Time­less Test: Play­ing In The Shadow

The first Test of the 2014-15 Bor­der-Gavaskar Tro­phy se­ries was no or­di­nary game of cricket, dom­i­nated as it was by un­fa­mil­iar emo­tions, and a fa­mil­iar spirit: Phillip Hughes.

Inside Sport - - Contents - BY ROBERT DRANE

In the wake of a real cricket tragedy, the 2014 Ade­laide Test pro­duced a clas­sic con­test.

Phillip Hughes’ death united us in that way any dis­as­ter does. It was a re­minder that catas­tro­phe doesn’t dis­crim­i­nate. More than just a mo­ment to grieve, or to con­tem­plate our mor­tal­ity, it stirred up a slurry at the bot­tom of our daily fears and anx­i­eties. Mired in the stuff, we stopped in our tracks. We had no choice. The worka­day de­nial of death en­ables us to keep go­ing even as it ham­strings us with neu­ro­sis.

Other, dis­tant, cul­tures threw their in­gre­di­ents into one pot with ours, and for a short time we re­alised, re­spect­fully, humbly, that we all be­longed there to­gether.

For the Aussie crick­eters, it was all so in­tense, it was numb­ing. It wasn’t just that they lost a team­mate – a team­mate who, ac­cord­ing to chief se­lec­tor Rod Marsh the day be­fore the aw­ful in­ci­dent, was a spe­cial player on the verge of re-join­ing them. Four of the play­ers se­lected for Aus­tralia ar­rived at Hughes’ side that abysmal mo­ment when he pitched for­ward in ter­ri­ble, omi­nous de­layed re­ac­tion to a blow to the neck.

Not since boxing was a head­line sport and the pop­u­lar, skil­ful and ill Archie Kemp died in the ring in 1949 had a sport­ing death in Aus­tralia brought such dread, stew­ing si­lence. The me­dia did its best to me­di­ate, but their move­ment through the silent mul­ti­tude had some­thing of the fugue state about it.

Then the bats ap­peared, and the lau­rels, in the streets, out­side houses and shops, here and in other far-flung na­tions, from Ti­bet to Trinidad. The spec­tre was there when strangers met, spark­ing xenos of emo­tional con­nec­tion. Phil Hughes had achieved an amaz­ing thing. Bren­don McCul­lum ex­pressed well how crick­eters from other na­tions felt: “Af­ter Phil’s death, we didn’t re­ally care about the re­sult. The fact that noth­ing we could or couldn’t do on the field re­ally mat­tered … had an amaz­ingly lib­er­at­ing ef­fect.”

For cricket, time stopped. In Shar­jah, day two of the Third Test be­tween Pak­istan and New Zealand – the match McCul­lum was re­fer­ring to – was aban­doned. In­dia’s tour match against the Aus­tralian XI was can­celled. The first Test in Bris­bane was post­poned. Syd­ney grade cricket was sus­pended. Cricket Aus­tralia had no way to pro­ceed, ex­cept care­fully and rev­er­en­tially. The word “ap­pro­pri­ate” fea­tured in every pub­lic an­nounce­ment, and they saw it as their first duty to sup­port the Hughes fam­ily.

The In­dian team it­self felt only em­pa­thy and sor­row. There was syn­cretism in the way they con­soled the Aus­tralians, re­fer­ring to heaven, eter­nity and the soul. Two na­tions that nor­mally ex­press with sharp dif­fer­ences ev­ery­thing they do came to­gether un­der the hege­mony that death in­sti­tutes. It was a strange way to re­sume an en­mity that, ar­guably, has been the most ac­ri­mo­nious of mod­ern times. But sport is life go­ing on.

The blend of emo­tional fu­els for the even­tual first Test in Ade­laide was highly un­usual: grief, wist­ful el­lip­sism, loss, anger, long­ing and fear. Eter­nal ques­tions, feel­ings that we can never re­ally see where we’re go­ing. Whim­si­cal, dor­mant, cu­ri­ous emo­tions, or emo­tional cu­rios, emo­tions with­out names, species of sen­ti­ment we thought were all but ex­tinct. Feel­ings that only get dusted off now and again, if at all. When it seemed all the fel­low-feel­ing broke down on day four, there was even some­thing dif­fer­ent about that – al­most a grasp­ing for nor­mal­ity. Emo­tion ruled. Such an en­vi­ron­ment was no place for heretics of rea­son; the scep­ti­cal, arch and ironic would be lynched and it would be fully jus­ti­fi­able.

It made the first Test of the BorderGavaskar Tro­phy se­ries com­pul­sory view­ing even for the non-cricket watcher. There were de­noue­ments to savour, re­solves to be sat­is­fied, ut­terly unan­tic­i­pated things.

The first day of Aus­tralia’s first do­mes­tic Test of the sea­son, tra­di­tion­ally held in Bris­bane, nor­mally con­tains the for­ma­tive power of the first note in a sym­phony. Be­gin­ning in Ade­laide felt, on this oc­ca­sion, right. Ade­laide was among other things a city of churches. The lifeblood of this Test was an in­ces­sant flow of ex­tra­or­di­nary per­for­mances. In the shadow of a death, Test cricket af­firmed life.

It be­gan with David Warner, seem­ingly fu­elled by rage against the dy­ing of Phil Hughes’ light. If the cir­cuit of griev­ing

Bob Simp­son hadn't played a Test for a decade when he was called to put on the pads again for a WSC-rav­aged Aussie side.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.