Thursday, December 26, 2013
Outside it was 3 degree Celsius and windy too. At best it was butt freezing cold. Inside I sat hunched in front of my laptop, sweating profusely. My index finger started to pain tapping on that refresh button frantically, every 10 seconds. And finally it was all over when Dale Steyn lifted the final delivery into the stands with an expression which said “Fuck those booing”. I have no idea why or how I managed to follow the entire Test match on Cricinfo and look like someone who got hopelessly drunk after a college party at the end of it. Then again, Test cricket does that to you.
Test cricket touches your senses like no other sport. It stimulates and pacifies your soul at the same time. It does that by giving you infinite possibilities on a passage of play, or even a single delivery. Pitch, tea break, seam size, old ball, new ball, first day, fifth day, lunch, wind, dust, slope, swing, stance, shiny side, bounce, drinks break, moisture, rough outfield. No other sport has managed to combine even half of those variables and put them together to form a spectacle to captivate the audience, as much as Test cricket does. It can both pause and pace, with equally spectacular efficiency. I have watched Adam Gilchrist scoring a hundred in a session and also Rahul Dravid blocking his way to 12 from 96 balls. On both the occasions, it broke the backbone of the opposition. “It takes all sorts” was one of Peter Roebuck’s books but you will not find a better caption for something which talks about characters in cricket. Cricket’s ability to accept a supreme athlete as good as Jonty Rhodes along with a not-so-movable Inzamam Ul Haq with same nonchalance is what makes it an extra ordinary sport.
Venues play a part too. The boxing day test match at MCG is an yearly pilgrimage for many Australians. Eden Garden fills up for a Test match like no other ground in India. Rum, Reggae and Parties are essentials when cricket comes to Barbados. The Lord’s is still holy turf. They add to the theater and drama, as much as the cricket on show. In Eden Gardens, I have seen nothing happening for 60 overs and then a slow and rhythmic clap starting at one corner of the stadium. In a matter of seconds, it catches up with the entire crowd, egging the home team on. Then a wicket falls, and another in the same over. The crowd roars, as if a sound of approval. Suddenly a benign pitch start playing tricks, with batsman’s mind. In a matter of session, the opposition gets bowled out. Those who schedule Test matches at new stadiums, most of them suave engineering marvels, in upcoming cities with the emphasis on making cricket more popular, will never understand that feeling of watching Test cricket, accompanied with tradition and culture.
After 5 days of ebbs and flows, punches and counter punches, batting marathons and fiery spells, the Johannasburg Test match ended in a draw. Born and bred on Superbowls and knockouts, Americans will never understand how a sport can be played over 5 days and still ends in stalemate. Perhaps it was justice that neither team won. After the kind of cricket which was on show, finding a loser from either of those teams would have been cruel.
There were many who accused the batsmen for trying to be safe in the last 3 overs, than trying to win. But let us not forget that they tried to win for 133 overs faced with a target of 458, while most teams would have shut the shop after losing 4 wickets. That is the ramifications of having a 2 match series, for South Africa just could not lose. There is an argument that the great Australian team under Steve Waugh would have risked a loss while still trying to win that and there is truth in that. But cricket as much reveals character, culture, society and tradition as it enhances them. Unlike Australia, South Africa is a country which is still trying to recover from those apartheid years. Years when isolation and loss were the norms and those scars take time to subside. Cricket always reflects the society it represents, and as any recovering society will do, they chose safety first. Perhaps the chokers tag played a part too. Perhaps it was cricket’s way of showing that it can be fair too. Perhaps cricket decided to save me from a broken index finger and a sleepy day at work!