I’ve not written about sport before, I don’t think, in my life. Whenever I think of writing about sport, I am reminded of the late great David Foster Wallace’s infamous tennis writing. Good sports writing always makes you feel like you’re discovering the game for the first time again. Someone has noticed something intrinsic about this game that you thought you knew; that has connections with your childhood and your life, and all of a sudden you are discovering it again.
There’s no shortage of writing about cricket, and in particular Test Cricket; in my opinion the best sport there is. And after the spectacular Third Test of the current Ashes series between Australia and England, I imagine there will be no shortage of writing on this specific cricket match. I’ve already read at least three pieces about it.
Test Cricket can be a frustrating favourite sport. A game lasts up to five days, with each days' play lasting 7 hours, including an hours' break. That’s a total of 30 hours of active play time.
It is therefore very difficult to watch an entire match of Test Cricket. Most would say you don’t need to: the point of cricket is not to sit down for 30 hours and watch the whole game, but rather to experience the game. To experience the ups and downs, the changes in “momentum”, that undefinable quantity which changes the feeling of which team is winning the match in an instant.
For this most recent and remarkable Test match, I spent the first couple of days at a family getaway with my wife’s family in Northern Israel. The games are in England at the moment, in the English summer, and they’re more or less in the right time zone, so setting up the television with the live stream from my computer and watching it from the pool, in the sun, relaxing, felt very much like home to me.
For me, cricket on the TV in summer is my grandparents' house. It’s the back garage where my Grandpa used to sit, lounged back in his hideous green chair, stubbie holder in hand, watching the ancient box my Nana had relegated to the garage. When Australia hosts the games, the biggest one always starts on Boxing Day in Melbourne. A hundred thousand people attend this first day of the cricket match, and millions more watch it at home, relaxing with their families the day after Christmas. Cricket is beautiful and unique in that it can go on in the background while the rest of life is happening, until some important moment in the game momentarily grips the room. “Smashing the Poms” was something that was quietly occurring in the background, until all of a sudden there is a crucial wicket and the momentum shifts. Words are shouted, beer is drunk, the sun shines relentlessly on the game and on you.
After the two days in the North, I followed the third day from my computer at work. Another unique feature of cricket is that it is probably the only sport that you can read: there are live blogs of the game which describe in detail, ball-by-ball, what is going on. It’s nothing compared to watching the game, but it’s certainly better than reading a live blog of a football game or a tennis match. Some of the feeling of the game is conveyed. It’s inferior, but when your workplace won’t let you put the cricket on, sometimes it’s the only option.
On the fourth day, just before I was about to leave for work, the game was superbly poised for a dramatic and historic finish. I raced home on my bike, sweating buckets in the Tel Aviv midsummer, carried it up the stairs to the apartment, plugged in the computer, shouted to my wife to come and watch, and we watched thirty of the most gripping minutes of sport I can remember. Ben Stokes, the batsman who won the match for England, couldn’t even watch when his batting partner was facing the Australian fast bowlers. There was that magic moment when someone is on a roll and there’s just nothing that you can do to stop them. The Australians felt the pressure and made mistakes.
And then it was all over, this game that had been part of my day for the last four days. All that was left to do was to wait and read the thinkpieces, which were already starting to describe it as the best game of cricker that had ever been played.