In the fury of the moment - with the advantage shifting by the over and every act appearing to have far-reaching ramifications - it can seem that the result of games like this is everything.
And it is true, the 90 minutes or so of cricket we are likely to see from Edgbaston on Saturday will have consequences for many of those involved. Lose this Test, in these conditions, and the pressure on England - not just their underperforming batsmen and fielders, but their coaches and administrators - increases markedly.
If India lose, meanwhile, Virat Kohli's valiant attempts to paper over the cracks in his side's batting line-up will be thwarted. Reputations, egos, careers, perhaps even lives could be altered by the events of Saturday morning. At such moments, it can feel as if defeat is unbearable.
But it's not so. Not for those of us who are spectators, anyway.
In the grand scheme of things, it matters most that it matters at all. It matters most that, here we are, 1,000 Tests deep, and this grand old game remains as beguiling, as entertaining, as magnificent as ever.
Of course Test cricket has its problems. The ticket sales for this series - for almost every series - tell us that loud and clear. We're fools if we don't heed those warnings.
But this game has provided a reminder that the Test game - the product, if you like - can still thrive in the modern world. Given decent weather, a decent pitch and two decent sides, Test cricket can remain as compelling as it ever has been. It can hold its own in the age of T20, Love Island and the Kardashians. England could play another 1,000 Tests, given half a chance.
Edgbaston has a reputation as something of a party ground. Fancy dress, stag nights, beer snakes and congas: all are regular sights here. And there's nothing wrong with any of that: it reflects our changing society and the way cricket has had to market itself not just as an entertainment product, but as a backdrop to a different form of entertainment.
Over the last few days, though, we've seen little of that sort of thing. Instead, we've heard that lovely hush that settles over a ground when the action is so riveting that nobody needs a distraction. When James Anderson was running in to Kohli, for example. Or throughout India's second innings. When every ball seemed to threaten a wicket and every run erode that modest target.
So you could hear the batsmen tapping their bats on the pitch or the bowlers thumping their front feet down. And, when ball beat bat, you could hear the intake of breath from everyone in the stadium. Even the man in the Kim Jong-Un mask - at one stage he exchanged inflatable missiles with the man in the Donald Trump mask - even the nuns, the Tarzans, the Elvises (what IS the collective for lots of Elvises? A jailhouse? A Tender? A heartbreak hotel?) sat in rapt attention. The cricket demanded it. Nobody needed gimmicks.
There are lessons to learn here. Among them is this: the game - at least the first-class game - remains more entertaining when the ball slightly dominates the bat. We don't want circumstances where batting is a lottery - irregular bounce, in particular, is best avoided - but there is little that's more damaging to the game than dull surfaces (and dull balls) where teams can amass vast scores and bowlers are reduced to patience and attrition. Even if those games eventually produce a winner, it does not justify it. A rock fall might be dramatic, but the thousand years of attrition that led to it would not make compelling television.
Nothing - not match-fixing, not drugs cheats, not ball tampering and certainly not broadcast piracy - threaten the future of the game more than dull pitches. The Ashes Test in Melbourne, for example, or the Trent Bridge Test between these sides in 2014, were far more damaging to the long-term health of the game than players mimicking mic-drops. The ICC really need to focus on the things that matter.
Nor is this match the aberration some would have you believe. While there have been relatively few tight Tests involving England over the last few years, there have been compelling series against Pakistan and South Africa, a stirring victory from West Indies in Leeds and a breathless finish in Chittagong.
In a different age, several members of this England side might be household names. Joe Root, for example, is surely a better batsman than Mike Gatting or Allan Lamb: but who is better known? Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes, too, probably offer as much excitement as any players England have ever had. Not so long ago, a generation of kids would be in the park tomorrow 'being' Sam Curran.
Had this Test been available free-to-air, there is no reason millions would not have immersed themselves. Heck, it's not so long ago the nation was glued to a few days of curling or a TV show about baking.
But there's the rub. Not enough people are seeing our great game. And while we continue to hide it behind paywalls, while we continue to meddle with the start times (the third day here should have been a Saturday, allowing more people to follow the action), we risk reducing its relevance and diminishing its audience.
It doesn't need new competitions and another thousand sets of plastic bats and stumps to thrive. It doesn't need five-ball overs, 12 players a side or any other gimmick.
It needs the oxygen of publicity. It needs that more than anything.
Cricket remains, whether played over 50 overs, 20 overs or five days, a wonderful sport. If we could just get a few more people to see it, there is no reason each format should not thrive. And had this Test been available free-to-air, there is no reason millions would not have immersed themselves in every twist and drop and edge in the same way millions immersed themselves in every kick of England's World Cup campaign. Heck, it's not so long ago the nation was glued to a few days of curling or a TV show about baking.
The ECB's new broadcast deal may be lucrative, but they must reflect that not every cost can be measured in pounds. And if all the money they make from the new broadcast deal has to be reinvested in finding a new audience, isn't that money just fool's gold? Even billionaires suffocate without oxygen, after all.
Edgbaston reminded us we've something special here. It needs nurturing and protecting but it can still thrive.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo