In an era of rampant commercialism and the rumbustious rise of Twenty20 cricket, pessimism regarding the well-being and future of the grand old game of Test cricket is common. But any suggestion of its impending demise is way off the mark. That the structure of the five-day game has a built-in resilience that helps it triumph over existential challenges was once again demonstrated in the second Test between India and South Africa in Kolkata. If the home team deserved credit for turning things around brilliantly after a pasting in the first Test at Nagpur, the operatic irresistibility of the Eden Gardens climax proved that Test cricket is in robust good health. Seat-edge endings in the abbreviated forms of the game often appear contrived and formulaic. But a result such as the one that saw India level the series against the Proteas with nine balls left has an authenticity that Test cricket alone can aspire to. It is a pity that it was not a full series of three or five Test matches and was squeezed in only after the Board of Control for Cricket in India was criticised for favouring the ODI and T20 formats at the expense of Test cricket. While it would be naïve to suggest that limited overs cricket might be a passing fad, it is the duty of the game's administrators to ensure that the best in the business play one another more often in Tests.
Which other form of the game provides the space for the sort of heroism that Hashim Amla displayed over the last two days at Eden Gardens? The South African, who batted 1,033 deliveries for 490 runs in three innings, exemplified the virtues of the longest format all through the series. He began at Nagpur with an unbeaten double hundred, after which his illustrious colleague, Dale Steyn, ripped the heart out of India's batting with a classical demonstration of pace bowling. Amla's battle with Harbhajan Singh on the final day in Kolkata was intriguing, although the tenacious Indian off-spinner triumphed in the end. But it was also a series that will be remembered for the batting exploits of Sachin the Great, world cricket's most thrilling batsman Virender Sehwag, exquisite strokemaker V.V.S. Laxman as well as the prodigiously accomplished Jacques Kallis and the ever-dependable M. S. Dhoni. In the end, India deserved to hold on to its No.1 Test ranking because it showed strength of character. After losing the toss and letting South Africa rattle up over 200 runs for the loss of just one wicket on the opening day, Dhoni's men played with great belief, commitment, and offensive skills to rewrite the script on a sporting wicket that made five days of old-fashioned cricket such a pleasure to behold.