Thrills ! Spills! No wonder we lose the drama of the epic encounter | Kenan malik

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PMaybe I won’t have woken up this morning to the sound of England wickets in the heat of Boxing Day in Melbourne. Maybe by the time you read this England will have taken control of the game, even after they had capitulated lame in the first two tests of the Ashes series. But I wouldn’t bet on it. Insanity, they say, is doing the same thing again and expecting a different result. There is certainly a touch of madness to watching England play tryout cricket.

To those who don’t follow cricket, it can all seem as meaningful as a mysterious theological debate over Christmas lunch. England’s struggles on the cricket ground, however, tell us something about much more than cricket. They illuminate our age’s desire for instant heights and instant gratification – and show why that seldom satisfies.

The paradox of England’s appalling performance in the test is their success at T20 cricket. For those whose life is lived beyond the confines of cricket, I must explain that the game is now divided into three distinct formats. In Test Cricket, the match can last up to five days. The “one day” game was introduced as a shortened version in the 1960s. An even shorter version, Twenty20 (or T20), was born in 2003, a format in which the entire match ends in three hours. about. (There is a shorter version still called The Hundred, but it is only played in England.)

In Test Cricket, England have lost recent heats to India and New Zealand and are currently dismantled by Australia. Yet despite being excluded from the T20 World Cup by New Zealand in November, England remain the highest ranked T20 nation in the world and have reset the way the game is played with their adventurous style and capricious.

The desire to invent shorter forms of cricket is part of a long-standing quest to adapt the game to the rhythms of modern life and make it more exciting. With five-day matches, confusing rules and obscure traditions, Test Cricket, of all contemporary sports, must be least suited to the demands of everyday life or the modern temperament.

The idea of ​​T20 was not just to make the game shorter, but to make it a more exciting game by the minute. It certainly drew fans in, especially in India where the Indian Premier League has become a magnet for the best players in the world and has helped make the nation a power of the game. It has transformed players, making them more athletic. , inventive and skillful, some of which have transferred to the Test arena. Still, much of the cunning, craftsmanship, and patience that defines the game’s longer form has been eroded. And nowhere more, it seems, than within the England team.

T20 is to test cricket as a hamburger is filet mignon. It’s only more exciting if we confuse cheap thrills with real drama.

Drama is what is at the heart of sport, drama both in the sense of telling a story and as the distillation of moments of great tension. In every match, whether it’s cricket, football or kabaddi, a story unfolds, with villains and heroes, humiliation and catharsis, despair and redemption. The games we remember the most are the ones with graduated undertones of highs and lows, tension and boredom, the ones that make you feel like you’ve experienced a new one.

And no sport embodies drama as much as cricket. Cricket has the space and structure to allow for the development of complex narratives. Complaining that a trial match lasts five days is a bit of a moan to watch Hamlet takes four hours of your life. It is no coincidence that so many great playwrights – Beckett, Pinter, Stoppard, Ayckbourn, Rattigan – have been drawn to the game.

The intrigues of the sport do not only come from the game, but also from the way it is anchored in society and in history. Each sport inspires myths, breeds rivalry, arouses a collective sense of hope and aspiration, is imbued with broader political threads and themes of race, class, gender and nationality. And all of them are worked in the drama of sport.

Great dramatic moments cannot be artificially fabricated to create a thrill, but emerge organically from the narrative. England’s all-rounder Ben Stokes’ sensational runs to defeat Australia at Headingley in 2019, in a game that, logically, England should have lost; the “Istanbul miracle” in 2005 when Liverpool were crowned European champions after the game had apparently overtaken them at half-time; the “Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974, when Muhammad Ali defeated George Foreman to regain his world title in the heat of the moment of Kinshasa after being ousted seven years earlier for refusing to fight in Vietnam – not all are exhilarating only by the storyline that has built up to the climax and, especially in the Ali-Foreman fight, the deeper context in which the event is embedded.

Therefore, compared to the cricket test, the T20 may seem more exciting but less satisfying. It can electrify but, stripped of the larger storyline that gives it meaning, it can also seem soulless.

This is not only true for cricket. At the climax of this year’s Formula 1 season in Abu Dhabi, a truly thrilling showdown between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen has turned into a controversy and a farce thanks to the race controller’s decision to ignore the rules and create a one-round competition in the final. knees. It was a stark reminder that artificial thrills rarely satisfy in sports.

In an age when the 24 hour news cycle emphasizes the outrageous and the shocking; where we demand instant streaming rather than having to wait a week for the next episode of a TV series; in which it’s hard to spend a day immersed in a book without trying to distract the phone to display the latest WhatsApp message – it’s no surprise that sport, too, seeks to satisfy our thirst for instant solution and constant high. We must resist the temptation.

There are definitely times when I crave a burger for comfort food. But if I really want to feast, I need this great steak. Not to mention a victory for England in Melbourne.

Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist


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