Chris Rattue: Tests show their class in Twenty20 world

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Test cricket roared back into life in Perth this week and even the less glamorous clash between New Zealand and the West Indies in Napier put out a thumb and hitched along for the ride.

What a fabulous occasion at the WACA although not for the Australians, whose captain Ricky Ponting was overly eager to claim the pitch was too good yet he struggled to offer the same thought towards the South Africans.

Like many great sporting sides in decline, the Australian captain's natural reaction is to point out that old standards are not being met, rather than hand over a baton which says an opponent has deservedly won.

Test cricket though is quietly roaring, and Australia can take some heart because they deserve a huge amount of the credit. They have set tremendous standards, and figured in most of the best series.

Yes, we owe Australia a lot, but they also need to realise that they can't always rule the game. Anyone who loves sport, and saw the pack of South African players encircle and hug their captain Graeme Smith at the end, could not fail to be touched by their unadulterated yet respectful joy.

This South African team is a talented unit toughened by Smith's fire, yet they are neither cynical nor gloating. It will be fascinating to see how the brooding Aussies respond.

There is no more enchanting sport on the planet than a riveting five-day test match. And as Australia looks inwards at a player production line that has been hit by a recession, the rest of the cricket world is celebrating a bailout for the game.

Australia needed to be beaten this year and a new order established to put life into the old darling. To have seen what is a faltering Australian side win convincingly yet again would have signalled that the game had lost heart.

Instead, the young men of South Africa steeled themselves for a big run chase and achieved it in a canter. India took Australia down a peg or two and now South Africa has a chance to hang them out to dry. Even England are talking about moving in for another Ashes kill.

Back in this country, if you could ignore what sounded like impromptu advertorials that leaked out of our Sky commentary team thanks to the presence of Martin Crowe, five days of solid test action from Napier did its best to contribute to the class of test match cricket and its refusal to go under.

We never thought the day would arrive when cricketers could earn telephone numbers, but it is even more surprising to find a commentator who dishes out 0800 numbers for restorative cures. It certainly shouldn't make the rest of us feel better, but the cricket certainly did. Neither New Zealand nor the West Indies is a great team, but they've conjured up a match that has been tense and entertaining. Who said test cricket was dead, and why should the game face such a challenge from within?

Twenty20 might be all the rage, but it is an unsatisfying and sugary sap compared to the grunt and graft of the wonderful test game.

New Zealand is being inspired from the tail, where the springing step and grafting guile of Iain O'Brien is an antidote to the frivolous waste that is sitting at the heart of the batting lineup. Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder and Brendon McCullum are in danger of digging their careers into a hole.

O'Brien spoke for many of us when he talked about the true joy of test matches, including the treasuring of dot balls. Soak up the wonders of tests and let that meaningless Twenty20 nonsense bleed I say.

There are hints of mildly promising signs for this New Zealand side, especially when they play at home. But the way the batters are disappearing suggests that the Twenty20 dollar sign is still the main glint in their eye.

There is a need to rediscover test class and basics. The TV commentary leader should do the same.

- NZ Herald

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