It was a few years ago now – before COVID, before grandparenting, before retirement and before blood pressure medication. I’d landed at San Francisco airport, and my luggage and jet-lagged body were bundled into a van by a cranky driver who’d scoff at the tip I’d offer him.
Everything seemed different as we swerved between lanes on the freeway – the side of the road we drove on, the accents. The billboards in my side vision seemed like a hallucination.
But then off to the right, across a tree line and in a park, I saw the familiar whites of a cricket match.
For a mere few seconds the game blurred across my vision as we drove by, but it was enough time to feel a kinship with every player on that field. The guy with hands in pockets in the slips to the fielder slightly hunched over in the gully.
Straight away I felt that, despite a long flight, I hadn’t travelled very far at all.
They say soccer is the beautiful game, and it’s true. But it’s not the only one. Test match cricket is as graceful, skilled, strategic and, yes, as beautiful as any sport I have ever watched.
It is a novel unfolding, a mystery being solved and a chance to watch history in real time, as it is written.
In terms of appreciating sport, of course there are many moments to savour. A bronze medal for the Boomers at the Tokyo Olympics. The Diamonds’ stunning wins over New Zealand and then England. The Socceroos downing Denmark 1-0. You will have your own additions to this list. Allow me to add one more.
Scott Boland running in to bowl to England last year in the Ashes Test at the MCG. The scalding, inspirational intensity of it. The atmosphere that day made me feel I could slice off a chunk of air, take it home and position it on the mantelpiece.
That passage of play was mastery. I was humbled to be there. In the way I later reflected on what it truly means to experience triumph, I think of how those of us in the crowd or on our sofas that day were lifted in a brief exhilarating few moments where we witnessed the possibilities of what we could achieve if we found the grit and belief held in Boland’s heart that day.
So now we ready ourselves for South Africa. We fill our turkey rolls in anticipation of Boxing Day, prepare to arrive early enough for a pitch inspection from a distance and a decision on what to do if we win the toss – ask South Africa to bat first to protect our bowlers from the second-day heat. We search for our broad-brim hats to honour Shane Warne and weigh up if the pitch will speed up over the first two days.
It’s love. It’s cricket. It’s what we do.
It’s a beautiful game.