December 11, 2013

Test cricket, a companion to our lives

The format's leisurely pace allows you to monitor the proceedings while going about your daily routine

There's plenty of time to indulge in other pleasurable activities while watching cricket © Getty Images

Last month, I travelled to India with my family for a four-week vacation. As my wife and I quickly discovered, traveling long distance with a ten-month old infant is no laughing matter; very quickly, we found ourselves exhausted and worn out; for the first time ever on any trip I have undertaken to India, I found myself wishing I had planned a shorter one. I had not, as some of my fellow cricket fans might have surmised, planned this trip around Sachin Tendulkar's farewell, but nevertheless I was glad to be in the country when it did happen, happy enough to take advantage of this fortuitous coincidence. The sense of occasion was often palpable and I quite enjoyed monitoring the India-West Test series on television sets located in a variety of vantage points and venues: airport lounges, living rooms, coffee shops, restaurants, and on one memorable occasion, a shack on Goa's Baga Beach.

These varied monitorings of the proceedings of Test matches reminded me, as I often am, that a Test is quite a distinctive sporting event. Its length (and perhaps breadth) turns its following into one which is more similar to the kind of attention paid to other sporting events that are spread out over an extended period of time. In this dimension, a Test is not like a baseball game or tennis or football, to which it is often unfairly and inaccurately compared. Rather it is more like a golf tournament, spread out over several days, with advantage and momentum ebbing and flowing first one way and then the other, the distinctive set of numerical parameters associated with it ticking away, their changes of acute interest to its fans.

The old stories of fans who watch Tests - whether at the ground or on the television - with one eye on the proceedings are well known, of course. And given the time-consuming hurly-burly of modern life, it is entirely unsurprising that such partial attention is ever more common than it used to be. In my case, I had places to go, people to meet, a "vacation schedule" to conform to; there was little time for me to sit down, pull up a chair, put up my feet and pay undivided attention to the game. (I can only remember two such occasions during my trip - once at Goa, and once while waiting for some bank papers to be processed - when this sort of leisurely following was possible.) But a corner of my mind - a small one, but present nonetheless - remained concerned with the score and the evolution of its participant's fortunes. When the opportunity presented itself, I checked in, satisfied myself with an update and carried on.

I was not the only one behaving thus. At my uncle's residence in central India, a television in the living room - tuned to the live telecast of the Kolkata Test - remained on all day as household members went about their various engagements; every once in a while, someone would walk through the room, stop for a minute, watch a delivery or two, check the score and carry on; no one, it seemed, could ignore the game, even as their daily life's responsibilities ensured their preoccupation could only be a secondary one.

This is not to suggest the Test was relegated to background noise; it's just that a Test attracts all sorts of attention, and the measure of interest in this form of cricket cannot be judged merely by "bums on seats". A Test becomes enmeshed in daily life, in its rhythms and flows, in many different ways; its fans may even rely on its presence as a comfort of sorts, one that helps them deal with life's often anxiety-inducing pressures and restrictions.

Small wonder then, that the end of a Test is always marked by some melancholy. For a moment, something vital, a companion of sorts, has gone out of our lives.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 15, 2013, 9:41 GMT

    I agree with every word written in this article, but nowadays being a fan of test cricket is like being a loner or an orphan in this big world. What I mean is nowadays one is mostly surrounded with casual fans and youngsters who don't appreciate Test cricket at all, for them cricket is all about ODIs and T20. So, being a diehard fan of Test cricket, someone who loves the history of the game, the traditions, the literature, I feel, I can't express my excitement or share my feelings of this great game called Test Cricket with anyone around.

  • james on December 12, 2013, 12:36 GMT

    I grew up in the 1970s when international series were few and far between. Test matches captured the imagination of the public.There was more time to celebrate victories and more time to contemplate defeats.I do long for the days when one could savour the ebb and flow of a Test match without endless jarring commercial interruptions.Now I watch Test matches very briefly,a glimpse here and a glimpse there with the TV set always on mute.

  • Heezowt on December 12, 2013, 9:14 GMT

    Spot on Samir, and long may that continue. I cant imagine a life without a test cricket going on in the background, sitting there ready for you to check in on peridically for an update.

  • Dummy4 on December 12, 2013, 8:10 GMT

    Excellent article Samir. However, you need to remember that it is your (our) generation that is still interested in tests. Even today, wherever a test match is being played I make it a point to watch at least a session a day even if that means my boss firing me!!! That is the magic of test matches for our generation. However, if you were to talk to some of today's kids, even teens who were born in the late 90s you will be shocked a their lack of knowledge of tests. The fears of tests gradually decreasing is a genuine issue, at least in India. It is here that the BCCI should step in and take concrete steps to somehow make them attractive. Whether it is through day/night matches, free tickets, promotional campaigns on tv or using Sachin, whatever. No effort should be spared from teaching the younger generation of the excitements of a real 'test'.

  • james on December 12, 2013, 0:22 GMT

    I found the last paragraph particularly potent. I live in Abu Dhabi, and the last few weeks I have often filled my mornings with the Ashes, waking up in time to tune into the afternoon session. There is a distinct moment of shock and loss when one discovers that the English have folded again, as in the fifth day at Adelaide, and one has no more excuses for avoiding work!