2nd Test and Big Bash League, Melbourne December 29, 2016

Consumed by cricket's unlikely love-in

Some will debate whether Test cricket or T20 will be regarded as the true form of cricket in the distant future, but in Melbourne the surfeit is all good
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Peter Handscomb in Test match mode. Blame the crowd © Getty Images

Of the many useless conversations in cricket, the thousands predicting that rain will ruin a day's play are perhaps the most tedious. Promised rain almost never comes. I think about this in bed as I debate whether I should be getting ready to go to the Test. The Test is not my only match today, so I don't want to get there early and sit around watching rain, knowing I will not be under the Docklands roof to see Melbourne Renegades host Perth Scorchers until near midnight.

The MCG might be the greatest place in the world, but it has no roof. Although there has been a rumour that it will one day, for now it has to rely on the fact that the rain shows some respect and moves around it. My phone weather apps suggest there will be no play; the bureau of meteorology website suggests there will be some play. So after procrastinating for a little while, I decide to trust the radar and not some random app.

I head to the ground via the same train line I first used 30 years earlier. There are not many fans on it, far fewer than there have been on other days. It's day four, it's supposed to bucket down, and this match has been the cricket equivalent of watching someone read a book for days. The fact there are any fans on the train is encouraging. I sit near someone in a 2003-era ODI shirt and check my phone to see that Bangladesh are having a good day.

At Jolimont station I get off the train and run through the MCG car park just in time to see Usman Khawaja out in the 90s, something he wanted as few people as possible to see. Luckily for him, there is practically no one there. It feels like a Sheffield Shield crowd, and not a big one like the '03-'04 final, but a small one, like pretty much every other Shield match here.

People on Twitter are already suggesting worrying signs for Test cricket. Like English TV presenter Mark Austin, who wrote, "Why Test cricket is dying #AUSvPAK #MCG" next to a picture of the empty ground. Why the crowd wouldn't be low when the game has started earlier than usual, on day four, under the threat of apocalyptic rain and when we haven't yet got halfway through the second innings is anyone's guess.

But the lack of a crowd seems to make Peter Handscomb play like he's in a Shield game. He is far more relaxed than he has been so far in Tests. And he picks up his fifty. Alongside him, Steve Smith has been perhaps uncharacteristically tentative. That would usually obsess me, but instead I'm making a fantasy fielding XI and watching clips of Sydney Thunder teams misfielding.

At lunch I'm invited to the MCC committee room, which is near-empty, like most of the ground, and I have lunch with others from the media and also Bob Lloyd. I become a human Statsguru and start working my way through his career, looking for hidden nuggets. Who is his one first-class wicket? Ah, Tom Veivers. What was it like facing Wes Hall? Ah, not good. And do you know that in your last first-class game, which was Greg Chappell's first, you outscored him in both innings? Ah, of course you did. I talk to Bob as Mohammad Amir's luck continues to mean that almost absolutely nothing goes right with him, and I wonder out loud if karma is a real thing.

From there I head to the MCC library, where I meet Doug Ackerly, who has a copy of his new book, Front Foot! The Law That Changed Cricket. His book is about how the front-foot no-ball law has led to fast bowlers getting injured more often. I have no idea if Doug is right, but it's probably going to be more interesting than the latest ghosted autobiography that is a taped-together version of already forgotten tour diaries.

By the time I finish that chat, the rain has set in. I annoy Bill Lawry by asking him about what information they were given in his day on their stats (predictably none). Check my phone to see now Bangladesh are having a bad day. Watch Channel Nine's re-broadcast of David Boon batting against England in 1990-91. All while waiting for the day to be called off.

My plan originally was to walk between the two grounds and enjoy Melbourne in the early evening. But Melbourne is flooded, and so I take the tram. There one MCC employee tries optimistically to suggest to her friend that there could be a result in this Test. Her friend, who is a few years older, slowly shakes her head.

Storm clouds gather over Melbourne © Cricket Australia/Getty Images

At Docklands, I walk into the hot sweaty concrete box and remember why I always hated this ground. It was hot outside the ground, but under that roof, even Alastair Cook would sweat (not that I am saying he's about to become a Big Basher). There I catch up with new-cricket-media types, Cat Jones of the Can't Bowl, Can't Throw podcast, and Dan Liebke, famed member of the cricket Twitterati. We talk about nonsense as the motocross jumps are put together on the ground. Doubtless it's all very reminiscent of Neville Cardus and Plum Warner's chats.

While many think in-ground entertainment gimmicks are a new thing started for limited-overs games, its history in Melbourne goes back a lot further than that. The first ever English cricket tour to Australia in 1861 had a hot-air balloon turn up at lunch at the MCG to entertain those with a short attention span.

There is also an instruction on the screen for newcomers to the games, called Big Bash Basics. Voiced by the least excited man in the ground, he talks about how exciting the cricket is, and about a potential Super Over. That seems optimistic. He also mentions that a fast game is a good game; but a fast game in T20 is usually a horribly one-sided cesspool. There is no cesspool at the game, but Nickelodeon hosts are running around, probably hoping to slime someone as part of their partnership with Cricket Australia. There are also mascots: Sledge, the male mascot, and Willow, the female. Mascots are a staple at T20, but they only work for people over 16 when they are falling over in a race.

Aaron Finch is opening up for Renegades; he hit a ball into the top tier last game here. No man in the Big Bash has ever made more runs at one venue than Finch has at the Docklands. He is a T20 specialist and a specialist at a T20-specialist ground. While Finch and Cameron White get some big hits away, the innings slowly loses air, and by the end, it's a limp T20 total.

Then there is more motocross, and some in-ground pyrotechnics, after which the smoke hangs around for a very long time. I spend most of the break looking for new T20 batting metrics and talking about it with former Victoria cricketer Adam Crosthwaite. Then I check how stuffed Sri Lanka are. It turns out, quite stuffed.

Someone on Twitter points out to me that there was no one at the MCG today and there were plenty of people at the Big Bash, so Test cricket is surely dying. The crowd at the Big Bash was roughly the same size of the crowd on day three of the Test. There have been 135,999 people go through the gates at the MCG to a game that was drowned by day two. Here, under a roof, with Dwayne Bravo, Finch, Brad Hogg and Sunil Narine, when kids don't have to go to school tomorrow, with a game where absolutely anything could happen, they got the same crowd. It's not a bad crowd. Had it not been raining, and the streets of Melbourne hadn't literally been flooded, it might have been more.

This may be a two-team town, but the Docklands is a one-team venue. And their team is trying to use a wicket that will help their quality spin duo of Hogg and Narine beat Scorchers. But they lose three overs from Bravo when his hamstring pops, and Hogg gets picked on by his former team-mates, and Nathan Rimmington has a shocker. Scorchers are walking to victory, needing 19 off 18, and all they have to do is keep Michael Klinger and Mitch Marsh at the crease.

Finch, a throwback to when cricketers had a friendly middle of their body, runs, turns and throws as if his body was designed for each purpose, and Voges is out

The crowd is flat; I sense that not only am I going to see a mostly washed-out day of a pointless Test, but finish it up with a one-sided, low-scoring T20. I get angry when Finch makes it easy for them and doesn't bring the field in. This is it, his last chance, Narine's last over is his only chance of winning. But his tactics don't matter, a leading edge from Klinger floats back to Narine, and the crowd wakes up. And I get interested.

Ashton Turner can't get off strike for much of Narine's over, and 19 off 18, a doddle, a dawdle, a bloody easy chase with two set batsmen is suddenly 16 off 12 with only one set batsman. But Rimmington is back, and his three overs for 38 makes no one bar Marsh excited about what might happen. His first ball is slapped like it deserved it by Marsh, next ball Marsh gets off strike, and Turner gets the sort of ball Marsh would have destroyed, but Turner hits it straight to the deep sweeper. Marsh is so shocked he stops running and doesn't cross with Turner. So they have made two mistakes on one ball, and instead of the in-form batsman facing the out-of-sorts bowler, the last two balls of the over are only singles. The 19 off 18 is now nervous nine from six.

But Renegades are finished with all their bowlers, and the only player who can bowl the last over is Finch, because cricket's new law is that you can't use a spinner who spins the ball into a batsman in a T20 game. It's not quite indisputable but it is when it's Tom Cooper's part time offspin to Marsh. Perhaps on a turgid low pitch, with two tailenders in and with one of the main floodlights not working, Finch would be favourite, but to Marsh, tonight, it could end in two balls.

Marsh faces two balls; he mishits the first for two. The second ball is the kind bowled by a part-time bowler who wasn't thinking he'd need to bowl and who is now saddled with the most important over of the match. It doesn't come out of his fingers right, it just pops out of the top accidentally and floats down the wicket like a naked lamb in front of a starving T-Rex. Its only redeeming feature is it is so bad that Marsh struggles to reach it, and when he tries to crush the life out of it, he drags it to long-on: straight to long-on. Finch's cream-pie floater has drowned Marsh.

The next ball, Adam Voges, he of the cricket-defying Test average, can only mishit the ball near Finch and set off for a run. Finch, a throwback to when cricketers had a friendly middle of their body, runs, turns and throws as if his body was designed for each purpose, and Voges is out. Finch has two in two, his ground is rocking, his team-mates can't believe it, and Scorchers have gone from playing a blinder to playing blind.

Now it's Ashton Agar, who in two straight hoicks gets agreed-upon twos to the leg side. The 19 from 18, against an injured and malfunctioning bowling attack that needed Aaron Bloody Finch as the death bowler, is now three off one.

There is a chat about the last ball and I think about my day. Today I sat in a library talking cricket, watched a young man make a Test fifty at his home ground, thought about karma and its relationship to left-arm swing, and saw what looked like a tedious T20 match turn into a last-ball-to-win-it game. It was all cricket and I loved every part of it. We talk about cricket so much like it's in an ideological war with itself, and really, we might be in one of its greatest love-ins.

Where did that come from? Ashton Agar celebrates after striking the winning six © Cricket Australia/Getty Images

And I look at Finch. Aaron Bloody Finch, that flawed cricketer, the guy who nicks off to second slip like it's a religious imperative, who has never been the athlete that modern coaches want, who hardly scores runs in first-class cricket, and who, when he has too, rolls his arm over a bit. And I want Finch, Aaron Bloody Finch, to ice the game with his left-arm filthy doorknobs. I want it bad. Just one more ball, just get it down there, use that low-arm action, sling it, make it dribble into the outfield. If they get a one, Aaron Bloody Finch is a hero, if they get a two, it's a Super Over.

Finch doesn't find the low part of Agar's bat, he finds the middle, and unlike Marsh's attempt at playing a Finch full toss, Agar clears the field with his. The crowd, me, everyone, just yell, noise, everything. It doesn't feel like a long day now, it feels like a great day.

I ignore what appear to be thousands of conversations about Test cricket v T20 that cricket fans argue over. I think of this city, the place that held the first Test, which today held three games of cricket. Fans of all types, Test, women's and T20, cricket sadists and first-timers, kids and the elderly, left their homes, turned on their TVs, listened to their radios and opened up their apps to follow a whole day's cricket.

On the train home I think about the young me as the train I caught at Docklands Southern Cross passes the MCG's Jolimont station. Had you told him that he would have had the chance to have an entire day of cricket in his home city, he wouldn't have worried about rain or sleep, he would have been on that train as early as he could be, as excited as he could be.

Some will say I started at cricket's past before going to its future. In truth, I spent all day in its present. Today I went to two cricket games, followed another online, and when I finally get home, I'll watch another. It wasn't always a perfect day, but it was a total cricket day, I'm not sure I can make a prediction on the future of cricket, but I can say I loved my day.

When I get home, Sri Lanka are three down, and the forecast says rain again in Melbourne.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Prasanna on January 1, 2017, 23:38 GMT

    of-course, Test cricket is the ultimate. Don't see T20 as anything else but cricket's equivalent of the WWE. But that's just my opinion.

  • PJ on December 31, 2016, 19:20 GMT

    "but in Melbourne the surfeit is all good"

    Surfeit is, by its very definition, not good.

    Some synonyms: excess, surplus, abundance, oversupply, superabundance, superfluity, overdose, glut, avalanche, deluge; too much, more than enough, overindulgence, overconsumption, satiety, satiation.

  • Kevin on December 31, 2016, 13:57 GMT

    It's certainly a shame but cricket will end up with its own niche of sports entertainment (WWE style) which is T20. Other sports have had this happen recently and the 'true form' they once were has either evolved or completely changed. Football you have the Premier League / Sky which got that going again. Rugby you have the season switch and professionalism the list goes on with many changes. Test cricket itself has evovled continuously up to a point. Timeless tests, 6 day tests, 5 day tests. With the continuing popularity of T20 will the authorities be able to continue to change?

  • rob on December 30, 2016, 23:29 GMT

    Another cracking read from the Kimber machine. I think the important point from this article is that T20 and Test cricket aren't necessarily at war. The popular myth is that T20 and Test cricket are in some sort of Darwinian struggle for survival. It's assumed by many that T20 will emerge as the victor and Test cricket will go the way of the dodo. .. that's absolute poppycock. They actually bounce of each other and I can feel a nice synergy developing. I'm very happy to watch Test cricket during the day and T20 the same night. Mr Kimber feels it, and by god, I reckon I can feel it to. It's the way ahead and there's a clear opportunity here to grow cricket like never before.

  • Ashok on December 30, 2016, 21:21 GMT

    International Sport is entertainment. Profit is the motive for international sport. (Merely for exercise & fitness you don't need any international sport). That being established can test cricket make money on its own? Looking at all the empty stadiums and low pay, unlikely. At this moment it is a parasite that a good dose of medicine will exterminate.

  • Richard on December 30, 2016, 18:54 GMT

    CRICFAN78410571 ON DECEMBER 30, 2016, 0:49 GMT - They went off for rain 8 times over 4 days. The MCG is a result ground, son, there has only been one drawn Test at the G since 1997. You have egg on your face!

  • Venkat on December 30, 2016, 18:08 GMT

    Good on your Jarrod!. I watched "Death of a Gentleman" recently and its potrayal of test cricket was quite stark. It was shown that "the evil ogre"(BCCI) was more keen on playing more ODI's and T20's than tests. How wrong you are !. India play a significant number of tests in a calendar year. India even offers higher pay contracts to its test only specialist because they stand to lose on their potential IPL earnings. India also does it part by spreading test cricket to its most recent venues The indian calendar for the future is also filled with tests. Now tell me, whilst it was quite easy to point out all the bad things done by "the evil Ogre" , not a single good thing has been mentioned. What do you call this type of Journalism?

  • the placeholder on December 30, 2016, 17:46 GMT

    PUBLISH THE FANTASY FIELDING XI!!! Anyone here want to offer theirs? One for active players, one for all time would be great. I wish I knew more about non-English teams best and worst fielders but there's so rarely any detailed info on the subject.

  • Thomas66780 on December 30, 2016, 15:15 GMT

    Lovely article JK. I too found Aaron Finch bowling the last over an amazing spectacle. In fact, the last two times I laughed aloud were watching that last ball go for six and reading your description of Aaron Finch as a cricketer.

    I only started watching cricket three years ago, but since then, I've followed it devotedly. I honestly believe that exposure to cricket in general is the key to the survival of the sport. The fraction of the population who have the potential to enjoy Test Cricket is constant; the timeless appeal and complexity of the sport is still there; the variations that render it superior to watch to many other sports: it's just that they see less of it nowadays.

    All this moaning about the inevitable death of Test Cricket ignores the positive developments. D/N Tests are an exciting development. T20 leagues are going to get more people watching cricket. That is no bad thing.

  • Jude on December 30, 2016, 14:04 GMT

    Test cricket will not die. Day night tests are the future whether the purists like it or not. In fact, i think that day tests will probably be phased out by the end of the decade.For too long the game has been a batsman's sport and therefore the contest is eliminated. Batsmen of this generation have had it the easiest in the history of batsmanship. The twilight period brings the fast bowler in particular right back into the game and hence the contest is maintained

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