For a game dead on its feet, Test cricket is doing amagnificent impression of being in the rudest health. When New Zealand defeated Australia by seven runs in Tasmania yesterday, it was the fourth electrifying contest in a month, the third in which all four results were possible going down to the wire.
The grandest sporting spectacle on the planet may need slicker marketing, smarter promotion and a higher profile but nothing could be a greater advertisement than the product itself. Like the recent thrilling matches that had preceded it, the Second Test at the Bellerive Oval was sparsely attended but every bit an epic.
At the start of the day, Australia were big favourites. They were 72 for 0, needing 241 to win. There were other reasons for Australian optimism: they led 1-0 in the series, had not lost any of the 10 previous Tests in Tasmania, had not lost to New Zealand in a Test for almost 19 years and not at home for almost 26. New Zealand had barely managed to see off Zimbabwe last month, eventually scraping home by 34 runs.
A wicket fell to the 11th ball of the fourth day before a run had been added. There followed a meagre recovery but, in a few minutes before lunch, the fledgling fast bowler Dougie Bracewell took three wickets in nine balls. What scalps they were too: Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey.
It was one of their short-form stars, David Warner, who kept Australia in the hunt. Plucked from club cricket three years ago to have a bash in international T20, he played a commendable innings.
Australia scraped to 192 for 5 before Tim Southee and Bracewell, neither of them born when their country last won in Australia, engineered more catastrophe. Soon enough it was 199 for 9, but Warner, with nothing to lose, and the No 11, Nathan Lyon, threatened to burst New Zealand dreams.
Twice the match might have been over. New Zealand had Lyon out lbw but the decision was overturned on review, and then they referred a not out decision themselves, this time for the original verdict to be upheld. But Bracewell, son of the former Test fast bowler Brendon, finished off the match, searing one in through Lyon's bat and pad. The series was drawn 1-1 and nobody who saw the match will forget it.
The match at Cape Town which started this recent sequence now seems like turgid stuff. South Africa, having been bowled out for 96, responded by dismissing Australia for 47, and then winning by eight wickets. Australia sneaked home by two wickets in the second match when a dropped catch when they were still eight short was crucial.
And then India and the West Indies produced a close one in Mumbai. The scores were level at the end, India were nine wickets down and the official result was a draw. The events in Hobart yesterday were what constitute icing on the cake.
Worcestershire have signed Australian Test opener Phil Hughes for the second half of the 2012 season.