The beauty of Test Cricket

For some, it’s the perfect utilisation of time, for most, it’s a complete waste. For some, it signifies enjoyment, for most, it signifies boredom. It means everything to some, it means nothing to most. For some it’s life, for most it’s lifeless. In a nutshell, this is what Test Cricket is.

When people ask me how I have the patience to even watch, let alone love a game spread over five days, I often find myself struggling to open my mouth. It’s because there’s so much to say, that mere words don’t seem enough. It’s because there’s so much more to Test Cricket than what appears to laymen. It’s because there’s a whole new world that you set your eyes upon when you explore the beauty of Test Cricket. When you start exploring this beauty, you start understanding what Test Cricket is. It starts meaning life to you.

When I actually sat down to think why those five days of non interesting matches filled with dead bat defences, balls left alone, often defensive bowling ploys still give me joy, still give me a feeling of satisfaction, still make me not want to stop watching it, I had just one answer.

It’s because that beautiful cover drive, that perfectly directed throw from cover point or that match winning wicket was worth it all, the five days of dead bats and defensive bowling strategies.

It’s very tough to comprehend how one moment makes the entire match worth it. How it forces you to watch it over and over again, how it makes you think about it at length, how you can have endless conversations about it with fellow enthusiasts. There’s actually no answer to it. That one moment, of sheer brilliance, just makes it all worth it.

And when these moments happen to be game changing ones, your hair stands on end, you get goosebumps. You feel a rush of adrenaline, you imagine yourself to be in that player’s shoes. It’s insane, it’s unreal. It’s what Test Cricket does to you.

Remember Andrew Flintoff running out Ricky Ponting in the last Test of the 2009 Ashes. It’s moments like this which make Test Cricket worth it, it’s moments like this which make life worth it.

When you have had a pathetic day at work, or fought with a friend, when everything seems to be going wrong, these moments will always to be there. To give you joy, to tell you that life is worth it.

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Cricket’s dark art

It’s Cricket’s dark art. It’s unpredictable, it’s uncertain. It’s a provider of moments, both magical and horrible. Beautiful to watch when it comes off, painful when it doesn’t. It wins your team matches one day, it wins the other team matches the next. It’s the perfect gamechanger. It’s the perfect gamble. It’s an art whose imperfections make it perfect, an art which requires a certain level of insanity to practice it. It’s the art of bowling leg spin.

A hundred years into Test Cricket, leg spin was dying. Some would say it already had. Then, along came a certain Shane Keith Warne, who made leg spin popular, who made leg spin ‘cool’, who made the practice of humiliating batsmen through spin and flight fashionable.

In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, he inspired millions of kids to take up leg spin. Everyone wanted to be Shane Warne, but they couldn’t, for Shane Warne wasn’t human. He never bowled bad balls, he rarely leaked runs, and he always picked up wickets. This wasn’t the reality of leg spin bowling, as those inspired by him would have realised. It was a lot more.

Leg spin is as much about getting hit for runs as it is about taking wickets. It’s as much about bowling long hops as it is about bowling vicious googlies. It’s as much about dealing with defeat as it is about celebrating victory. It’s as much about having mental strength as it is about having knowledge of the art.

It’s all about the courage and will power. It’s all about juggling success and failure. It’s all about the mind. This is why it requires a certain level of insanity to practice this art. It’s too tough to handle for a meek person, it’s too tough to handle for a normal mind.

There are certain things in life which can be perfected by regular practice. You work hard – day in, day out – and you become brilliant at your art. That holds true for most things in life. Leg spin is not one of them. It never will be. It’s not that easy, it’s not that predictable.

When a leg spinner marks his run, and gets ready to bowl, all those hours of practice help, but only to a very limited extent. It all depends on how the ball is going to come out of his hand, on how much of a rhythm his body creates, how much luck favours him that day.

Leg spinners, unlike fast bowlers or off spinners, always need to be prepared for a hammering. It’s one of those things that comes with being a leg spinner.

This is where the good ones stand out from the bad ones, in how they deal with being hit for runs. Those who have the guts, those who have the will power to persist with wicket taking lines, to give the ball air, to allow it to spin, to still try variations without resorting to bowling flat, are the ones who get to celebrate victory, are the ones who get to hog the limelight. They are the ones who will you matches. The rest, just like their long hops, will fade into oblivion.

This is why leg spin is so tough, so unlike anything else. Leg spinners will, on most days, take wickets. That is not how they should be judged. It’s the way they deal with being hammered, it’s the way they deal with failure that should be the mark of their judgement. It’s how they react in times of adversity that should be the mark of their judgement.

Practising an art so unpredictable, fraught with risks and failure, requires something special. Overcoming these failures, without backing down requires something even more special. All leg spinners are special. But there are only a few that are more than special.

The life of an opening bat

The captain walks into the dressing room after the toss. He tells his team that they are batting first. He points to the two openers while reiterating the importance of scoring runs on this wicket. Their eyes are still, they don’t move an inch. They give nothing away. Nobody who has not opened the batting knows what’s going on inside. It’s a mixture of nervousness and excitement. That sick feeling in the stomach, that restlessness in the legs which stems out of the excitement.

He puts on his left pad. He thinks of the people watching him when he goes out to bat. He puts on his right pad. He thinks whether he’ll walk, jog or sprint to the wicket.

He puts on his box. He thinks whether he’ll stand at the strikers end, or give his partner that opportunity. He puts on his inner thigh pad. He thinks of how he’ll mark his guard and get ready to face his first ball.

He puts on his thigh pad. He thinks of how he’s going to handle the opposition’s opening bowlers. He puts on his helmet. He takes a deep breath. He swallows. That sick feeling in the stomach starts to increase.

He puts on his gloves and walks out of the pavilion, towards the middle. That walk is what he dreads, that walk is also what he cherishes. The nervousness reaches it’s peak, the excitement reaches it’s peak.

As he reaches the middle and marks his guard, his face appears pale. The bowler runs in, and his eyes are as still as they were in the dressing room. They hide his anxiety, they hide his fears.

People say those who have fears don’t belong on the cricket field. Most of those who feel this way haven’t ever opened the batting in their lives. The fear is justified, for the opener doesn’t know how the pitch is going to behave, whether bouncers will arrive at the ankles or the good length balls will smash in to the helmet. He doesn’t know what kind of mood the man given the task of bowling to him woke up in, how well he’s going to bowl to him on the day. He doesn’t have any sighters, a luxury middle order batsmen enjoy. He doesn’t have the opportunity to figure out a way of going about things from watching other batsmen.

Hidden behind these steely eyes is a brave man, a man with all the ounces of courage you can muster. He doesn’t know what’s coming at him, yet he does his job, every single time he steps onto the Cricket field. He does it because of that desire to bat longer than the others, that desire of blunting the heart of the opposition’s bowling, that desire of laying a solid platform for the middle order, that desire to score centuries, that desire to be a hero.

When he is facing, little does he know that he’s already a hero. The fact that he chose to open the batting, day in, day out is enough to call him a hero.

As he faces his first ball, he could get out, he could hit a brilliant straight drive and go on to play the innings of his life, or he could defend or leave it alone in what would be the perfect anti climax.

The possibilities are endless. You know the road is full of challenges, that the end is inevitable. But you carry on, just because you enjoy doing it, just because the memories are worth it, just because those moments of joy are priceless. In a lot of ways, opening the batting is symbolic of life. Rather, opening the batting is life in itself.