In college I took an Art History survey course. You know the one. 12 weeks that take you from cave paintings through to Andy Warhol. Middle Ages, Gothic, Renaissance. Egypt, Europe, Japan. Impressionism, post-Impressionism, Expressionism. Baroque. Pop Art, Dadaism, Surrealism. Etc.
Architecture was of course on the docket too so the slight projector made a stop at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The professor, Professor Stoughton, was a small, well-spoken, impeccably-dressed, impeccably-groomed man in about his mid 50s though age is tough when you are 19. He told us how he visited St. Peter’s in his 20s when he was a grad student. And though he was raised as a strict Mennonite, when he stood under the domes of that beautiful old building he was so moved that he considered converting to what he called “God’s first Church.”
Test cricket is cricket’s first Church.
Sure, the World Cup was fun. Every day there was something new and it all ended with a smash boom final that none of us will ever forget, no matter how we felt about it. And the One Day International is a great cricket format. Enough time and space to allow the players to breathe, to allow for the possibility of magic, but all wrapped up in a tidy bow and done by dinner.
But the Test. Oh the Test. That’s the best format. That’s the format that will convert the strict Mennonites. 22 players. Flip a coin. Play cricket for five days. Unlike the ODI or the T20 there’s a second innings, and thereby a chance at redemption. There are no fielding restrictions. No countdown clock. Time stretches out, flattens. Just the rhythm of the run up and the delivery and the bat. Light applause from the crowd. Three slips and a gully. A leg slip. A silly point. And players who bat for hours. For days. The ODI is a comic book. Test cricket is a novel. Heroes and villains and plot twists and rising action and falling action. The gun you see in chapter 2 is always fired by chapter 5. Every character’s story is known, and every character is given the spotlight, and every character is integral. Test matches aren’t always classics, but when they are — and they often are, more often than you’d think — they are works of art.
And Test cricket season is right around the corner.
There is no season, of course, but there always happens to be times in the international calendar where we are treated to a plethora of Test cricket. Coming up we have the Ashes, of course, England vs Australia (five Tests), plus Sri Lanka vs. New Zealand (two Tests) and the Windies vs. India (two tests) (and also of note here is that they play their one day matches first and then their Tests which used to be the norm but really isn’t these days).
August 1 through September 17. Nine tests. 45 days of Test cricket in just 47 days (if we are very, very lucky). The magic dates to block your calendars for are August 21 through August 27. The second Test of the Sri Lanka vs. New Zealand series starts on the 21st at 11:30pm Central US time. The third Test of the Ashes starts at 5:30am Central US time on the 22nd. Three and a half hours later the first Test between the West Indies and India starts.
A festival of Test cricket. And a day to cherish. As while reports of Test cricket’s demise have been grossly exaggerated, one day it will go away, and so it’s best to enjoy the first Church of cricket before the heathens storm the barricades.