Toby Manhire 's Opinion

Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire: Hours of sublime, joyous pleasure

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Those who care not for test cricket are missing something in their lives for it truly is the sport of the gods.

For five days at Eden Park there was drama and glory. Photo / Dean Purcell
For five days at Eden Park there was drama and glory. Photo / Dean Purcell

Forgive me. I didn't get to Eden Park. My excuse for failing to get to the ground happens also to have been my faithful companion for the large part of the ineffably wonderful final test. She's 6-weeks-old, and, I feel sure, already hooked on the greatest sport in the world. The only shame is that the birth registration is already in the post, so it's too late to christen her Peter.

The 2084th match of test cricket produced five full days' play. Fifteen sessions, each two hours or longer. At the end of it there is no winner. And yet it is a true, bona fide classic. What a mad and glorious sport.

And what a privilege to be in that minority of world sport-watchers who get to watch it. And get it. It's impossible to feel anything but a grim sympathy, bordering on pity, for those wretched souls unaware of or puzzled by this titan of sports, for those who profess distaste or indifference to the game. Almost certainly these people must feel an elusive emptiness in their lives, like someone who has never enjoyed a good novel, swum in the sea or tasted homemade lemonade.

For test cricket is the sport of the gods. The short-form stuff is good, too, but as chips and dip to a five-course feast. It is telling that in cricket, the World Cup is not even the pinnacle. The pinnacle is the five-day fantasia.

In all truth the 6-week-old wasn't my only companion. Coney, Waddle and Aggers chatted away to me from the wireless. Their mode of commentary, with all its insight, anecdote and avuncular grumpiness, is for the most part a class above the stuff served up by Sky Sport. At one joyous moment, the Barmy Army's Billy the Trumpet (the anti-vuvuzela himself) appeared to be playing requests as issued by Waddle and Coney. It's worth even suffering the eight second delay between the RadioSport broadcast and the TV pictures to avoid the blank-stare chunter of Craig McMillan.

Then there was Twitter - a happy repository of erudition and passion. Especially the latter. Such as the avalanche of messages that followed part-time spin bowler Kane Williamson snaring two wickets to leave England nine down in the fourth to last over of the day. "Woohoo!" "OMG." "Yesssss!!!!"

Better than the best HBO box-set, as involving as an epic novel, test cricket is bursting with plot, character, theme, complexity. Ritual. Traditions daft and delightful. A rich, long history of rivalry, grandeur, scandal. Heroes and villains. Controversies carved into the national consciousness, such as the bodyline series or the underarm delivery (even if that was in a one-day game). In the case of India and Pakistan, cricket has a genuine geopolitical force. It is metaphor, even, for moral propriety: it's just not cricket.

Even audience participation: is there another sport that sees a quality of banter like that enjoyed - mostly enjoyed - by a bowler at long leg? For example, from an Australian supporter to English spinner Phil Tufnell: "Can I borrow your brain, Tufnell? I'm building an idiot." That sort of thing.

In the game of cricket, compelling subplots -Stuart Broad overcoming instinct to stub out 62 balls without taking a run; the beleaguered Peter Fulton thumping both consecutive centuries and a thousand assumptions that this would be his last game for New Zealand - sit within bigger stories: the humbling of an England side expected to "murder" the Black Caps; the redemption of New Zealand coach and captain after the catastrophes of South Africa and the personnel histrionics leading up to the tour. Nobody is calling for Mike Hesson to be thrown under the team bus now.

The climax of the English tour of New Zealand 2013 (for which the record will show draw, draw, draw) was special, but there is pleasure to be found in every test. Each statistic, and the statistics are limitless, contains its own story. For connoisseurs of the form romance can be found in the dullest of circumstances. Slow passages of play and rain delays become incubators for good conversation. There is no better place to talk about the meaning of cricket and the meaning of life than the bank at the Basin or the Mound Stand at Lord's.

And to those who call this majestic, transcendent contest boring, I give you Nirmal Shekar, sports editor (in effect cricket editor, this is India) of the Hindu newspaper. "Slow is good and a lovable sort of lethargy is part of test cricket," he writes. "After all, to make way for art, you have to give yourself time."

Bring on the next Auckland test. See you at Western Springs.

- NZ Herald

Toby Manhire

Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire is a Wellington bred, Auckland based journalist. He writes a weekly column for the NZ Herald, the NZ Listener's Internaut column, blogs for listener.co.nz, and contributes to the Guardian. From 2000 to 2010 he worked at the Guardian in London, and edited the 2012 book The Arab Spring: Rebellion, Revolution and a New World Order.

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