“But the game lasts five days and there still isn’t a winner.” “But they were doing exactly the same thing three hours ago.” “But what’s the point?”
These are things frequently said by people who don’t like cricket– or, more particularly, test cricket. And I can understand… No. Wait. I can’t understand.
Australia and South Africa played a test match that ended on Monday. So, yes, the game started on Friday. They played for five days and there was, indeed, no winner. The match was drawn. Nobody got the points. But OMG, what a great game. There were so many twists and turns…
Australia were leading all the way. Thrashed the SA bowling all around the park on day one.
SA pegged things back a bit on day two. Bowled well. Batted well.
Day three, Australia got on top again.
Day four, Australia still on top. SA in an almost impossible situation. They couldn’t win. No chance. But they might… No, surely they couldn’t even manage a draw?
But they did.
Let’s look at the some stuff.
In baseball, the batter has to contend with the ball moving sideways through the air, though he knows that it will arrive somewhere around (if not in) the strike zone nine times out of ten. A batsman in cricket also has to worry about movement through the air, but there can be movement off the pitch. Sideways movement, variable bounce. These things are effected by the condition of the pitch. The ball will react differently on day one than it does on day five, for instance. It will change as the ball gets older. Cricket balls are used for 80 overs. That’s 460 balls (excluding illegal deliveries). How long is a bseball used for? And a legal delivery can be anything from a waist high full toss to a ball that bounces halfway down the pitch and zeroes in towards your head.
Faf Du Plessis, a SA batsman on debut, batted for nearly eight hours over the last two days or the recent test match. He faced more than 300 balls. How many pitches does a batter face in a game of baseball? In an entire season of baseball?
That is pressure. That is concentration. That is determination. That is test match cricket.
I love it when football (any type of football) commentators talk about teams being under pressure. Pressure? For how long? Five minutes? Ten minutes? An hour? Just how long is a game of football? Did I mention Du Plessis batted for nearly eight hours? And he didn’t have the rest of the team helping him out. There was just him and one other SA player out in the middle at any one time.
One Australian bowler was injured so Peter Siddle bowled more than sixty overs over the five days of the test match. After five days, he was exhausted. He could hardly stand. It’s on youtube. Go and have a look here… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zoSziWEC3E. But he was still bowling at 140km an hour.
How many pitches does a pitcher pitch in a game of baseball before he gets replaced? He throws down, what, 50 pitches? 100? 150? On about 8 hours, Siddle sprinted in and bowled about 180 balls at about 140 km an hour. Bowlers in test cricket have plans. They don’t just run in and throw the ball down there. They may bowl the same ball (or there abouts) to the same batter for half an hour, all the while setting him up for something different. Doesn’t work? Start again.
I’ve played a lot of cricket in my life, but my games generally only lasted two days. Two five hour days, not six. And those two days were two Saturdays. It was only in the finals where we played two full days back to back.
Even so, those five hours take a lot of concentration. You try to switch off between balls, whether you are batting or fielding. You try to stay alert, but sometimes you can stand in the field for an hour and not touch the ball. Sometimes all you do is wander from one side of the field to the other between overs. But try doing that in 40 degree heat for four hours. It’s exhausting.
That doesn’t matter, because the next one might come to you. The next one might be the one that changes the game. And if you aren’t ready…
As a batter, if you aren’t ready, if you switch off just a little bit, for just a moment, you may not get a second chance. You may spend the next day sitting on the sidelines watching. Or that might be it, it might be game over.
This isn’t baseball, you won’t get another chance in half an hour. It isn’t football where you get a chance to make amends on the next down, or the next set of six. If you make a mistake, if you’re having a bad day, there are no substitutes. You’re there for the whole five days, buddy. Suck it up and get over it. Contribute some other way. At five thirty in the afternoon, still be chasing the ball like you were before lunch. A bowler might not be getting wickets, but keep it tight, frustrate the batter for an hour and someone else may get the wicket. Runs and wickets are the way the game is scored, but there are a thousand little things you can do to play your part in the outcome.
The above may be a bit disjointed, but it’s late and there’s is so much about long form cricket that is hard to explain.
Test cricket isn’t just a sport, it’s a test of character and fitness and determination. I’ll admit, it’s probably not a sport that you can love instantly. But like life, it grows on you. As the hours tick by, you can come to appreciate the ebbs and flows, the little things, the build up of pressure, the release, the calm, the sudden burst of action, the turning on and off that builds into a sustained concentration.
I enjoy all forms of cricket, but T20 cricket is a nursery rhyme, 50 over cricket is a pop song, and test cricket is a symphony. And the other day, Australia and South Africa were a great orchestra.
(Here’s my other post about cricket, when I retired.)