There’s a reason Test cricket is spelt with a capital ‘T’
Date: November 10, 2012 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell
There is a reason that Test cricket is spelt with a capital ‘T’.
Simply, it is because it is the ultimate Test – of character, technique, courage, skill, persistence, stamina and dedication.
Test cricket has a set of conundrums that sets it apart from many other ball sports.
It is these tenets that make the sport such a trial for its participants.
Firstly, there is the playing surface itself.
The pitch is an area of grass that often creates as much comment in the lead-in to a Test as team selection.
In most sports the toss of the coin can be fairly trivial with little resting on the outcome.
In the football codes it allows you to choose the direction you wish to head in.
In cricket, it often has an even greater effect on which direction you head – to victory or defeat.
The match outcome itself can be heavily influenced by the condition of that 20-metre strip of grass, from a seaming green menace on day one to a crusty talc-like spinner’s paradise on day five.
And what of the men who contest the toss?
In almost all other team sports that is often their only major impact into the team’s tactics on the day.
In myriad other codes, the role of the captain is to quell his direct opponent and to lead by example through dint of skill and courage.
But, unlike any other team sport, the cricket captain is a pseudo coach.
While soccer and basketball teams can often have their match day fortunes guided by the ilk of a Sir Alex Ferguson or a Phil Jackson prowling the sidelines, once the first ball is delivered out on a cricket field, the captain is the final arbiter of his team’s actions.
He sets the field, he rings the bowling changes, and he counsels his troops.
For the cricket skipper there is no let up, no one other than a teammate to consult.
The team’s tactics on the field and the path his team takes rest his hands alone.
How often do you hear or see the coach of a cricket team having to explain why his team lost at the post-match media conference.
In other codes, all the time – in cricket, hardly ever.
And what of the poor unfortunate batsman.
They say cricket is a non-contact sport.
Tell that to an opener who is facing a rock-hard sphere hurled at him from 20-metres away at speeds in excess of 150km/h.
They have helmets you say – so do gridiron, baseball and lacrosse players.
And just what margin of error is the batsman allowed?
The answer is bugger all!
A cricket bat is just 10.8cm wide – not a great figure when you have less than half-a-second to sum up the variables of line, length and lateral and horizontal movement.
The difference between being in or out of form can at times come down to a handful of millimetres.
Millimetres that can see you hailed as a goose by the fans or unemployed by the selectors.
And when you stroll out as an opener your endeavour – like all batsmen – is to bat until the end of the day.
In the opener’s brief that amounts to six hours of concentrating on all the variables he has to face with a surgeon’s precision time after time.
And, more often than not, there comes the moment where his defences are breached or his concentration lapses and his entire day – his sporting existence – comes to a grinding halt.
No chance of a second serve after a fault; no third attempt after two strikes.
It’s a case of one error and off you go – a lonely, often humbling wander of 80-metres with head bowed and heart heavy.
And that is where the test of character comes firmly into play.
Spare a thought for the opener who falls without scoring and then has to face the ignominy of sitting in the rooms with a smile on his face as his teammates run riot and knock up a score of 3/600 declared.
The failure to cash in when the stars are aligned in your favour can be the cruellest blow.
And what of the time you toil under the hottest of suns with the humidity causing you to drip with perspiration while you are standing still – and if you are playing at the Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, with your stomach convulsing at the stench from the open sewer that flows past the ground.
Five days. Five days of riding a roller coaster – and when your form has deserted you, you just wish the attendant would kill the power and bring the ride to a halt.
Five days of giving your all, only to fall short by a handful of runs, or indeed as oft happens, no result at all – a draw to show for 30-plus hours of duelling.
And at the end of it all, you pack your kit, and selectors willing you line up to do it all over again – with joy and expectation.
And the spectators?
We’ll be back there with them, every bit as keen, every bit as expectant, every bit as mentally involved absorbed.
Simple – we LOVE Test cricket!
First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 9 November 2012