Watching Test cricket can be pretty odd
It occurred to me, on the morning of the first day's play at Newlands, that watching Test cricket is a very odd way to spend your leisure time. It's harmless enough, indeed, compared to some pastimes, it's positively beneficial. For example, the military situation in East Asia would improve overnight if Kim Jong Un could be persuaded to ditch his rocket-building hobby in favour of Test cricket. After all, why would you want to see another dreary missile launch when you could be settling down to watch Dale Steyn take the new ball?
Still, it is odd. For a start, it's the only field of human sporting endeavour in which the warm-up is more vigorous than the event itself. For an hour or so, while patrons file slowly into the ground, they are treated to the spectacle of two troupes of brightly-attired professionals flinging themselves this way and that, jumping, leaping and rolling about the turf. Then the game gets underway, and everyone stands around, scratching their groins and yawning.
The first few overs were riveting. Well, relatively riveting. More riveting than riveting, for example, which even die-hard riveting fans will admit can be less than riveting. The opening hour was all about flirting, or the absence thereof. Hafeez and Jamshed are well-brought-up young men and know better than to flirt on holiday, besides; flirting with a Steyn outswinger is a foolish as flirting with a crocodile's wife. Ball after ball, they shouldered arms, not attempting to squeeze out the runs, because they knew the run fruit was not yet ripe.
But after a while, I noticed my eyelids felt a little heavier. In the background, I could hear the gentle buzz of the crowd, the repetitive calls of roosting South African slip fielders, the interminably tedious verbal interplay of Shaun Pollock and Mike Haysman, and I realised I had crossed that hazy border between Fascinating County and Boredomshire.
This led me to conclude that Test cricket is like stamp collecting. You can be engrossed in the minutiae, savouring the anticipation as you pick up your magnifying glass and settle in for a good long session of peering, sorting and sticking. But sooner or later, it will hit you that you are spending your time obsessing over trivialities that have no intrinsic excitement and are of no earthly use to anyone, and that it would be a lot healthier if you went for a walk.
But just as I was about to grab my coat and head out the door in the general direction of the cake shop, a catch went down. Next ball, Jamshed couldn't restrain his wandering bat and Pakistan had lost a wicket. Naturally, I sat down again.
So I suppose Test cricket isn't like stamp collecting, after all. It's more like bird watching. For an hour or two, you stare at a field and nothing happens. Your leg goes to sleep. Sometimes it rains. Then there's a burst of excitement and Younis Khan hits a counterattacking cover drive or Saeed Ajmal gives his first whoop of the match as he realises umpire Davis is in the process of changing his mind about that lbw business. And as long as you get a few of those moments, you forget about the boring bits.
Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England