Monday, December 15, 2008

For the Love of the Game by Mouth of the Mersey

Football fans profess love for their clubs, tennis and golf fans may profess love for a player (say Roger or Tiger) and rugby union fans may profess love for the culture of the game. But cricket fans regularly profess love for the game qua game, not even as ex-recreational players, but simply as spectators.

On completion of the extraordinary First Test between India and England played in the aftermath of the Mumbai outrage, this love for the game was evident all over the blogosphere, possibly best captured by Silverflash from whom I quote at length and to whom I am indebted.

Maybe this game had India playing in a daze for 3 days, and England snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, but in the end analysis, this was so much more than just a match.

Today, I saw an old warrior battle it out at the site of one of his biggest personal defeats, when he came so close only to see victory slip away. I saw him shepherd a young turk through his impetuous moments, never letting him lose sight of the ultimate goal. I saw one of the best batsmen ever to play the game shackle every attacking instinct and apply himself to a task at hand, rejecting the natural for the necessary.

Before today, I had dismissed this series as too frivolously planned to make any sense. I dismissed any chance of England coming here and playing with all their heart. I called the entire exercise pointless. How wrong I was. Today I learnt that a team of sportsmen, shown the way by a charismatic leader, can raise what they do beyond just being a sporting spectacle, and make it mirror so much that all of life stands for, or should. The pursuit of excellence, the chase of a dream, perseverance in the face of adversity, the pain of loss, grace even in humbling defeat. Over five days, England stood shoulder to shoulder with my countrymen by fighting tooth and nail against them.

In the wake of what happened in Mumbai, I dismissed the return of the England team, forgetting what a Test match, played right, could mean.

Today, England and India have reminded me why it was so important that the game was played. That it ended the way it did - with the young turk giving the grizzled warrior the chance to reach his personal milestone while burying the demons of the past and the horrors of the present - made me remember why this is the king of all sports.

Amen to every word Sir.

My questions to pseuds are as follows. Why does Test cricket provoke such confessions of love? Does any other sport provoke such views (maybe baseball?) Does any other activity provoke such love (maybe opera?)


ringo37 said...

Timely comment, Mouth. Good stuff.

I'd say that cricket, like baseball, has a timelessness about it: it really hasn't changed that much over the years (in comparison with most other sports, anyway), so the casual fan (e.g. meself) rarely feels as alienated as, say, the modern football fan (e.g. meself).

I'd also suggest that Test cricket, alone among team sports, incorporates a uniquely demanding individual element: the contest of bowler vs. batsman has more in common with boxing than with any other sport, and presents the viewer with a profound and largely decontextualised personal - and therefore engaging - confrontation.

I think this makes sense; if it doesn't, blame the fact that 'm a bit pissed.

MotM said...

No Ringo - you're on the money, especially about the timelessness.

The players look a bit like us too don't they? Sachin and BC Lara look like slightly tubby shortarses and Glenn McGrath looks a lanky string of piss, whereas Mike Hussey is just indescribable because he looks like more or less everyone. And I love that photo of old pals Big Clive and Harry Pilling in conversation during one of their many stands for Lanky.

zeph said...

Ringo, yes, it's the contest of individuals within a team. Consider the different contributions of Strauss, Collingwood, Sehwag, and Tendulkar to the match we've just seen. MotM usually mentions the Tour de France at this point, but I can't think of any other sport where individual team members are so tested and exposed, and each have such a chance to alter the course of a match.

And after all (I can't remember who said this but) five days? that's not a game, that's a relationship!


Ebren said...

All games turn on moments, balls, shots, runs. All games need heart, and skill and passion to be at their best.

But few have the context. The five day slog, the ups and downs. Or maybe just the downs. And then in one play, one moment, one display of will, it all changes.

Baseball might have grand slams at the bottom of the ninth innings winning it all. But there has been no build up. A lack of context. Of play and counter-play between batsmen and bowler, captain and the man at the crease.

In cricket youu have duels lasting not minutes, but hours and even days and even over series. Atherton and Donald. Freddie and Gilespe. Warne against the world. Richards defying the age and predjucide armed only with skill, willow and elegance. Murali, eyes dancing, drawing an entire naiton under his spell.

The time, the relationship, the tension. The way cricket lets this build, mature, and then - in a ball - it is over.

That's why I love it.

Andrew Sherman said...

Why do we love cricket?

Test cricket is rare.

We watch it even if 'our' team isn't playing.

All the players wear the same colour (well they used to anyway).

It's a ritual.

David Barry said...

Another top-notch blog entry about the Test comes from Suave, who writes amongst other things:

Secondly, The England, you can all fuck right off, you bunch of jumped up little pissdrips. How the fuck do you lose a game from that position? By being weak cunts, that’s how. I’d like to rip your fucking hearts out, and stamp on them wearing my cricket spikes.

It's a good read.

MotM said...

Dave - that blog is harsh, really harsh (except the bit about Harmy!)

offside said...

Has anyone thought of composing an opera about cricket? A universal cure for insomnia, right there.

andrewm said...

Why is there such a gulf, in terms (seemingly) of interest, support, coverage and so on, between Test and county cricket?

Baseball fans may love the sport as a whole, but they also have their fierce tribal loyalties. From an outside perspective it doesn't seem that the counties inspire anything like that devotion. Are they really just a pleasant backdrop for the games that actually matter?

MotM said...

andrewm - The coverage of county cricket comapared to international is probably about the same as club rugby to international. Attendance is probably similar too when you think how many days of county cricket there are.

Suave said...

Hello all!

Thanks to David to adding a link to my humble site.

You boys have sent a fair few my way today, so thanks!

Double-six Greengrass said...

food for thought - and Suave is grand reading! - but I must mention that crown-green bowling and fives-and-threes also inspire feelings of love and elation- and they're not just for a number of 5-day matches in a (short) career, but for life.
Furthermore, they are complementary - fives-and-threes can be played all year, whilst crown-green bowling can be played on the odd day when "it's turned out nice again".

Double-six Greengrass said...

food for thought - and Suave is grand reading! - but I must mention that crown-green bowling and fives-and-threes also inspire feelings of love and elation- and they're not just for a number of 5-day matches in a (short) career, but for life.
Furthermore, they are complementary - fives-and-threes can be played all year, whilst crown-green bowling can be played on the odd day when "it's turned out nice again".

MotM said...

GG - I was with you all the way until George Formby!

Anand said...

Why does Test cricket inspire such feeling... let's see:

- Have an intense contest over two hours (most sports), then take a break
- Continue that contest over a 6 hour period, with another break in the day, then stew over the situation that has been created
- Repeat the process over 4 days, until (hopefully), things have reached the precipice of resolution, and let the tension build even further overnight by recycling history, regurgitating statistics and rehashing analyses
- Play proceeds along the knife-edge, your nerves are shot to pieces, ghosts of past failure blur perspective and performance.

And all this is when you are a spectator.

Now imagine what it is like for someone to be a spectator for large parts of a game, go through all this without being to influence the game directly, and then having to go out into the arena and turn it on at a moment's notice, knowing that what you do then could be the defining moment that wins or loses the contest.

Nowhere to hide (Panesar), found out as wanting even in victory (Dravid), leaving a mark in minutes that defines a result over days (Sehwag), embodying a nation's response to a crisis (Sachin), minor victory in a major loss (Strauss & Collingwood), major victory in a minor loss (England).

That it can reach these heights when played right is what makes those that play it well true legends.

To me, the king of all sports. Nothing even comes close.

minterolix said...

any other game ?

I think not. test match cricket is an epic that is fought by gladiators to give shape to a miniature of life itself in a span of 5 days.

the reason why test cricket evokes so much emotion is that we can identify the reflections of the larger world in it and see it evolve in front of our eyes.

the classic straight drive of an old warhorse sachin, the gritty struggle of a strauss or the sheer audicity of a sehwag smashing a delivery over 3rd man-- these are all emotions and events we identify with from our lives, some we experience everyday in our struggle for existence while others have the same excitement of a lottery ticket or finding the person of your dreams.

test cricket is life itself.
can it get better than that ?
don't think so.

regards from India.

Zephirine said...

Great posts, Anand and Minterolix!

MotM said...

Zeph - Agreed!

bluedaddy said...

This is all very well, but none of it solves the ultimate sporting enigma of our time - can Lamps and Stevie...

I'll close it behind me.

(Nice thread)

minterolix said...

on another note, I think most people are too paranoid about the demise of test cricket.

if any version of cricket is going to get dodo'ed, it is the 50/50 format. think why !


mimi said...

Test Matches in cricket are the pinnacle because they are played out over days. Test Matches in Rugby inspire extreme emotions but are still over in 90 or so minutes.

There is something strange but good about going to bed at night, or coming home from work (depending on where in the world matches are played) and being able to wonder what has happened in one's absence.

I think, as another poster has said, that the imminent demise of Test cricket is grossly overstated.

The fact that Chennai was sold out for most of the last Test is proof that the world does still value the five day form of the game.

Tweet it, digg it