The Heavy Ball

The importance of being unwatchable

If you can't sit through plod-fests, three-hour fifties and a Mark Richardson innings, what sort of sorry excuse for a cricket fan are you?

Alex Bowden
New Zealand batsman Mark Richardson plays a ball to the leg side during his innings of 38 not out on the first day. 2nd Test: New Zealand v Bangladesh at Basin Reserve, Wellington, 26-30 Dec 2001 (26 December 2001).

The acid test: does Rigor give you rigot mortis, or make you spasm with delight?  •  Chris Skelton  /  Photosport

"I got as much pleasure from a good leave as I did from a cover drive," said Steve Waugh this week. Good man. That's the spirit.
Cricket supporters these days are spoilt. With Twenty20 and Virender Sehwag, they're seeing breathtaking innings on a regular basis. There's a very real risk that the art of watching dull cricket will be lost and that's something that we can't allow. Enduring six hours of two-an-over nothingness in the vague hope that something might happen is what separates cricket fans from followers of inferior sports.
Fortunately, several batsmen have stepped forward in the last week or so. Mike Hussey is only statistically interesting and that's the lowest form of interesting there is. He hit 134 in the second Test against Pakistan. Jacques Kallis' very name is a byword for interest-sapping ploddery - he hit 108 against England in Cape Town. Finally, in the Test prior to that, Alastair Cook produced the kind of innings that is often described as 'watchful' when 'unwatchable' is perhaps more accurate. He managed to make 118 despite hitting the ball solely to the leg side.
This is all good. Cricket fans need to be tested. For too long modern bats and shorter boundaries have given rise to run-fests. Spectators don't know how to graft any more. There are times when you need to dig in, show patience and hope that conditions improve later in the day, at which point you might be treated to a boundary or a run-out.
For batsmen, this sort of cricket is about watching every ball and maintaining concentration. For us at home, it's the opposite. We need to be selective, watching only occasional deliveries, saving our strength for when we're called on come the second new ball or when the old one starts to reverse-swing. At the same time, you need to be primed for action. If there's a sudden roar from the TV, you've got to be ready to look up, quickly evaluate the situation and shout: "Never! That was missing leg stump!" even if you're not entirely certain what just happened.
The other great benefit of this sort of cricket is that it weeds out the fair-weather fans. A good day of stonewalling from the batsmen is basically a cull. Anyone whose heart isn't in it will head off in search of 'fun' or 'excitement'. Meanwhile, those of us who remain can invest our time, knowing that it's our sport once again.
This might all sound rather selfish and you might not think that it's in the overall interests of the game. However, I firmly believe that you have to earn your enjoyment. It's a philosophical thing. You can only properly enjoy Sanath Jayasuriya if you've also seen Hashan Tillakaratne; you could only truly enjoy Nathan Astle's demented 222 if you'd also seen Mark Richardson labour his way to a seven-hour hundred at Lord's; and you could only properly celebrate England's 2005 Ashes win if you'd seen, well, any of England's matches in the nineties, really.

Alex Bowden blogs at King Cricket