I play on an adult rec-league soccer team. It’s a pub league without the pub. I have played on the same team for 10 years, every May through October. We play soccer, then we drink beer and stand around. It’s the perfect way to close out a weekend. These days, we win or draw just about as many games as we lose, more or less. But when we first started out, we were terrible. We lost every single game of our first season together. And all of the games our second season together, until the very last game. It was a cold late fall night. Mist turned into a light snow in the second half. It was dark. The flood lights were on. Early in the second half we scored a garbage goal and it was the first time we had ever led during a game. The second half wore on and we held onto that lead. But with a minute or so left the other team scored and the game ended in a 1-1 draw. But we didn’t care. We hadn’t lost. For us, it was a victory.
Earlier this week Australia rescued a draw in their first Test match against Pakistan. It was never meant to be that close. But Usman Khawaja held on for an incredible 302 balls, and Nathan Lyon of all people saw off 11 overs with his captain. It was a great escape from a match they looked destined to lose from the first session onward.
Rescue. Escape. Those are words you don’t hear very often in American sports. And that’s because we, as a nation, abhor draws. We want winners, and we want losers. We want black and white. Never gray. People can wrest victory from the jaws of defeat — and vice versa — but they can never rescue a tie. They can never pull a great escape, walk away bruised, bloodied, but still walking. Still breathing.
In this way, European sports — sports that allow for draws (and ties) — are a better reflection of our daily lives. Life, for us, is rarely black & white. In fact 99% of the time it is some shade of gray. Sometimes we walk away just barely hanging on by a thread to whatever is keeping us whole, and that’s enough, to rescue a day, escape with some loose change in our pocket and a black eye and torn jeans, but able to go out and fight another round.
And while there’s of course the rare joy that is a comeback victory, there’s also joy in the escape. Draws that somehow feel like wins are one of the great parts about following a sport that allows shades of gray — and when that feeling is compared to a draw that feels like a loss, like Pakistan must feel today — it shows the rich textures of these games that we follow, textures that American sports simply do not have to offer.
To rescue: “to free from confinement, danger, or evil”
To escape: “to get away”
Australia rescue a match. And look toward the second Test.
We rescue a day. And we live to fight on.
I watch cricket not always for the game itself, but for the hope that there’s a way out. This week Australia reminded me — reminded us all — that’s there always light at the end, you just have to keep batting. And when you emerge from the tunnel you might not feel like you’ve won, but you’ll feel like you’ve survived, and most of the time that’s enough to see you through.