James Lawton: At the home of cricket, the game's heart must beat on

The vital requirement is that those in charge at Lord's understand that there is no long-term substitute for the enduring quality Tests have provided

It might have been yesterday when you saw from the Nursery End a performance from Glenn McGrath that not only defined so many of the glorious nuances of Test cricket but also ridiculed the idea that it was a form of the game already scraping by on the most deeply borrowed time.

Six years on, though, the great man is history and the debate is so filled with doubt and concern that another legendary paceman, Michael Holding, declares his fear that in one more decade the long game, the real game, will be "totally irrelevant". This means that at the dawn of the 2,000th Test match we have to do a little more than argue that there will indeed be a day to celebrate the 3,000th.

We have to say that if the revered "Mikey" is right to cry his alarm – and his disgust at the short-sightedness of the authorities – he is wrong to worry that irreparably cheapened, bastardised versions of a great game will be all that is available by 2021.

Wrong, because if sometimes we lose sight of the value of great things, if the publicists and money grubbers and opportunists and TV hype merchants would have us flit from one fad to another, pick up one hot item and put it down at the first hint of its cooling, there is always a chance that the quality of something fine and precious and, yes, irreplaceable will reassert itself.

It is certainly agreeable to believe that while there will always be a place for great novels and theatre and film, and enough people to find the time and the inclination and the critical antennae to enjoy them, the same is true of Test cricket.

In the end the most vital requirement is for those responsible for its health to understand that there is no long-term substitute for the enduring quality it has provided through all the days separating such as W G Grace and the man who lures us to Lord's most expectantly this morning, the Little Master Sachin Tendulkar.

This is the great challenge of cricket – not some endless chasing of new gimmicks, new ways of disguising the fact that the most essential values of the game are in danger of disappearing down some sinkhole of lost opportunity.

Yes, the grounds of the subcontinent are depressingly empty but every time this is pointed out there are accompanying explanations. There is the obvious fact of the quick-fire rivalry of one-day and Twenty20, the glamorising of them at the expense of the ebb and flow of the Test game, and a total failure to produce for it a strategy that might win back some of its old popularity. This is the failure of the ruling ICC while it chases down every available rupee in flashing green lights at the Indian Premier League and all its imitators.

Where is the attempt to reintroduce new generations to the mystique and the depth of Test cricket – and new pricing policies which would enable young and so often impoverished people to enjoy at least one natural resource of nations like India and Pakistan and Bangladesh? No one is saying there is some easy solution out there – no more than there is for the appalling breakdown of discipline and care which last year contributed so sickeningly to the shaming, at Lord's, of young Mohammad Amir, a potential jewel of the game and an example to millions of his disadvantaged contemporaries who was turned in a few tragic days into a pariah.

Australia's former captain Ian Chappell is no less withering than his old foe Holding. He says: "I don't have any major concerns with the concept of Test cricket – only the people running it. I'd feel more confident of the future if there was a vision for all three formats coexisting. At present it is a runaway train." One steaming to hell, you have to fret, but then we know that the ride will be engaging enough at Lord's these next few days. We know that, in the bowling of Jimmy Anderson and Zaheer Khan, Graeme Swann and Harbhajan Singh, we will see skills properly exercised and that pitted against them will be batsmen of the quality of Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid and V V S Laxman, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell.

We will see teams striving for the right to call themselves the best in the world, and about the contest is a fine balance and much intrigue.

There is also the grating possibility that Lord's, for all its appreciation of the competitive riches set before it, will be enjoying itself on a cliff edge.

Some at Lord's will tell you that what is happening is not official neglect but cultural sea change. Holding could hardly disagree more forcibly, saying: "Solution? Less cricket of all forms, control the abundance of Twenty20, more equitable salaries for Test cricketers. If nothing is done and things continue on the same path, in 10 years there might still be Test cricket but the standard will be low and the poorer countries will be playing so little." It is the meanest of possibilities because, if you take away the poorer countries, what do we have but a few First World, opulent cats nudging and pawing for prizes that used to be available to the leanest, most brilliant talents that cricket would ever produce – players like Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar and the one that slipped away, the flawed, dismissed Amir.

For the next few days, and the rest of this English summer, perhaps all we can do is hope that what we see is another reason to believe that Test cricket is too good, too valuable, to be left in the hands of those whose loftiest ambition will always be to turn a quick profit today and hope that tomorrow has something to offer.

What cricket most needs to understand is that what we have at Lord's is not an aspect of a game that can always be peddled in some way or another. It is the beating heart without which everything dies.

Indian curse at Lord's

If Australia thrive at the home of cricket – or did thrive, until their most recent visit in 2009 – then India find English cricket's headquarters far less amenable. Since their first visit to the ground in 1932, when they were well beaten by an England side boasting the likes of Herbert Sutcliffe, Frank Woolley and Wally Hammond, they've won just once and suffered a further nine defeats.

1974

India had won their last series in England in 1971 and there were great hopes that a side heavy on spinners and including Sunil Gavaskar could repeat the feat. Defeat in Manchester, however, was followed by disaster at Lord's as India were bowled out for 42, losing by an innings and 285 runs. Chris Old (5 for 21) and Geoff Arnold (4 for 19) did the damage for England.

1986

Eleventh time lucky for India as they finally tasted victory at Lord's, under the leadership of Kapil Dev. It was Dilip Vengsarkar who played the crucial part, hitting 126 before Kapil took centre stage to ensure that a run chase of 134 didn't go painfully wrong. India won by five wickets and went on to take the series after an emphatic win at Leeds.

2007

With India nine wickets down in their second innings and the light closing in, Monty Panesar trapped Sreesanth – or at least thought he had. Umpire Steve Bucknor turned down the lbw appeal, the Indians appealed for bad light soon afterwards and England's chance had gone. India won the series with a seven-wicket victory at Trent Bridge, where Chris Tremlett shone after worrying the tourists at Lord's on his debut.

Will Hawkes

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