Mark Mason

The joy of slow sport

Long-form matches have time to develop character, plot – and plenty of drama

  • From Spectator Life
[Alamy]

Fans of long-form sport, rejoice. April is here, and it is our month. Not only does it see the first four-day matches of the county cricket season, it’s also when snooker stages its world championship.

Long-form sport is always the best. A four-day cricket match (five for Tests) has way more scope for drama than a T20. And the snooker at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, where even the shortest match is the best of 19 frames, gives space for the twists and turns that characterise true sporting excitement.

Both games have sought to recruit new fans in recent years by offering shortened versions. Cricket has gone from 50-over games to 20 and now ten (with the 100-ball version in there as well). Snooker has introduced the Shoot Out, where each match is a single frame limited to ten minutes (with time restrictions on individual shots as well). It also plays some tournaments with six reds instead of the usual 15.

Fair enough – old farts like me might call these ‘diminished’ forms of the game, but if they attract new fans then that’s good. Especially youngsters: we all know how tricky it is getting kids to sit still and concentrate for extended periods. But hopefully those new fans will soon progress to the hard stuff (two-innings cricket and multi-session snooker), realising that matches of this length have time to develop plots as gripping as the best novel.

Often T20s are effectively over by the second innings. But when a Test match goes to the last ball, you’ve had an experience from which your fingernails will take several days to recover, and which will stay in your memory forever

You might see one side or player surge ahead, then get pegged back. Or you might see a contest that’s nip and tuck all the way through, before reaching a denouement that reveals which combatant has the bigger heart.

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