By Harbour Heather
I pity those who don’t like sport, or don’t ‘get’ test cricket. It is the ultimate in reality television. Better than cooking shows or keeping up with famous families. Nothing is scripted. And the first session of the third day of play became the latest must-see sensation – the TB Show. If awards were handed out for this kind of thing, there would be no debate. Best breakthrough performance – Tom Blundell. Best supporting actor – Trent Boult.
Trent Boult trying to get Tom Blundell through to a debut century on his home ground became an edge-of-your-seat comedic thriller. The suspense. The nerves. The rise and the fall. The emotion and sentiment behind every dot ball. You couldn’t look away.
Not many would’ve showed up at the Basin this morning thinking Blundell would get a century (although the average probably increased in the biased hometown crowd on the embankments!). He had his number 11 at the other end, with a big lead on the board, and the Windies bowlers were keen to end the innings and put their feet up. Who knew what the directive was from Captain Kane – score as quickly as possible, or bat time? It was only Day 3, after all. Beginning the day’s play at 57*, there was no right to assume a century was on the cards.
The strategy which comes into play in moments like this, by both the fielding team and the two batters, is a thing of beauty and breathlessness. Will the less-capable player stand up to the test? Will he play his part in getting his teammate to the milestone? Or will he gallantly fall, having tried his best to last as long as possible, feeling burdened by his inability to support his teammate – especially with the added significance of this first test innings for Blundell?
Fingernails around the country shortened. The ins and outs as Boult squeezed out singles, or turned them down. The Windies fielders moving in and out of position, their bowlers changing line and length for each batsman (although not as well executed as possible). The applause for the inaction of a dot ball, knowing it was all part of the plan; controlling the strike for the best-possible opportunity for Blundell, or least-possible opportunity for Boult. The trust the debutant placed in his tailender. All ingredients in a storyline no one knew the ending of.
The Windies deserve to be both applauded and lambasted. They did bowl well at times, and restricted runs to put pressure on both players. Their fielding was tight. It became a game within the game. And in doing so, it’s almost like they forgot about taking the wicket which would end the innings.
There was the added narrative of a frustrating tenth wicket partnership, which are enjoyed by everyone except the fielding side and their supporters. Hearts were in mouths when checking ball tracking on numerous occasions. Who would’ve been sweating more – Boult or Blundell? And no doubt there was a national collective “NO!” at one stage when the 99th run could’ve turned into the 100th, but efficient fielding made that dangerous.
There’s nothing like watching a lower order batsman who knows what he needs to do technique-wise, and manages to pull it off, but with just a little less eloquence and execution than his teams mates. Awkwardly stamping down on yorkers, swaying out of the way of bouncers, backing up over-enthusiastically only to be sent back, then perfectly timing a ball straight back down the ground. It’s nerve-wracking and hilarious. Better entertainment and less predictable than any television programming.
Blundell himself was probably as comfortable as one could be on test debut. Playing on his home ground, where he has plenty of matches and plenty of runs. Up against an attack a team offering diminishing intimidation value. And safe in the knowledge that the man he’s replacing is due to return from injury – there was little pressure to claim a long-term spot at this stage. It would be no surprise if the man in his first test was much more relaxed than the 50-test player at the other end.
Adding to that, the game was well under control. There was no lead to chase down with time running out, no moral battle of self vs team. As far as debut centuries go, I’m not implying this one was easy, or undeserved. More that many stars aligned in his favour, and he made hay. He certainly didn’t seem to be in a hurry to get to the milestone. But when he did, the crowd exulted, equal parts relieved and jubilant. They had their money’s worth within the first 90 minutes of play. Although the shot that brought up the hundred did seem to be out of frustration more than anything. Evidenced by the six off the very next ball – the weight was lifted, back to having fun.
When the declaration came soon after, he had the glory of walking off alone to soak up the applause from his home town crowd. The leading man of the morning got his standing ovation.
You can’t script these things. It’s what every sportsperson dreams of, but is granted only to a chosen few. Who knows what is ahead of Tom Blundell, with Watling’s return imminent and Colin de Grandhomme making an emphatic claim for the vacant batsman spot. But the cricket gods shone fondly on him today. No matter what, he’ll always have the Basin.
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