To some of our readers (you know who you are), cricket—no matter our protestations to the contrary—is a boring game. A snooze. A snorefest. Those who happened to catch the first four and a half days of the just-concluded first Test match between England and Sri Lanka in Cardiff, Wales, would be inclined to agree. Since the game was played in May, rain was always a possibility, and no fewer than 139 overs (that’s 834 balls or pitches to baseball fans) were lost because of the miserable conditions. When play was possible, Sri Lanka (with minimal fuss) reached 400 in their first innings, while England (with minimal flare) amassed a total of 496 for the loss of five wickets before declaring. That that declaration happened at about 3:15 p.m. on the fifth and final day of the game, with only a few hundred fans still in attendance (it had rained all morning) only seemed to confirm that this game was, in more ways than one, a washout.
However, the reason why (Test) cricket—pace the critics—is such a wonderful pastime is that, as that sage Yogi Berra once said of the game’s noble sister, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” In the small matter of just over an hour and a half, England skittled out Sri Lanka’s batsmen for only 82, thus winning by an innings and 14 runs. Nobody, not even the English players themselves, could quite believe it. Sri Lanka were shellshocked. Certainly, the media were astonished, and the few fans who’d sat in the cold drizzle throughout much of the match suddenly found their patience (if not stubbornness) rewarded as they witnessed a result that will go down in history as one of the more extraordinary.
It’s as if you’d been watching the Mets at the Rangers (say, an interleague affair) reach 2–2 at the bottom of seventh inning, before the heavens opened and it poured for six hours. Everything told you to go home, get some rest, forget about the result; that in the great scheme of things it was just one game among many. But you’re the kind of fan for whom it’s never just one game. So you stuck around and contemplated the Arlington (Tex.) puddles. Then at three a.m., with more people on the field than in the stands, the Mets came out and slammed 14 runs in the final two innings. Yes, what happened in Cardiff was that unlikely.
Of course, there’ll be those who’ll say that two hours of breathtaking, heart-stirring brilliance cannot compensate for days of drenched dullness—and I can see what they mean. However, consider for a moment the possibility that if it wasn’t for the sogginess, the very unlikelihood of a result, then England wouldn’t have blasted victory from the rock face of a draw. England never doubted that it was possible (however unlikely) that they might win; Sri Lanka never considered the possibility (however unlikely) that they might need to steel themselves against a possible defeat. When Sri Lanka started losing wickets, they hadn’t done the mental preparation. The rain had lulled them to sleep.
England and Sri Lanka play in a few days time at Lord’s, home of cricket. It’s a good bet that Sri Lanka will be a mental mess, whereas England (so often on the receiving end of psychological meltdowns) will be on fire. Bring on the rain, I say.