blocked the ball around until England got stagnant. Then he had to battle the shadows on the pitch, a fragile tail and the 30 minutes or less, extra time added to the day. That he finished with the sort of run down the wicket swipe and miss we expected from England says a lot.

And the winning teams. The West Indies last won in Australia when kids wanted beanie babies. Many of the West Indian teams weren’t even alive back then. They were once the kings of the bouncy tracks, and for years have been little more than a stocking filler gift you forget to play with. This team of random dudes not called Jason Holder made Carl Hooper and Brian Lara cry in a good way.

England brings about something else, just awe and joy. In fact, even when baseball fails, they are fun. I have long called them the most interesting team in cricket, but they are also just fabulously crazy. On day one they said they were above par, on day two they said they bowled well. We all laughed, but their cult-like positivity is like a superpower some days.

And you can keep drinking the Kool-Aid when you pull off the 10th biggest comeback in terms of innings deficit ever, against a bowling lineup of guys lining up to be on India’s bowling Mount Rushmore.

All that is great, but it’s not even the best part. That is Tom Hartley and Shamar Joseph. Two players with less experience in the middle than a Pujara hundred.

Hartley, picked over other pros, given the new ball on a dare, but couldn’t land it where he wanted. India tried to end him from the first ball, but he stuck around. And when India was under pressure, this part-timer with 40 wickets in 20 games ran through them like he was Bishen Bedi stretched out into a new shape.

He made runs, he got a run-out. We are pretty sure he grew an inch and can now play the banjo as well. He had the Jason Krejza game, but in a win.

That is not even the amazing story. Shamar Joseph needed his community to help him even get the attention of West Indies cricket. Curtly Ambrose saw this young man destined to work in the logging industry and changed his life. West Indies have barely seen him play, because he has barely played. So they chose him to come to Australia, where he should be shredded into pieces by hometown bullies on flat tracks.

Yet before he even gets the ball, he wins the locals over with the bat. Then it takes one ball to make him a cult hero when he takes Steve Smith. Then he picks up a five-wicket haul like he’s picking up some OJ on the way home.

That was the first Test, he actually outdid that. This kid came from nowhere, had to be taken from the field when Mitch Starc tried to take his toe off, and then he comes out to bowl anyway. Of course, he does. For the longest time, no one even noticed he existed. He might be young, but in his world, he has waited a lifetime. So he bowls this endless spell with nine healthy toes and he beats Australia at the Gabba. He is pure joy in fast bowler form.

This all happened in one day. We get caught up in silly feuds, politics, future speculation and impending doom all the time. But sometimes there is a day that just stops all that. That brings you nothing but joy.

T20 and ODIs are made for close finishes, while Test cricket is designed not to have them. We follow a sport that kind of morphed into this twisted game that you almost have to be sick to love. It demands of everyone to be patient, and put in the hours, days, weeks, months and years, so that one day, you might, if you are lucky, get to feel this incredible building moment that gets so much that you can’t put your feet on the ground because they are tingling. You have earned every bit of this enjoyment.

The five-day game makes you crawl through broken glass in a snake pit to get a feeling like we got today. And we had two.

West Indies won with a pink ball at night, and England won in the shadows. It is dark sometimes for Test cricket, but every now and then, if we dig in and get to lunch, bat through a tricky spell in the middle, and fight tiredness at dusk, we get a slither of the most beautiful sunshine anyone has ever seen. Test cricket does not make it easy, and that is the point.