In Praise of the OBO

I totally love test cricket and I think that the more anachronistic it seems to have become in this age of instant gratification the more affection I feel for it.  Yes I can quite happily go along to 1 day games (where the above picture was taken at last summers game v Sri Lanka) or even take the kids along to 20/20 (or bish bash bosh as it’s known in our house) but test cricket is where it’s at.  Even it’s name it great – it is the ultimate test of tactics, temperament and technique married to the unknown vagaries of the pitch and weather conditions.  In fact is there any other game where the condition of the 22 yards playing strip where the ball will be bowled can have such a dramatic outcome of the game ?  There is also something very unique about the atmosphere, sights and smells of a test match.  There is a very civilised hubbub outside the ground as plots are hatched to attempt to get your alcohol into the ground, which due to the stricter than airport security, appears to becoming a new national sport; a variety of attire makes for great people watching with everything from fancy dress to fancy dan.  If the weather is shining then the vast lush green playing surface of the outfield makes for a suitably striking contrast against the stands and the crowd and provides the perfect canvas for the players to perform on.  Like any sport watched live it takes on a different perspective, for example the first time you see a genuine fast bowler come roaring in and unleashing the cherry at 90mph is to get a very different take on the courage and skill shown by the batsman who can conquer and control that incoming missile.

I think however that one of the great things about the sport (apart from the fact that it can take 5 days and end in a draw therefore baffling almost any American) is the pace of the game, the way it ebbs and flows and changes course like a babbling brook – you think you know the course that it will take but can never be sure as it is prone to change at any moment.  Suddenly one side will change the tempo or a player look to bend the game to his will, an individual battle will commence that can have a profound impact on the bearing of the team.  It is in fact like reading a great novel, yes it needs time for the plot lines, sub plots and characters to emerge but patience and time invested by the reader/watcher will be ambly rewarded.

Of course there are now many ways to watch and enjoy the game – live of course, via TV (of course you will need Sky for that sigh), the incomparable Test Match Special on the radio or various blogs but one of the brilliant ways that has come about over the last few years has been the invention of the Over by Over (OBO) web coverage – and in particular the one on The Guardian website which means that work never be dull as you keep up with what is happening in some far flung corner of the globe.  Of course the premise of it sounds ridiculous – you can’t listen or see what is happening, each over is described and written up by someone (usually Andy Bull and Rob Smyth) and it pops up in the feed on your screen (or you manically press F5 to get the screen to refresh).  However due to the pace of the game it has natural gaps in it where the bowler will return to the start of his run for example that allows for comment, analysis and chat to take place which is exactly of course what happens at the ground live.  These gaps or silences before the action take place remind me of a bar of silence in music before the next stage comes crashing in – it’s the silence that magnifies the sound or action that subsequently takes place.

What makes the OBO so good is that themes and chatter will develop during the day as the writers interact with the readers worldwide throughout the days play, these themes or riffs are usually pointless and ridiculous but as such they become totally enjoyable.  Yesterdays was a classic case in point, while describing the total humiliation of England’s performance against Pakistan talk moved to the worst journey you have been on and as always the OBO readership did not let us down with countless staggeringly bad journeys described.  You can have a read and a chuckle here.  So make sure you tune in at work for the next test it will make the day far more pleasurable, if not at work then the order should be this TMS on the radio, OBO on your device of choice accompanied by your favourite beverage – a fantastically chilled and decadent way to waste a day.