February 16, 2013

Watching Test cricket can be pretty odd

Andrew Hughes
South Africa successfully appeal for lbw against Umar Gul, South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Cape Town, 2nd day, February 15, 2013
Mexican waves: always a pleasurable sight in cricket  © Getty Images
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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

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Keywords: Future of cricket

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Posted by Andrew Hughes on (February 18, 2013, 13:31 GMT)

Thanks all, for your comments, particularly to the cerebral Brucey for introducing me to the word 'fineties'.

Praxis makes an interesting comparison, although he is being a little unkind towards sparrows. It takes a certain amount of dedication to build a house out of twigs.

To paraphrase WC Fields, I like Test matches, but I couldn't watch a whole one.

Posted by Praxis on (February 17, 2013, 9:16 GMT)

I like watching test cricket. I like spending my weekends in front of my TV idle, without any worries. I think if one enjoys watching bowling more than batting, he would like test cricket more than T20 or ODIs.

I also think watching test cricket is something like reading a novel. Where T20 is something akin to a pop music video, you can't take pop music very seriously. Having the attention span of a sparrow won't help much either.

Posted by Sarthak on (February 16, 2013, 18:02 GMT)

In the shorter formats we are always expecting something scintillating to happen. This has spilled over to Tests as well. Now it is common to feel bored if nothing exciting happens for some length of time. If Dale Steyn takes the ball we immediately expect him to take 1 or 2 wickets in a spell or from the batsman we want to see, 'at least a boundary every now and then'. Test cricket actually allows us to relax and not constantly boil with excitement. I guess, we need to cure this excitement fever, its turning into an epidemic of sorts. Tests can't live up to our increasingly problematic demands for cricketainment. It's rather we who have to re-adjust to it - that would help cricket and help us!

Posted by GeorgeS on (February 16, 2013, 17:58 GMT)

Test cricket is a sport that is NOT about instant gratification. It is a sport where you have to understand the game well in order to appreciate it. There is nothing more graceful than a beautiful cover drive or off drive .

The game takes a while to set up and most of action is revealed in the second innings of the game.

That is when the men are separated from the boys.

This fact is clearly reflected in a lot of the more popular teams today that are T20 champions but has the stamina of a jellyfish when it comes to the five day test matches.

Posted by Paul Clarke on (February 16, 2013, 15:02 GMT)

The predictablility of T20 is something I find dull. There are about 5 different "templates" that all games seem to go through, of which 4 are dull. Test matches have time to develop a lot more variation in plot. High scoring first inning - exciting run chase (the only really good one - and accounts for maybe 1 in 30 games) High scoring first innings, match over 3 overs into run chase as wickets fall. (starts well, then dull, crowds left stadium with 8 overs of the match still to bowl) Moderate score first innings, side batting second plays sensibly for the win. (Dull) Moderate score first innings, side batting second succumbs to scoreboard pressure (Not bad, essp if you support first team, but not really that good either) Low scoring game where even the standard "excitment" "6's" and "4's" are hard to come by. Might as well be a 50 over or test match game. No time for twists, for rear guards, for bowlers. T20 is an instant fix cricket for baseball lovers

Posted by Brucey Bunting on (February 16, 2013, 11:19 GMT)

If you have no attention span, then yes, Test cricket it boring. If you're cerebral enough, you can appreciate the fineties and nuances of it. Maybe you should stick to the more formulaic and predictable formats like ODIs and T20s.

Posted by avimonk on (February 16, 2013, 8:34 GMT)

that was damn funny... It reminds me how much test cricket is similar to life.. it is boring and then fascinating... You do the grind of life imagining why you are doing it in the first place and then finally something happens and you feel whoa great or shit and then you get back to the grind...

Posted by walter on (February 16, 2013, 7:43 GMT)

....well sometimes but not when you are watching in the subcontinent or WI. There the relation between the on field and off field action is more lively...quote the way u want to spend your leisure time. The situation described above should not be generalized as it belongs only to Anglo cricketing cultures I believe.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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