On the joys of Test match cricket

Just before the start of the test series against Australia started, a colleague and friend in Australia shared this nice little article about the obsession for test cricket that we Indians and Australians share. This quote specifically stood out:

..walk through an Australian or Indian city on the morning of a big game and cricket breathes, swirls, lives. It leaks out of car radios and shouts at you from the front pages of newspapers.

Jonathan Liew, The Guardian

The imagery it brought back to me was one of how I “watched” test cricket in high school (which I promptly recorded in a series of tweets). We didn’t watch it all. We’d get score updates from teachers and then watch highlights with Harsha Bhogle or Alan Wilkins or some such brilliant commentary. Two awesome test matches later (as forgettable as one of the results was), I found myself thinking more and more about the joys of test cricket and how almost philosophical it can be. What follows is simply a meandering set of thoughts loosely on that premise. 


The IPL came at absolutely the right time this year. I was beginning to grow more and more impatient with the increasing ridiculousness that 2020 was serving up week-on-week, work was getting hectic, non-stop and generally frustrating. I had all but stopped paying attention to the time of day. Sometimes starting work at dawn and stopping only for a coffee/brunch at midday and then carrying on until I was hungry in the late evening at which point I’d gobble down maggi or some such instant food without paying much attention to taste as long as it satisfised my momentary craving. All things considered, just an absolutely terrible self-care routine (If my mom is reading this: I’m lying. This is obviously hyperbole, mom) (pssst it’s not).

And then the IPL circus came to town. Suddenly there was a routine. I’d wake up early, make myself breakfast and coffee and start work with the IPL playing in the background. By the time the game ended, it would be just in time for lunch. The pace of the game kept up with the pace pace of my life. It didn’t skip a beat and it fit in some much-need excitement at a time when anger and sadness seem to be the only two emotions I was capable of. I loved all of it. The ups, the downs and the unsurprising disappointment of being an RCB fan. For a couple of months, the IPL was this daily adrenaline shot straight into my veins. 

Eventually, the holidays came around. Suddenly with no work commitments, my life went, as my therapist put it, from 100mph to motionless in no time. I found it strangely weird in the initial days to get used to this pace and doing nothing other than occasionally reading and cooking. That’s when I found the cricket gods smiling on me once more but this time, by bringing back the joys of the test match cricket from the eastern shores of Australia to Brooklyn. I mercifully missed most of that disastrous first test thanks to the time difference with Adelaide which, in NYC time started at 11PM and ended in the wee hours of my morning. The timing of the second test was far more convenient- starting at 6:30PM and ending just after midnight. Strange time differences are par for the course for any sports fan in India. We’ve watched football games starting at 2AM and cricket matches starting at 4AM much to the annoyance of parents and school teachers.

Test cricket has a different rhythm. It’s slow, intentional, relaxing and yet, every bit as exciting as contemporary forms of the game. When I was in high school and there was a test match going on, I remember a few of us crowding at the entrance of the sports room where the teachers would tell us the score. It’s hard to focus in class after that so we’d come back during the lunch break or take a detour on the way back from the loo to check again until they’d shoo us back to class. Once I’d get home, I’d turn on the TV even before taking off my bag or shoes so I could catch the last half or so of the day’s play.  The day’s play would be analyzed only the following morning- not by the team management but by the people outside. Our school bus drivers, security guards, the RJ on the radio, sports teachers (but in hushed tones so that we wouldn’t gather around them to join in)  and of course, us – random 15-year olds who pretended like we knew more about test match captaincy than Sourav Ganguly. Ah what joy! Sadly, test match stadium crowds have dwindled over the years because the pace of our lives have grown more and more incompatible with that of test match cricket but in some places (as we saw in Melbourne), thirty thousand people will still show up and soak in the sun and cheer the vicious bouncer as much as they will a beautiful straight drive (or in the case of one Rahul Dravid, even his forward defense).

That the result was favorable to India is only incidental. When you invest 5 days on a single game, even if it ends in a draw, you somehow come away feeling more than satisfied. Of course, in this particular instance, the honor and prestige of Indian cricket was on the line and recovering it was first priority. Led by a diminutive Maharashtrian who was standing in for our regular captain, the Indian team won the game but more importantly, did some methodically and with the grace that test cricket demands. Session after session, every bowler and most batsmen took their time and did their jobs flawlessly. Seldom do plans come to fruition as well as that but it did this time and we’re all grateful for it. In many ways, an Ajinkya Rahane is custom-built for test cricket. He carries an aura of composure which is infectious in the same ways as Virat’s intensity is in the shorter formats of the game. Yet, when Rahane comes out to bat and strikes the ball as he does, he brings a certain graceful aggression that you associate with a VVS Laxman or a Rahul Dravid. (None of this is meant to the derision of Virat. It’s simply a contrasting, yet effective style and we live at a blessed time for Indian cricket where we have both in equal measure to pick from). 

Test cricket is played in the spirit of that old credence, “the journey matters more than the the destination”. Fans of test cricket are in it for the journey and my holiday evenings are set aside solely for that journey. It’s brilliant, really. How many other sports are considerate enough to stop regularly for short drinks breaks and a long lunch break and even a tea break?? So I’ve started treating my life like a test match. Plan for a week, execute session-by-session, remember to take breaks all the time and no matter the result, enjoy the process. Can’t get more meta than that! 

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