Australians may be represented by loudmouthed, smart-aleck, brash boundary-pushers on the field, but we love Test cricket. Despite continual, understandable concerns about the conduct of our team, the affection of Australian fans helps to sustain one of the world's greatest sporting anomalies – a contest which can take five days and be decided in its final few minutes.
Crowds may flock to Big Bash League Twenty20 games, but the throngs remain larger and more truly engaged at our iconic Test occasions in each city, and the national summer game unites us like nothing except World Cup soccer.
Having a common team to follow does not mean Test cricket fans all blindly approve of everything done by the national 11 in our names. It means we argue endlessly and passionately about the behaviour of the players, the selection of the team, and the strategies employed by captains.
It certainly does not mean many of the fans disappointed by Dave Warner's howling, or Brad Haddin's sledging, will ignore a magnificently tense finale like that of the third Test at Cape Town. The sizeable portion of cricket fans outraged, dismayed or disgusted by the gung-ho histrionics of our fieldsmen love the game too much to abandon it. They are a loud and consistent presence on any forum available. But they keep watching.
Because Test cricket, despite its corruption and ugliness, is epic. It truly is a test, more than any other in a ball sport, of the mind as well as the body, technique as well as ticker. Within one encounter, an individual can dominate, but rarely determine the result. It takes supreme effort from many individuals, and an improbably fragile team bonhomie, for a team to win consistently.
There is nothing in the sporting world like Test cricket. It is hard to explain how it works, its appeals, and its idiosyncrasies, to someone who did not grow up with it. That is a virtue. Test cricket is a novel, where a T20 game is a tweet, but that does not mean it lacks excitement.
Not every Test is as enthralling as the three just completed in South Africa, but every one goes through peaks and troughs. The weather changes. The pitch changes – what other game is so affected by the agriculture performed at its centre? You can understand time better by your day having a Test match as its clock – what has happened in your day while South Africa to precipitate a batting collapse? As Warner turned the contest on its head? When no wickets fell and few runs were added as the Proteas resisted Australia's passionate attempts to dismiss them, and the tension rose madly?
The changeable nature of a Test match entrances its lovers, who stay up until all hours watching. On the final day in Cape Town, every armchair watcher became a captain, alongside Michael Clarke, suggesting a bowling change, a fielding position, anything which could prise loose a wicket and bring the seemingly unattainable a wicket closer.
Test cricket, endlessly announced to be on death row, is not as beloved by minor cricket nations as by its superpowers.
More broadly, cricket itself is beset by greed, corruption and short-sightedness.
But Test cricket, pronounced terminal for 30 years, continues to defy the cynicism and boorish behaviour by providing brilliant contests. That is because of its structure, but also because its participants love it and desperately want to win at it. And that is because they are like us, cricket tragics who love the five-day version more than any other abbreviation, and rate teams and players by how they perform in the Test cricket cauldron.
The reasons change, but most who think Test cricket is about to go belly-up seem unable to believe that such a ponderous relic of colonial times could remain relevant. It is precisely because it takes time, thereby testing its participants, and creating ebbs and flows of influence and performance, that the long form of the game remains relevant. Novels are still a more nourishing read than blogs.
Test cricket is a counterpoint to everything else in life, which seems to accelerate pointlessly, exponentially, by the minute.
I'd prefer our uncouth mob were more gentlemanly. It's annoying, occasionally embarrassing. But it's not a deal-breaker. The game is the thing. And it is still great, whoever wins.
The story The ultimate test of cricket skill takes five days first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.