Why Draws Matter So Much In Cricket

Occasional cricket blogger Alex Massie takes a stab at explaining cricket to American friends, who asked him (and always ask me), full of wonder, how a game that takes five days to play can still end with no result.  Echoing Norman Geras, Massie replies that time makes the game what it is, drawing out epic narratives often found in war:

That is, the captains are the rival generals (and no sport places as great a burden upon captacincy as cricket), their players their respective subordinates entrusted with vital missions and, actually, weapons themselves. And, like a long military campaign fought over several battles, the tide may ebb and flow. Some weapons may be better suited to certain conditions; one side’s advantage in one area is offset by its deficiencies elsewhere. Strategy comes before tactics, but tactics matter too.

Good stuff. I don’t completely agree with the war imagery, since the war template requires a winner and a loser (as the forlorn Rambo asked, “Do we get to win this time?”).

But Massie’s onto something: the draw suggests the result isn’t the most paramount thing in cricket, which alone among sports (other than chess, perhaps), allows for something other than victory or less, yielding messier narratives and more complex personalities. (So, for instance, Monty Panesar, all thumbs at batting, outshines Paul Collingwood’s marathon effort because he faces a few balls at the end of play.)

In other words, there’s life in this game. Regular readers know my longtime praise for Ashis Nandy’s The Tao Of Cricket, which argues that cricket relies more on fate, chance and luck, not just human agency and skill. (This is also why I prefer fallible umpires to technology.) As I wrote earlier:

Players battle not only against each other, but against elements beyond their control or abilities — weather, cloud conditions, pitch reports, unexpected injuries…

Nandy argued there was a reason South Asian teams preferred draws and attrition to the Western aggressive style, but even if you putside his post-colonial trappings, he makes a lot of sense. The draw is a tribute to the limits imposed by the game, as well as life. It tells superior teams they must wait, they must keep trying, it was not meant to be; it tells inferior teams fortune sometimes swings their way; life will go on.

Without the draw, cricket loses its essense — it becomes just another sport, interested only in the scorecard and the end result.

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