Sport is so unimportant, and matters to us all the more for it.
Sporting heroes achieve so little of real consequence, and yet their feats inspire us so mightily. Cricket is utterly meaningless, but there are times when it means the whole world to some of us.
Like the day when, in a dusty furnace in the least traditional arena in the Test world, a beaten, bruised, almost broken collection of obvious no-hopers performed feats of such unlikely wonder that they rescued their team from catastrophe and reminded us all of why this game exists.
This is why Test cricket is played.
Dubai is hardly the place to conjure memories of cricket’s Golden Age. But on the last day of this Test match, Usman Khawaja and some doughty assistants breathed the spirit of their forebears.
This was Jones in Chennai, Atherton in Johannesburg, Hanif in Bridgetown and Border in Port-of-Spain. This was the kind of stubborn, pig-headed defiance they just don’t make anymore.
This is why we allow a game to last five days without anyone winning or losing.
Tim Paine knows full well the team he inherited in the worst possible circumstances isn’t a patch on champion elevens of years past. His humble crew could not hold a handle to the colossal world-crushing machine that wore the baggy green at the turn of the century. But that team couldn’t have saved this Test. Tim Paine’s did.
It did it by virtue of a maligned batsman of whom it was said he couldn’t play on turning wickets and was a liability in Asia; a debutant opener who spent the last decade in a pigeonhole marked “not suitable for red balls”; another debutant who started his career in the first innings with a duck that confirmed everyone’s view that he didn’t belong; and Paine himself, considered by many to be not much good for anything.
Not to mention a cameo of pure doggedness from Nathan Lyon and his legendary forward defence.
They did it because this is a team that in its short and mostly unhappy life has come to understand that sometimes there is simply nothing to do but keep plugging away.
Australia’s bowlers did it first, the spinners toiling eternally under the scorching Arabian sun and the presumed-superannuated Peter Siddle willingly blowing a gasket for his country just like old times.
Life has not been easy for Australia this year, but the advantage of life not being easy is that you never fall into the trap of expecting it to be. When everything is a fight, it never occurs to you to stop fighting, even when it seems futile
This is why it is a Test match.
Going into the final day hope sprung eternal, but laughably unrealistically. Finch was gone, the Marshes too – the brothers having produced all the impact of a pair of jammed pistols.
Their demise left exposed a green batting order of which it felt generous to say the tail began at number five. But three men played the innings of their lives – maybe four if you count Lyon – and somehow a batting lineup more fragile than any Australia has fielded for at least three decades, one that Shane Warne called the worst he’d seen, did what no other Australian side ever has.
One hundred and forty overs, in conditions that Australians are known for being unable to handle, against the kind of attack that Australians are known for floundering hopelessly against.
Usman Khawaja’s innings was quite simply one of the best ever played. Doubting his technique or his temperament will from now on be foolish.
If Travis Head never plays another Test he will have a glorious knock to remember: if he plays a hundred he may never make a score so desperately needed.
And Tim Paine, the baby-faced brick wall, has shown himself worthy of carrying on the line of skippers that includes names like Border, Waugh and Chappell. He played an innings any of them would have been proud of.
That’s why we have Test cricket. No other game could have given us anything as glorious as this day, when amidst the ruins a beaten team refused to admit it was beaten.