The Test match as novel

In light of a certain 4.2 over run chase in the past few days, I thought it a pertinent time to put to you a theory I’ve been working on.

It is a theory of why cricket tragics seem to value Test cricket infinitely more than its two limited-over brothers.

Let’s get one things straight: I’m not a Twenty20 hater.

I quite enjoy snacking on a bit of hit and giggle every now and then, but only as part of a healthy cricket diet. In between light lunches of One Dayers and fulfilling dinners of Test matches, I really shouldn’t pig out in between.

So Twenty20 and I maintain the same relationship I hold with chocolate. It’s a sometimes food, not to be confused with the meat and potatoes (and vegetables) of a healthy diet.

The reasons I hold for preferring Test and One Day cricket also stack up with my healthy diet analogy. While a bar of chocolate can be utterly delicious, satisfying and exactly what you need at the time, eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner will make you sick in the stomach.

So it is with Twenty20.

A delicious roast dinner, on the other hand, is the ultimate meal. It leaves you satisfied, wanting no more than what you were provided. But more importantly, you know it’s done you good. The meat gives you iron. The veggies do their thing, replete with vitamins and minerals. The gravy is unctuous and delicious.

It seems like you can’t even compare eating chocolate to eating a filling, nutritious dinner, just as you can’t compare a T20 to a Test.

The comparison becomes even more skewed when you place a ‘good’ T20 against a ‘good’ Test. It’s just becomes unfair.

The foodie comparisons end here, as the reasons for liking food and liking cricket seem to diverge.

As Twenty20 cricket rises to ever more prominence and success, cricket-lovers search for reasons why they resent the new game so much.

“It’s just not cricket,” they say.

It’s certainly not cricket as one would see in a Test match. It is an entirely new beast.

Then again, One Day cricket was an entirely new beast when it came to prominence. Although it is now the divisive middle child of the trio, One Day cricket still would feature higher in the hierarchy of most cricket tragics than the younger, more boisterous brother of Twenty20.

Here’s why.

Cricket, for the spectator, is about investment. Inevitably, this investment boils down to a very simple equation: investment = time.

What do I mean by investment?

We all know the tenseness that comes from a Test match that is ever-so close. Nails are sacrificed to the cricketing Gods, hair is torn out, Televisions are flicked on and off and between stations as people seek a release from the palpable nervous tension.

A great example of this was in the 2005 Ashes, when Michael Kasprowicz and Brett Lee were batting to win Australia an unlikely victory, to have it snatched away in the cruelest fashion with only two runs required.

Both nations stopped that day. It was monumental; everyone watched it, and everyone who watched it knew it was monumental.

The number of fingernails reduced to mere stubs that day, on the field and off, would be close to some sort of record, such is the tension created by Test cricket.

It is the ultimate tension in cricket, and it is created over five days, over 460 overs. The more time you spend watching or listening to these 460 sets of six, the more invested you are, and the more epic the games become.

A Test is like a novel. There are many published every year; some good, some bad. Great ones go down in history as some of the greatest works ever written. Some are consigned to the sporting scrap heap, but are dragged up when convenient for the statisticians and argument makers among us.

It is the investment of time required to appreciate the novel that makes it so special. A novel can convey so much information to those willing to take the time to read it.

Anyone who does read War and Peace or Middlemarch will attest that it was well worth it, despite the slog required to complete it.

Test matches are the same. The plots unfold more slowly, and are told more delicately. The authors of the action are given this grace.

Some authors choose to accept this as a chance to tell the story slowly, opening themselves up to being labelled boring or worse. Certain storytellers revel in putting the reader through a kind of torture with their pacing. Some readers decide to skim through the novel as a result.

Not all novels are necessarily great, as it is with Test matches. But the time investment, assuming the spectator dedicates the time to appreciate it, will inevitably yield some form of learning, no matter whether it possessed the stuff of greatness or was of generally poor quality.

The One Dayer can possess similar levels of greatness as a Test match, but its obvious time limitation restricts the amount of storytelling the authors get the chance to do.

Theoretically, therefore, the greatest possible One Dayer could never be as great as the greatest possible Test match. The lack of time simply does not provide the authors to expound the same quantity of greatness. That’s not to say the quality of that greatness can’t be the same.

I see the One Dayer as the equivalent of the novella.

Some novellas are true greats. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and A Christmas Carol have gone down in the pantheon of literature as some of the best works ever written.

That memorable game, ‘The 400 Game’ between South Africa and Australia at the Wanderers might well fit into this category.

But can they ever compare favourably to the sustained greatness of the best novels ever written? Sure, these titles are well known and considered great, and rightly so. The list of great novels, however, is lengthier and better developed by ‘those in the know.’

Literary critics and bookworms could rattle off their top 50 works of literature in next to no time. Sure to feature among most are the great novels: Ulysses, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Moby Dick, Don Quixote; and the rest, as you might say.

Novels, all of them.

I would hazard a guess that at least 90 percent of those considered by the experts as the greatest works of literature would be novels, just as 90 percent of the best cricket games ever played would be Tests. Time investment pays off for the reader, just as it does for the cricket watcher.

Finally, we come to that art form maligned as peasantry by the true cricket tragic: Twenty20.

The time investment is minimal, each game is considered meaningless. There is some time for the action to play out and be told, but before they have had the chance to let their carefully constructed storytelling sink in, the next delivery has already left the author’s hand.

It is this that creates a sense of chaos and meaninglessness about Twenty20. A sense that something has been left out, but you don’t know what. A similar sense to what you might feel sitting through a movie adaptation of a great novel.

The Lord of the Rings is a case in point; a rarely excellent adaptation of a great set of books. There were lots of things missing in terms of the plot, but more than that, there was something missing in the feel of it. It was epic, but not nearly as epic as the books.

It could be that the imagination tends to hyperbolize and extrapolate, leading to epic that would not be possible to replicate in film format. Test matches, after all, leave plenty of time for the imagination to do its thing.

But I think that it is the lack of investment required to view the movie that has an impact as well.

Not having to work through the slow bits to be excited by the fast bits, and not having any sense of comparison leads to action and storytelling being devalued. It is the same actions that would amount to greatness in other expressions of their format, only lesser incarnations.

I’m not saying that greatness can’t be achieved in cinema or in Twenty20 cricket. I’m saying that the kind of greatness achieved by these formats differs vastly from the greatness of a novel or a Test match.

The Test match, being longer, requires more time investment to enjoy. It gives the author more time to express nuance, and space to express it at his leisure by placing a less arbitrary time restriction on it.

Perhaps this boils down to the attachment complex created by the great art forms of the Test match and the novel, an attachment that must be fostered over time. Or it could be something else entirely

Whatever the case, it is the giving of time that allows the storytelling to make its full impact. Spectator investment is the reason for the un-placeable greatness of the Test match.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Diablo on January 9, 2013 at 11:21 am

    One of your best, mate…. maybe this is your masterpiece.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Bossom on January 24, 2013 at 9:33 am

    Great article Pat. You’ve left me with know doubt that tests are better because they are more detailed stories. I guess the question is whether the opportunity cost of a five day story is too much to bear in light of other compelling activities, like reading for example. The other thing about the test is the difference a wicket makes. There is tension with every delivery because a wicket means so much more. Whereas in 20/20 they are often completely meaningless.

    Reply

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