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Watching the young Indian team struggle, on their current tour to England, Bejoy Balagopal is reminded once again of how Test match cricket mirrors life so closely.
As the connoisseurs of the game never tire of saying, Test cricket is exactly that — a real test of the players. It tests technique, temperament, patience, guts, grit, strategy, and concentration, over an extended period; like no other game does.
In other words, Test cricket is akin to life more than perhaps any other sport is. Let us see how.
Move fully forward or back: Many a time, a batsman gets caught ‘in-between’, neither fully committed to the front foot nor the back foot. This mirrors the many moments in life, professional and personal, when indecisiveness have left us struggling. Think of the half-baked reports you made at work or the silence you chose when a wrong unravelled in front of your eyes! To say a “yes!” and push ahead or have the conviction to say a “no!” and step back, simple as it may sound, is a challenge that we face every day. So many are those moments when you got to push forward in life, yet be ready to move back and absorb the pressure.
Knowing where the off-stump is: The batsman has a split second to decide whether to play at a delivery or not. And this decision is based on several considerations that need to be factored in: judgement of your own ability, the vulnerability of the situation and what’s at stake. It often calls for you to discipline your natural instincts and say “I’ll let this one pass ’cause I know that my time would come soon”.
This is astoundingly similar to what life throws at us as well, to test not just our ability but the willingness to let go of ego and, importantly, stubbornness. Think back to the times when we let ego get the better of us while driving in maddening traffic, or the casual comment that potentially spoilt a relationship for life; many are the moments when sound judgement is needed but goes missing.
Respecting and overcoming the conditions: You lose the toss and you could end up getting the worse of the conditions to start with. Even otherwise, things could change over the five days — the weather, the nature of the pitch, your health and fitness. Test cricket, like life, demands that you grin and bear the tough times out. To have the faith that better things are around the corner and the strength of character to weather the tough times would determine how well we cope with situations in life.
Shorter, focused sessions: There are battles within the war and you aim to win sessions. Cricket (or generally, sport), at the highest level, is played in the mind and the mind can handle only so much at any time to be truly effective. To clear the cobwebs and be “in the moment” is something we could all do in our day-to-day life. Shorter goals, without the pressure of the larger picture, are much easier to target and achieve. The intensity can be maintained for shorter periods before a new target is set.
Draw: Five days of competitiveness and we might still not have a winner — how boring, but how wonderful a concept it is! It is about understanding that not everything in life is about black and white; it is not all about winning and losing either. Success is not measured by how many arguments you won or how the balance sheets finally look. Some things end in a stalemate and that should be perfectly acceptable. Through the process, there are lessons learnt and notes made to come out better the next time.
Dignity and graciousness: This is perhaps the very ethos of all sporting activities but somehow Test cricket places an importance on it like no other game does (though sadly this is a dwindling aspect of the game of late). To applaud an effort of a player from the opposition, to “appeal” to the umpire, to take the word of a fielder from an opposing team, to walk when you know you are out, to politely raise the bat (or ball) in acknowledgement of the cheers and to shake hands at the end of a game in which no quarter was given — imagine how mankind would be if each of us had this grace, both in victory and defeat.
When someone asks me what this great game has offered me, beyond the many thrills and the moments of brilliance and despair, I would point to these wonderful lessons. Whether I have imbibed them is another question, but then there’s the rest of the life for that, to learn and adapt. Much like Test cricket!
(Bejoy Balagopal is an engineer working with a leading technology firm, with a passion for cricket and writing. He brings a layman’s view on the proceedings combined with the ability to look at the larger picture of how sport plays a crucial role in society)
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