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.

And on the 8th day, God created the doosra. Pic: Chris Mangan

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.

Stumps will be called for comments on this post at 8pm AEST

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21 comments

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    • sunny says:

      10:02am | 09/11/12

      And lo, he did beget an edge, as Snicko and Hotspot had proclaimed. And the wicketkeeper was joyous, giving praise unto the delivery. And the bowler gave praise, bestowing bum pats upon the wicket keeper and then he sent forth his tongue unto the wicket keeper’s ear.

    • Tator says:

      10:13am | 09/11/12

      Not as good as the Ice Hockey boys favourite:

      Jesus Saves passes to Moses who shoots and scores,

      Got a tshirt with that on for a friend who is a Lutheran Minister for his 60th, and he loves it.

    • Tubesteak says:

      10:22am | 09/11/12

      It would be a brave argument taking only one spinner to the SCG. But spinners have to be good quality, though. A bad spinner can be despatched more than a bad paceman.

      I found your argument compelling and interesting. Test cricket is a true sport in every sense of the word. Not only does it require brash quick skill but it also requires long-term strategic thinking. It’s a force of wits. Something can also play out in the mind between any number of the 11 on the field from each team.

      I can’t wait to plant myself in front of the telly this weekend!

    • Black Dynamite says:

      11:04am | 09/11/12

      I hope you like ads and replayed for the 80s tubesteak!

      BD

    • I hate pies says:

      11:17am | 09/11/12

      Test cricket is a battle of the minds unlike any other sport.

    • Craig2 says:

      12:03pm | 09/11/12

      Golf in the morning, cricket in the afternoon and annoyed wife all weekend, looking for to it.

    • Tubesteak says:

      12:44pm | 09/11/12

      BD
      If they replay an 80s match due to rain I’ll still be watching it. The 80s saw some great contests and had some great characters. Same with the 70s.

      Pies
      Yep. Cricket isn’t just flashy displays of freakish skill for a few minutes. The most skillful player in the world can’t carry a team to victory if the strategy and mental game isn’t there.

      craig
      Yep, good time and with daylight savings, too.

    • Shirley Green says:

      10:25am | 09/11/12

      This is the best and wisest article I have read in a long time. Cricket, what a religion!

    • Louise says:

      10:38am | 09/11/12

      It’s true, sport is the national religion these days.

      I get the lapsing part, but why replace one ‘absolute’, as you call it, with another - just cos sport is sooo good, asks so little of you, provides instant gratification, is like waay cooler and more fun?  Yeah, guess so.

      Just please don’t tell me Warne is an archangel too.

    • Tubesteak says:

      12:46pm | 09/11/12

      Warne has Pearly Whites just like religion has the Pearly Gates

    • Louise says:

      01:17pm | 09/11/12

      I don’t pray for the chance to take the apparently well-worn path inside his mouth, Tubesteak.  Feel free yourself, though wink

    • Tubesteak says:

      01:57pm | 09/11/12

      Well, I could just go and do a Merv hughes…..

    • CX says:

      10:41am | 09/11/12

      I take it by “religion” you meant, outdated, irrelevant, and demanding money from the masses to be “saved”, makes for boring TV?  If that’s what you meant, I’d have to say pretty accurate description.

    • Tim the Toolman says:

      11:15am | 09/11/12

      You could also include the part where it’s almost impossible to stay awake to watch on account of the monotonous droning and a lack of anything happening.  The hard seats (in both cases) are all that keeps one from drifting off.

    • lostinperth says:

      01:39pm | 09/11/12

      A heretic!!

      Persecute the unbeliever!!!!

      Your punishment is to face an over from Brett Lee without pads or a box.

    • Mahhrat says:

      10:53am | 09/11/12

      God i wish there were more TVs at work.

    • HappyG says:

      11:28am | 09/11/12

      @Mahhrat. Log onto Cricinfo. It’s a live coverage. That way when a wicket falls or something interesting happens you can mosey on down to where the TV is…............clipboard in hand of course.

    • Mahhrat says:

      12:52pm | 09/11/12

      @HappyG;  Did that back in about 1995 when the Army unit I worked with largely deployed to East Timor.

      There was me, who had just started and had no leave and was a civilian, and one other guy who couldn’t deploy cos of a bung back and he was put in charge.

      We watched a lot of cricket that summer, amongst rebuilding the filing system and writing a bunch of stuff about food safety and supply when in the field.

    • Philosopher says:

      11:38am | 09/11/12

      Funny. The author compares a game of tossing, played by tossers, with monotheism. By all means describe - successfully - how deep your love of cricket is, but let’s leave the tedious similes behind, hmm? Cricket is as it appears to be: excruciatingly dull, pointless even; if not for the corruption that belatedly emerges every now and then, it would be utterly beneath notice. And even the claims of corruption invite boredom, compared with other, more dynamic sports.

    • bigmuzz says:

      03:25pm | 09/11/12

      no tvs at work, been checking twitter and cricbuzz app for updates all day long today. can’t wait til saturday and sunday, 2 full days of lazing on the couch watching cricket! smile

      i generally only watch the last hour or so of an ODI match, can’t stand T20 at all, but absolutely LOVE test cricket and would happily spend 5 days straight with my eyes glued to the tv!... is that weird? lol raspberry

    • Bob says:

      05:07pm | 09/11/12

      Best thing I’ve read @ Le Punch for a long time.

 

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