Compunctions about the Rio Olympics overwhelming cricket were not misplaced. These Games, after all, come only once in four years and are the greatest sports event known to the human race. But even as most of the attention has been focused on what is likely to happen in Brazil, the past few weeks has also seen Test cricket enter a most delightful phase.
Three of the four series being played currently have seen some exceptional performances and unexpected results to suggest that the demise of the five-day format is great exaggerated: it is in fact alive and throbbing. Teams in the process of rebuilding and touted as underdogs — Sri Lanka, Pakistan and West Indies — have proved pundits wrong and have left opponents either surprised or dismayed.
Only Zimbabwe versus New Zealand looks like to be a completely one-sided contest, but otherwise the matches have been hugely rewarding for lovers of the game.
The most astounding result has come from Sri Lanka where top-ranked Australia crashed to two successive defeats, unable to cope with the heat and humidity, but even more the slow pitches and the turning ball.
In the first Test it appeared that the home team would struggle, but Sri Lanka, who had been beaten easily by England some weeks earlier, fought back brilliantly after conceding a first innings lead to turn the tables on the Aussies.
Such was the effect of this setback that Steve Smith and his team simply rolled over to be walloped in the second without a fight, showing neither technique nor mental toughness.
This has been like a Humpty Dumpty situation for the Aussies: they’ve suffered a mighty fall, bamboozled to the core and there is nobody to help them get back on the rails. Not even Muralidharan who had been hired as spin bowling coach, for neither could the Australian batsmen handle spin, nor could their spin bowlers trouble the Lankan batsmen.
In England, Alastair Cook and Co are locked in a fascinating see-saw battle against Pakistan. At home, England have appeared invincible in the past few years, but the mercurial Pakistanis have had them on edge with a fine show of grit and resolve.
The series is locked 1-1 as I write this. Both teams are looking for that decisive breakthrough to clinch the issue. This could come in the third Test currently underway, or in the last next week, though I think that a drawn series seems the fairest result.
India meanwhile got a jolt in the second Test at Jamaica where the West Indies put up such a spirited fightback on the last day starting at a precarious 48 for 4 to save the match that it left almost everybody speechless.
After being annihilated in the first Test, it was expected that West Indies would be whitewashed in the series. A first innings collapse only reinforced this belief. Then suddenly, the West Indies rediscovered lost chutzpah and sense of purpose. The manner in which the West Indies lower order stuck to the task was astonishing. In the conext of the match, a draw was like a win for them.