Why Test Cricket is best watched in the Stadium…

Written by  //  October 10, 2010  //  Sport  //  3 Comments

It’s a question often posed to me when I tell someone that I have tickets/passes to watch all five days of a Test Match in Bangalore.


It’s a recent phenomenon I guess, to be forced to offer justifications for leaving the comfort of one’s own tv, sofa, remote and cable connection to watch a Test Match in one of India’s concrete monstrosities, with amenities few, and noise, confusion and danger plenty. Before TV, I guess no one would doubt the superiority of watching a cricket match and one’s cricket heroes in the flesh and blood instead of having to depend on the fickle radio and the evocative descriptions of commentators. With tv, replays, all the information you need to follow a game at your fingertips, why subject yourself to the stadium and its filth to follow Test cricket?

I’ll tell you why.

It’s the only authentic experience as far as Test cricket is concerned.

Not that the filth, dust and crumbling stadia add any charm to it. It adds a level of challenge that one would rather not have to tackle, and one hopes that BCCI and the local associations get their act together and clean up some of our stadia, at least before the coming World Cup. No, there are other, real reasons why watching Test Cricket at the stadium is the authentic experience.

For one thing, TV does not show you everything.

Sitting high up in the stands you see things that you otherwise miss between the replays, the banal chatter of the commentators and of course, the endless, endless ads. You see the subtle changes in the field that take placed when strike changes between batsmen. How Harbhajan has an in-out field for Ponting and a much more attacking one for Hussey. Also how Harbhajan, unlike great spinners, reacts to batsmen and sets fields according to where the ball last went instead of coming with a plan and sticking to it.

You also see how the other players react to not-so-obvious things when the camera forgets to pan to them. Sreesanth’s obvious disappointment at having his spell cut short by Dhoni. Raina and Pujara egging each other on in the field, high fiving good saves and stops.

But all of these things are not trivialities. The other reason why one watches a Test at the ground is the total immersion it offers and the engagement it requires of you. Unlike the action packed adventures that are T20 and ODI cricket, Test Cricket is like a long 3 Act drama with multiple plot lines, twists and turns, and intrigue all coming together for a final denouement (or not… even that is in doubt). Enjoying a Test match requires a level of engagement with the material, so to speak, that TV somehow does not provide. TV is great for watching the action part of the Test Match, but it is the quieter bits, the less obviously action filled sections of the Test Match that make for the complete experience.

Watching Harbhajan try to play on Ponting’s mind with attacking fields; Sreesanth troubling Hussey with late swing away and try to rein in his excitement and keep it going; Ponting grafting and fighting his way through difficulty and then unfurling some glorious drives and ferocious pulls; all of these things require sustained and close viewing to truly appreciate and enjoy. And to truly appreciate and enjoy test cricket, one other thing is needed: context.

It is a much abused word these days on cricket blogs and fora across the internet. This one day series has no context, that T20 match has been thrown in only for money, etc. Context is not just “what-does-this-matter-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things” type context. With Test cricket’s emphasis on drama as much as action, each ball has its context in each over; each over in that spell; each spell for that hour’s play; each hour adds context to the session’s play; each session in that day and so on. Seen merely as a discrete collection of overs and fours, Test cricket loses its meaning and becomes… boring. Watching the game with an understanding of the context is what makes test cricket so compelling and unlike any other sport anywhere else.

Finally, watching Test Cricket in the stadium gives one the sheer aesthetic pleasure of a three dimensional view of cricket. The rhythmic and smooth run up of Sreesanth; the sound of the bat hitting the ball as Ponting drives as being noticeably different from the crack that resounds across the stadium when he pulls it; understanding what 140 kmph is as you watch the bowling from behind the batsman.

All of these make you forget the cramped seat, the deafening noise, the heat and the dust omnipresent in the Indian stadium. Even among the better maintained ones like the Chinnaswamy Stadium. Like the adventurer climbing up a steep, dangerous hill for the view, in the end, it is all worth it.

For the (boring but mostly accurate) report of the day’s play see here.

For a (possibly inaccurate, but greatly funny) version of the same, read this.

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A Supreme Court/Delhi High Court lawyer who writes a bit with a potentially fatal weakness for hyperlinks, tags, and the reader's approval. Follow @alokpi

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