The boundless variety of our sport
In the space of just about 24 hours, the grand old sport of cricket managed to make me silly with excitement - twice. That's a good thing, you'd think; except for the fact that the reasons for my excitement are so completely disjointed that explaining my joy to non-followers of the game has made me, and the sport, look quite absurd. Thanks a lot, cricket.
Bangladesh faced Pakistan in the Asia Cup a few days ago. The Tigers posted a formidable score, and the Pakistanis chase of the target made for effervescent viewing. I was in ecstasy when Shahid Afridi, the master of fluctuating fortunes that he is, smashed sixes in anger all around the ground. Nearly at the finish line, 'Boom Boom' skied a catch into the night which Mushfiqur Rahim managed to floor under the weight of pressure and to cries (literally) of agony. Umar Akmal and Fawad Alam, lesser known names, tonked some boundaries of their own before engaging in a senseless run out, and Pakistan eventually got home with only a few balls to spare. In context, the Asia Cup's standings were affected by Pakistan's escape act, and a spot in the final of the tournament was guaranteed. The pursuit of a clear goal was furthered, and I was left mopping my brow after an entertaining contest.
What's the takeaway? Using this match as a snapshot, cricket seems like a mad sport, full of loops and twirls and twists and turns. It is tournament style, with a title in mind, driving the nations to battle for their goals. That's cricket.
Not even a full day later, I find myself again glued to my screen in analysis of cricket. But what is happening before me? Two South Africans are batting, and the eleven Australians fielding are absolutely fierce. The action on the pitch amidst this tension: Block. Defend. Prevent. Beware. Focus. Test cricket. Cricket, yes, but wholly transformed. South Africa are scrapping, crawling, aching to conjure a 'saved' game. They are not going after a win, they simply want a non-loss. Limited overs cricket would cue the scoops, scrambles and scampers to chase like mad. Test cricket is a different beast; Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn employ verbs of utmost care: Block. Leave. Bobb. Weave. Persevere. Save. Defend. Defend. Defend. That's cricket.
I was so moved by these undulating narratives that I started compiling this essay of my thoughts. What, exactly, am I a fan of when I claim cricket fandom? Surely, while both cases are cricket, they aren't the same thing. Is calling myself a 'cricket fan' an easy way out of distinguishing between instant gratification versus attritional competition? Can one like both, equally?
It's hard to say. Maybe cricket is not about choosing between the fastfood drive-thru or the fine dining establishment; to take the metaphor further, maybe cricket is a large and varied buffet. Yes, cricket is a buffet of options. Choose as you please, take a little bit of everything, and enjoy as you will. That's cricket, it seems.
Formats ought not to be deemed dead, or dying, or roaring, or anything. Cricket, it appears, is all about tastes, choices, options and opinions. I'll watch a crazy ODI one day, a nail-biting Test the next, and dream about the World T20 that starts in a few days. I like having the choices. So what if they are, quite frankly, night and day in so many ways. They are all from the same evolutionary tree, and that's good enough for me. Whatever you fancy, that's cricket.
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