My Observer column consists usually of two articles: a longer essay that I republish on Pandaemonium on the Monday, and a short piece that I normally don’t publish here. However, I am away for the next couple of weeks, so will be posting little new material on Pandaemonium. So, I am taking the opportunity to republish some of those shorter pieces, beginning with the short article in my Observer column this week on the drama of cricket.
I despair for those who don’t care for cricket (although I suspect that might be the majority of my readers). For you will have missed over the past four days not just one of the great Test matches, but also one that reveals what sport is about and why so many are obsessed by it.
England played India at Edgbaston in a match that twisted and turned more than a John Le Carré plot and was far tenser.
Sport may be about winning but it is also about drama. Every game tells a story, in fact myriad stories, with villains and heroes, tension and catharsis, struggle and redemption.
And no sport embodies drama as much as cricket. Many find it unbelievable that a Test match can last five days. But that’s what helps write plots that often feel like fiction. Complaining that a Test match lasts five days is a bit like moaning that War and Peace lasts 1,200 pages. It’s no accident that so many great dramatists – Beckett, Pinter, Stoppard, Ayckbourn, Rattigan – have been drawn to the game.
None of this will mean much to non-cricket fans. Increasingly, it means less to cricket fans too. Cricket has now effectively become two games. The long game of the Test match, watched by fewer and fewer spectators. And the attention-grabbing, biff, bang, wallop of T20, full of excitement but too little drama.
Four days in Edgbaston revealed what would be lost if Tests disappeared. It was a game full of brilliant individual moments, of brave play and braver decisions. But above all was the emotional tension of a game that one never knew how it would end.
I started writing this as play opened on Saturday morning with India needing 84 runs to win and England five wickets. I am finishing just as Ben Stokes takes the fifth wicket to win the game for England. It’s been an exhausting hour and a half. And not because of the writing.
The painting is ‘Lillee IV’ by Rosemary Taylor, from a series of outstanding paintings from the Ashes tour of 1975.