Hallelujah for Test cricket, my one true religion
As a lapsed Catholic from an Italian family, I had a lot of surplus devotion that I needed to funnel into some other ancient institution. Test Cricket was that institution. Test Cricket is my religion.
Ironically, it was my super-devout Nonna (Grandma) who got me into Test cricket. She speaks in broken English but can still argue a convincing case for only taking one spinner to the SCG. I remember Sundays sitting in her lounge room as a kid, watching the Test with the morning mass still ringing in my ears. It’s no surprise that I’ve conflated the two.
For a kid, hearing Richie Benaud say “Seam bolt upright” is just as confusing as a priest saying something like “And lo, he did beget a son”. But as long as you speak with authority, you’ve got a shot at indoctrinating a kid. And if anything was going to challenge the authority of the pulpit, it was the TV.
Although I sensed the presence of the divine, I was timid at first. Having never played the game, I wasn’t confident enough in my own theology to talk about it with kids who seemed to know what a doosra was. Nor did I have an argument tight enough to defend the game to friends who didn’t get it.
So I put in the study, uncovered the rich history, gorged myself on stats and sacred texts, played Shane Warne Cricket ‘99 until the Playstation started to stink, and bought a bat I would never use to practice cover drives I would never play. “Sport” became too inadequate a term to describe what cricket had become to me. It became religion, and that’s not just a glib way of saying “cricket’s awesome!”. The comparison goes deeper than that.
Religion is old. So is Test cricket. And with the majority of their respective histories predating proper record-keeping, it’s easy to go back and dig up facts to support whatever point you’re trying to make. Over time, these arguments harden into ideology and end up informing tough moral decisions elsewhere in your life. What Would Gilchrist Do?
The struggle between man and his environment that plays out in so much of the Bible is also a huge part of any Test. We select teams according to the consistency of a pitch, we use humidity to swing a ball through the gate, we use the unique deterioration of that leather ball to our advantage, we witness the synergy of nature and man reflected in a fifth day SCG pitch and we argue endlessly over how to deal with bad light and rain delays. Noah knows what I’m talking about.
Then there are the saints. Bradman, Hobbs, Sobers, Richards, Akram, Tendulkar, Warne with their miracles, too numerous to list. These figures provide the contrast between immortality and human fallibility at the heart of both religion and Test Cricket as moral institutions. I love it when an umpire gets a call shockingly wrong and won’t refer it. I love it when batsmen don’t walk when they’ve clearly nicked it, and I love it when they do walk. I love it when a fieldsman claims a catch that he didn’t take hoping he won’t get found out, and I love when a fieldsman says “not sure mate” when he’s not sure mate.
Cricket is enriched by this tension between righteous action and base instinct, just as religion is. Human error and discretion are being bred out of much of modern sport but Test Cricket still throws up apple and snake conundrums wherein doing the right thing or being a complete dick becomes a matter of free will. In this respect Test Cricket embraces a moral dimension and becomes a true battleground of good and evil.
And despite all this, Test Cricket like religion can still seem boring to the outsider, reliant on crusty traditions and irrationally resistant to change. But in a relentlessly changing world, it is constancy that becomes so valuable. People gravitate towards religion because it offers an absolute in a world of exhausting relativity. Test Cricket is my absolute. It helps me cope with my own mortality to know that when I’m 90, there’ll still be some guy on a field rubbing a red leather ball too close to his genitals, and I’ll still be able to watch it.
Test Cricket offers up the miraculous and the human, the immortal and the mortal, the good and the evil. I think you’ll agree that this is all very convincing biblical stuff. And when that first ball of the summer is bowled today, I’ll be in an office pretending to work, transfixed to the score ticking over on the bottom of my screen in frenzied, pant-pissing ecstasy. The ecstasy of the true believer.
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