The Geology of Test Cricket

The movie “Shawshank Redemption” is a treasure trove of quotable quotes. It is one of my favorites and I have seen it several hundred times. There are a couple of quotes that I love from it because they appeal to me as a cricket fan. “Every man has a breaking point” and “Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes really, pressure, and time.”

As I caught the last Test cricket action on this world trip that Kathleen and I are on, I kept thinking back to those quotes as the West Indies collapsed stunningly on the 4th afternoon in Cape Town. Morne Morkel represented South Africa for the post-day presser and echoed something that was tumbling around in my head about the beauty of Test cricket.

When asked whether he found the task of going against a lowly ranked team challenging, he responded thus: “The key, and this is something we speak about quite a bit, is “breaking points”. It’s important to push a team, whether we are batting or bowling, as far as we can. Whoever you play, the team that can sustain the pressure the longest and push those breaking points the farthest will come out on top. So for us, it was important to stay in the moment and… break teams down. When we are put under pressure, we absorb it well. That’s been the key to our success.”

Test cricket is an exercise in pressure and time. That’s all it takes really, pressure and time.

Earlier today, Jarrod Kimber wrote on Cricinfo about the impact of T20 on the Indian Test cricketers. Even though the Indians are blessed with all the natural gifts and skills, they haven’t been able to match their recent oppositions on overseas tours. They have had opportunities to win Test matches in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa but they haven’t been able to close the deal.

One could say it is just one of those things or acknowledge the fact that the oppositions have been able to absorb the pressure and push their breaking points further than India could.

West Indies suffer from the same disease. They have bright, talented, and experienced cricketers in their side. Yet, after putting up resistance for a while, they have collapsed in every single Test of this Test series in South Africa. Their bowlers have bowled well in patches but still South Africa has been able to inflict crushing defeats.

At Newlands, West Indies were building, through Marlon Samuels and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, to set up a sizeable 4th innings target. West Indies were 90 runs ahead with 7 wickets in hand. After a quiet period where South Africa were able to string together several dot deliveries, Samuels, in what can only be described as a brain fade, jumped out to attack the debutant offspinner Simon Harmer. He managed to only find the long on fielder. From 182-3, West Indies collapsed to 214 all out in the space of 15 overs, leaving South Africa only 124 runs to chase. It was a mindless shot without understanding the gravity of the situation by a senior player that is now in his 15th year of international cricket.

On the 5th morning, West Indies began well through Suleimann Benn and Jerome Taylor. It would take till the 45th delivery of the day for South Africa to progress from their overnight score of 9/1. Faf du Plessis took 28 balls to get off the mark. Benn consistently beat du Plessis and Taylor had Elgar in a lot of trouble, with several edges falling short of the fielders.

Even though South Africa only had a small total to chase, one felt that a few wickets for the West Indies there could make it a lot more interesting. It was Test cricket on tenterhooks.

But then the breaking point came. South Africa had absorbed the pressure and West Indies were starting to slack. Misfields happened. Errant deliveries were bowled. South Africa had pushed their breaking point well past what the West Indies could get to. They had outlasted their opposition’s capabilities.

du Plessis fell to a ripper of a delivery from Benn, the ball catching the top part of the blade to balloon to gully. By then the horse had bolted. Once past West Indies’ breaking point, the dam opened and Amla and Elgar made short work of the remaining target.

It is no surprise why South Africa are the no.1 Test side and why the West Indies are where they are. One team is able to be focused on the task, chip away consistently and constantly, sustaining pressure over a long period, and the other, well, not so much.

That’s all it takes really, pressure and time.

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