You’re on your way to a Test match.
You might be strolling under trees on your way to the MCG. Threading through the streets of Manchester to Old Trafford. Needing a heat shield to survive the walk to the Gabba.
But there’s a day’s play ahead and there’s so many reasons to love a Test match. Here’s a few you may not have thought of.
1. Grandparents, parents and their kids
They may be more commonly seen on the third day. They lead in excited, even bewildered looking children. They lift the kids into one of the hard plastic seats, offering the first of the day’s jelly lollies.
The kids look around, stunned by the grandeur as their parent or grandparent patiently explains the scoreboard, practice nets, the television cameras and where the players will run out from.
You know there’s a good chance that in a couple of hours those kids will prefer running up and down the aisles and have faces coated in sunburn cream and dried chocolate. But there’s enough twinkle in their eyes to guarantee they’ll be back next year.
And the year after.
2. The sounds
There’s something about willow on ball. You’d know that sound anywhere. It cracks across the ground and pops up in your chest like an extra heartbeat.
It’s a warm sound, connecting you the way other noises can, like a song, someone’s voice, the clang of your favourite cooking pot. There’s also the clatter of wickets, the appeals like out of tune voices in song and for the batsman, the dreaded sound of a snick as the ball travels through.
Last English summer I made my way to Old Trafford, taking my place in the crowd for the Ashes Test of the third day. During the session a man without sight was carefully led in, gently eased into his seat, the officials ensuring he was comfortable and had what he needed.
He sat concentrating, his head at an angle to hear, not see. “Was that Ben Stokes?” he called to no one in particular as an English player spoke.
3. The silence
It’s difficult to remember silence when the Mexican wave surges towards you. When the advertising blasts across the ground as if moments of quiet and reflection must be avoided. It’s more noticeable in the first session, before the cocktail of heat, beer and assembling beer snakes raises crowd noise to levels heavy as the humidity.
On the first day of the Ashes Test at Headingley last year, I couldn’t believe the quiet. Maybe a mark of respect, or merely concentration. No jeering or shouting, just applause. When the bowler ran in I could hear the seat straining as I leaned forward
4. The wicketkeeper
You only notice the keeper when a miraculous lunge takes place, or a fumbling mistake is made. Over and over we follow bat versus ball, almost forgetting they are there.
But see how the keeper shapes up to the ball, the sway from their hips to follow the ball’s trajectory, their footwork. Watching the wicketkeeper is almost to view an arena within an arena
It’s the only time in my life I feel there’s time for conversations with strangers. Last year at the Boxing Day Test I spoke to a New Zealander unhappy with one of his team’s opening bats. I’ve sat with Irish tourists who couldn’t believe the heat.
An Englishman who said he’d saved for four years to attend a Melbourne Test. I talk to the baristas, police, a Pakistani who was lost and the person telling us where to sit.
6. The stitching
It’s the way it feels in your palm. Who can resist walking through a sport store and not picking up a cricket ball? The stitching sits against your skin as if it’s meant to be there, you were born to bowl. You yearn to find your local practice nets, even if the scuff marks look like someone driving a V8 did burnouts on the run-up.
You just want to charge in and bowl that jagging opening delivery, even if your shoulder aches for hours afterwards. You know on the ground that however the bowler lands the stitching on the pitch will determine what happens next
7. The turn
If poetry is found in Test cricket, surely it lingers in spin bowling. The short, skipping run in and the ball delivered, often with plenty of air, looping and curving towards the batsman. Then it falls and turns away as if controlled by magic spells.
We can only stare in wonder, as Mike Gatting did that day against Shane Warne.
8. Tim Paine
9. One ball at a time
That’s Justin Langer’s mantra. You can live it in so many ways. One day at a time. One personal goal at a time. One problem at a time. One step at a time. Test match cricket can be life, really
And number ten? Of course, you have your own loves of the game. Seeing friends, reading newspapers before the first ball, the toss, that beer in the first session, the mystery of why Pakistan didn’t chase harder (MCG 2009), kids slogging wildly on the ground during the lunch adjournment, other kids autograph hunting, passing the canoe tree in the car park if you’re at the MCG.
It’s not always what’s in the sport pages, in the broadcasts, inside the glossy programs or what they say in the evening news. It’s next to your bones, in your DNA, this love of cricket.