Even someone like me who has been following the game for more than half a century on a personal and professional level felt the tension, the excitement. No, I didn't bite my nails but I couldn’t take my eyes off the TV screen as the pulsating drama unfolded.
The fortunes fluctuated, New Zealand was heading for victory, then England holding out for a draw looked eminently possible. A little later a Kiwis win looked highly probable and finally England gallantly and honourably drew the Test match at Auckland.
The cynics say Test match cricket is on its last legs. Detractors of the traditional format of the game view it as a waste of time in these days of instant entertainment. First Fifty50 and then Twenty20 caught the imagination reducing Test cricket to a poor cousin whom no wanted to patronize. But a few more matches like the one at Eden Park and everyone will be back – the spectators, the TV viewers and the sponsors.
Whatever the doomsday prophets may say Test cricket is alive and kicking. It will never die and is the one format of the game which provides genuine thrills and excitement besides being cricket’s highest art form. It's not just the players who always maintain that Test cricket is the real thing, the game they would like to excel in.
The purist and the traditionalist and the connoisseur who have all grown up on a staple diet of five-day matches that sometimes do not produce a result even after 30 hours of play would certainly have enjoyed the events as they unfolded at Auckland.
Test cricket is like a long, well directed suspense film. Like an unputdownable whodunit one cannot really guess the denouement. As it is, what happened at Auckland was gripping. But the situation in the overall context of the series added spice to the flavour. The first two Tests were drawn and the result of the series hinged on events at Auckland. Moreover if England lost they would slip to No 3 in the ICC rankings with India taking over at No 2.
It certainly seemed a lost cause when England resumed on the final day at 90 for four chasing an unlikely victory target of 481. After all New Zealand is always a tough team to beat at home. But England’s cricketers have a history of playing the Horatio act when the chips are down.
The most famous is the Willie Watson - Trevor Bailey rearguard action against Australia at Lord’s in 1953 when the two were associated in a 163-run partnership that lasted over four hours on the final day to steer England to a draw from a losing position. Here it was the duo of Ian Bell and Matt Prior that were principally responsible for England staving off defeat.
But can one forget the role played by Stuart Broad. Normally an attacking batsman who loves to hit the ball, high, hard and handsomely the left hander scored his first runs off the 62nd ball he faced and after occupying the crease for over 100 minutes.
And when Kane Williamson threatened to stage a last minute coup for New Zealand with two wickets in an over it was left to "tough tyke" Prior and last man Monty Panesar to last out 19 balls to stage the great escape act and guide their team to a thrilling draw.
Cricket is not just about quick runs being scored or quick wickets being taken. Alistair Cook batted over three hours for 43, Bell’s 75 occupied almost six hours while Broad was ultimately out for six compiled off 77 balls and for which he batted 137 minutes. But all this made for a fascinating duel between bat and ball which is all what good cricket is all about.
Twenty20 and Fifty50 are enjoyable as entertainment, good for the game and its finances and certainly they have a place in cricket. I too watch these games regularly but at the risk of being called old fashioned, let me say it again – there is no substitute for Test cricket, the engrossing tussle between bat and ball and the elaborate strategic moves and tactical planning.
The leisurely proceedings, players in white, day cricket and the red ball have provided a refreshingly different scenario from the surfeit of slam bang cricket and taken me on a trip down memory lane. There is an undying charm about Test cricket that still makes it the highest art form associated with this great game.
The heightened suspense spread over five days, the fluctuating fortunes and the fact that bowlers are trying to take wickets and not restrict the runs are a few of the factors that one relishes. Ask any budding cricketer and with all the many attractions associated with the shorter versions of the game he will say his ultimate aim is to play Test cricket.
A cricketer who shines only in ODIs will still lament the fact that he didn’t excel in Test matches. Ultimately it is the Test record of a player that stands the test of time and is set as a yardstick not the figures in Fifty50 or Twenty20 however impressive the latter may be.
Some of the orthodox strokes and the prodigiously swinging or viciously spinning deliveries were the kind you would not see in the shorter version of the game. The text book is the very essence of Test cricket and an overdose of limited overs cricket can make one yearn for the longer version of the game.
Slam bang cricket is time pass. You see a game, enjoy it for what it is worth but hardly remember anything of it. It is like seeing a three-hour Bollywood formula film. But events of Test cricket stay in your memory for long. In this regard the Auckland match was the perfect advertisement for Test cricket.