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July 17, 2008

Samir Chopra

Testing times

Samir Chopra

On Sunday July 6th, as the Federer-Nadal final moved into the fifth set and into another cluster of deuces, a Federer-loving friend simply stopped watching the television and started doing the dishes instead: the tension had grown to be too much for her. I looked at her and sympathized. While this particular tennis match did not evoke that same reaction in me I knew from past experience, exactly what she was feeling: a tightening of the gut, a nausea whose phenomenology is distinctive, a holistic anxiety that seems to pervade every atom of one's being.

Ever since I started worrying about the ebb and flow of fortunes in the world of cricket, this sensation has been my constant companion during moments of play when it seems the entire fate of the universe hangs in balance. Of all the blessings that cricket has brought into my life, this has been the most mixed one. Without it, the release engendered by the latest development in the match in front of me is not quite as euphoric; when Ponting was caught by Dravid off Ishant Sharma at Perth earlier this year, my yell and air-punch must have woken up my neighbours. But experiencing it is never pleasant; be careful of what you are wishing for when you ask for a "good, hard, closely-fought game."

Examining my past in this regard, I am inclined to say that one truly becomes a cricket tragic when you allow the game such access to your emotions. I suspect it should be possible for most serious fans of the game to point to a cluster of moments in one's cricket-watching career when this became evident. And it is the slow-build up and development of this suspense that marks a Test match as the highest form of the game. Nothing else quite gets into your system the way a Test match on a slow flame does.

Indeed, one of the reasons why I welcome one-day internationals is that it provides a way for me to watch cricket without some of the intense anxiety generated by a closely-fought Test. While the closing stages of a one-day international often provide the kind of drama that triggers such a tension, these moments are brief, the tension has not been sustained over a long period of time, and more to the point, one-day international finishes have become clich├ęd over the years.

Of course, when a great deal hangs on the outcome of the game, like say, a tournament final, the same tension can be approximated; I certainly remember experiencing this emotion when Dujon and Marshall inched their way towards 183 in 1983. And I'm certain South African and Australian fans' stomach linings were damaged during that 1999 World Cup semi-final. But could anything come close to the tension I felt as Tendulkar inched toward what would have been a famous win at Chennai in 1999? Nine years on, and I still feel the pain. But 18 lost finals later, including the latest Kitply and Asian cup fall-downs, I'm relatively impervious to the pain of a one-day international loss. It just doesn't mean as much.

Twenty20 losses and wins mean even less. When Sreesanth was getting underneath that Misbah skier, I did hold my breath, but had he dropped it, and had Misbah smashed a four off the next ball, I would have resumed my long walk down Coney Island Avenue, away from all those cheering Pakistani fans, had a beer or two, and felt just fine. I would have been incapable of such sanguinity post-Chennai.

Kingsley Amis famously wrote of the metaphysical, and not just physical, hangover caused by excessive drinking; a bad Test loss can do just that, failing to provide relief for this most insidious of sporting emotions.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by Maithreyi on (August 7, 2008, 8:32 GMT)

Wonderful article. Closely contested Test matches certainly set the heart pumping, and I still remember sobbing after India's Sydney loss earlier this year.

Being a relatively young fan of cricket, though, riveting ODIs and Twenty20s move me in a similar manner. I still shiver and whimper while watching replays of the last over the Twenty20 final - and then experience that adrenaline-boosting exhilaration of victory all over again.

Still, I have to admit the effects of Test victories/losses are stronger and linger longer. The recent Bangladesh tri-series final loss made no impression (what an unnecessary tournament that was) and the Asia Cup final loss was marked more by irritation and wonderment that this Mendis character came with a magical performance out of nowhere to deny India a match that seemed theirs for the taking.

Posted by Madan on (July 21, 2008, 10:26 GMT)

Great article. But I am going to take up the comparisons between Test and T20. I don't think that if the Bangalore Test between India and Pak last year had turned out to be a cliffhanger (ha!!) and India had ended up losing, you'd have felt as disappointed as after the Chennai loss. Goes to show the charm of India-Pak rivalry has faded a lot. On the other hand, everybody in the neighbourhood oohed and aahed, shattering the silence of the night, during the India-Aus semi of the T20 cup and I would have been heartbroken if Hussey had pulled off a jailbreak from nowhere. It cannot - as you rightly said - compare with the sense of anticipation on the morning of the fourth day of the Perth Test. But you also feel part of a relatively lonely club as only a minority seems to see the same things in Test cricket as I do or other fans of Test cricket. A T20/ODI triumph on the other hand brings the town down. Different experiences, but I can't choose between them.

Posted by Ganga on (July 18, 2008, 22:17 GMT)

Great Article. I don't know how many times i experienced this. I still don't understand why i am unable to control this tense feeling. Thanks to you, i recall why exactly i switched off TV for federer-nadal match. I also, say, if you emotionally attached to something, really it is difficult to control emotions. In my case, my heart always beats higher when sehwag comes for batting.

Posted by siddharth on (July 18, 2008, 12:32 GMT)

I remember the 3rd test inthe AUS tour of WIndies in 99( the lara series), lara was battling with the last 2 fro support and when ambrose got ou, walsh came in to bat. it was early morning in india, and i was at the edge of my seat with mcgrath bowling to walsh. this and proabably the WC99 sf were the two most tense cricketing moments for me...

Posted by Subramani on (July 18, 2008, 9:44 GMT)

I was there and experienced the best and worst moment... Chennai 99 ...I cried I was mourning for 3 days Chennai 2001 oh what an elation it was...i walked my way back home jus laughing (it was 6km walk)...i had some much energy after such happiness...

Posted by Michael Jones on (July 18, 2008, 9:26 GMT)

I'm reminded here of Keith Miller's comment "Pressure is a Messerschmidt up your arse - playing cricket is not." By all means enjoy a tense finish, just keep it in perspective.

Posted by Sreecharan on (July 18, 2008, 7:59 GMT)

Exactly, and this is one possible area where I believe soccer scores over most other international sports and probably thats why it is more popular. Football provides for many more compelling close matches than I have seen in both cricket and tennis or any sport. The sudden death rule in extra time few years before and there probably is none to match it. the Arg V Eng match of 1998 world cup and nothing beats it as simple as that. Infact we had a few close shaves in this years Euro aswell.

And much contrary to the author's impression I believe its the smaller formats of the game which produce these emotional moments much more often than the test cricket, though test cricket might produce one gem once in a while but one has to wait many years for that and quite truly the last one of that kind was the Sydney test but before that one you need to go as far back as Ashes -05 to find a compelling test match

Posted by ISHTIAQUE on (July 18, 2008, 7:45 GMT)

Yes I can easily remeber the nervous moment when my memory dates back to 1988. Pakistan was playing against the mighty West Indies in Barbadose. It was the last test and Pakistan was leading 1-0. To level the series, West Indies were given a target of 260 odd. I was listening to the live radio commentry and hoping Pakistan could wrap things up. Indeed West Indies were 7 down for 180. Then few close decisions turned down and West Indies won by 2 Wickets. Viv Richard even cried after that victory. A truly great match and series. Perhaps the only occasion the Windies in 80s were challanged in their home soil. I still feel my dissapointment for Pakistan not wining the match and series. One must say that this 1988 series was a exhibition of quality and hard faught series. After that hardly any series matched that series. You can say 2005 Eng V Aus, 2001 Ind V Aus. But trust me that I was series that I enjoyed most.

Posted by Ashwathnarayan on (July 18, 2008, 7:19 GMT)

Looks good, maybe that's the beauty of test matches!

Posted by Dnyanesh Nadkarni on (July 18, 2008, 7:08 GMT)

Nice piece...One thing you could have elaborated on is the quality of commentating that is also so important. Who can forget the excitement in Tony Greig's "Its a sssssssix...". Also when watching capsules at a later stage on one of the sports channel...the mixing of music (typical one is of heartbeats)takes it to a phase where sport and entertainment mix. Remember watching one capsule where Sachin in his majestic "desert storm" form against the Aussies was interrupted by a Sharjah "desert storm"...The shot showed Sachin waiting outside the boundary as if willing the storm to subside...The voiceover had Ravi Shastri saying "As long as there is Sachin...there is hope". Got goosebumps just typing this mail...

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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