Test Match cricket is in danger of becoming extinct. Or so some of the newspapers tell us from time to time, not least over this last weekend. T20 has taken over, grabbed the public’s imagination and threatens to wipe out Test Match cricket altogether. For those of you who do not know, a Test Match lasts five whole days and can end, and in fact often does end, in a draw; it is a meandering, gruelling, hard fought test (hence its name) of character, stamina, technique and patience and it requires thought and endurance to appreciate. A T20 match takes only three hours, can be played in a single evening under floodlights, is full of power and excitement, thrust and glory; it has colour and noise and provides instant thrills and a quick result.
This is not really a talk about cricket; but is it any surprise that Test matches are being replaced by T20 in our modern world? Cricket, for me, has always reflected life; I honestly believe that you can watch a person play cricket for a couple of hours and know what that person is like as a character; the game has so many similarities to the way we live. The reflection, in this case, is obvious: T20 answers the modern day need for instant gratification; the perceived lack of time available to people to come to grips with something more complex; the total absence in the world of patience. T20 resonates with a life of x-box, of social media, of 24-hour news, of continual reporting of results, of rapidly mounting statistics and data. It befits our age.
But hold it there. What actually is the point? Do we ever stop to ask ourselves what is important? What in real life makes a happy and fulfilled person? What makes us deeply satisfied, and not superficially so? Well, I’d like to suggest that all meaningful answers to any of these questions involve the passing of a significant amount of time. Firstly, long term and close relationships are key to a happy life. These take time. A happy family, a happy marriage, a best friendship, a fulfilling relationship with anyone or anything lasts a whole lifetime; they are slow burners. They come with highs and lows; they come with great triumphs and days of wonderful happiness; but also with sadness, frustration, arguments and upset. It is what makes them special. By friendships, I do not mean Facebook friends, but real human friends who last forever. Not everyone will have them yet – you are young and that is fine; but you must learn how to develop them; you have very many years ahead of you; bide your time; be patient; make time and space to build friendships steadily. Secondly, a fulfilling career is important for a happy life. Not one or two good days, or the odd big win, but a lifetime of work. Make each day count; but don’t worry if some are bad; don’t even worry if lots are bad; if the sum total is strong, purposeful and satisfying, then you are on the right track. You really can’t judge this in a matter of weeks or months when you first start a career; it takes years. Some people claim that money will make them happy; I firmly disagree, though a modicum always helps. But even if you think that money will make you happy, you are extremely unlikely to earn it immediately; it will take years and years. Look to the long term. And finally, for some, religion will help them to be happy and fulfilled; but again, this does not happen in a day – it takes a lifetime, and maybe more, to build that relationship to a position where one can feel comfortable and at one with it.
So I say go to T20 if you like; it is not in itself a bad thing, nor incidentally is social media or x-box – “meden agan” (“everything in moderation”), as the Greeks used to say. But it is very rarely anything instant in life which provides true, lasting happiness. It is Test Match cricket which brings far more lasting satisfaction. It takes time; it takes thought; it takes patience.
And so to a final story. For a while in the 1930s, there used to be such things as Timeless Tests. These matches were not even limited to 5 days; they were simply played until such a time as there was a result. In 1939, England played a 5 match series in South Africa. It was agreed that if the series were level, or there was only one test in it, coming into the last game, then they would play a timeless test as the decider. England was 1-0 up after 4 matches, so a Timeless Test was announced. The match started on Friday 3 March in lovely sunshine with a nice wicket to bat on. The first three innings took until the following Thursday evening, whereupon England was set the massive, and still unprecedented, task of scoring 696 to win in their final innings. On the evening of Monday 13th March, a full week and a half after the start of the match, England was still batting. Nobody had predicted this. But there was a problem; they had to catch a train on Wednesday morning or they would be late for the only ship to leave for England that month. It was decreed, therefore, that Tuesday, the 10th day of the match, would be the absolute final day. England reached 650 for 5 by tea time on that day, just 46 runs short of their mammoth target, when, amazingly, after 10 days of cricket, the heavens opened and it rained solidly until the end of the scheduled match. 10 days’ cricket; a draw.
A veteran cricket writer called Louis Duffus was covering the game. He had been fascinated by the daily regulars at the ground, for whom the match became part of their life. He wrote: “Men formed groups and discussed the topics of the day, such as the gathering war clouds, while little bands of women found themselves making remarkable progress with their knitting.” Setting aside the prejudices of the day, I just wonder how many little irrelevant conversations happened in the crowd during that Test Match – the sorts of conversations that lead to life-long friendships and only occur when you have time on your hands….