We probably should use this article to discuss England’s latest fuck-up. But there will be plenty of time to assess the situation in due course, not least our podcasts (although current Anglo-Stralian relationships within the 51allout lounge are not dissimilar to the ones on the cricket pitch, so the chances of us all coming to a reasonable and balanced analysis are slim). Instead we’re using this festive Saturday to talk about staying up all night.
Watching a Test match through the night is one of modern mans’ biggest challenges. You undertake more preparation and planning for the first day of a Test Down Under than you expect to do for your wedding. Make sure the heating is set correctly. Purchase provisions. Arrange the lounge just-so (mobile phone; laptop; pen/paper; remote control; space for snacks; slippers; extra layer of clothing; coasters: for water, for booze or pop / juice, for hot drink). Switch the alarm off – no need to get up at 06:30 when the final session doesn’t finish for another hour. Lay out the attire of choice. Check fridge situation. Clear away the empty gin bottles. Have a mid-evening snooze. Get up with enough time to shower before the coverage starts. Load up on caffeine. Send traditionally pessimistic text messages to long-distance friends. And so it starts.
The night itself does not conform to usual time-perception. The first hour races by; the players have their drinks break before the first snack is finished. But the second hour of the afternoon session always drags, even when England are collapsing in spectacular style. The seconds turn to minutes as you realise the night is barely half-done. But then once the tea interval has been and gone, time speeds again – perhaps in relation to the rising sun, or the just-perceptible sounds of a nation awaking. Whereas eyelids at 04:30 were heavy and the idea of sleep seemed blessed, by the time that the new ball is being taken and commentators are summarising what has happened for those tuning in before work, you feel strangely alive. The bed lies waiting, but you’re happy to switch over to the radio to see what Test Match Special offers as a conclusion to the day. (At this point we should admit occasionally succumbing to the temptation of a dark bedroom, where TMS accompanies restless sleep. Dreams are strange, mixing cricket with the bizarre and the distant sound of commentary. Sometimes you’re never sure if you’re awake or dreaming. Usually Jonathan Agnew seems louder and we lie awake for his stint, only to drift off again once Simon Mann or Jim Maxwell takes over. Yet even in sleep we sense the wickets falling.)
Staying up does weird things to your body clock. Circadian rhythms are broken. Before watching cricket all night, we never knew the biggest baddest dumps of all came at around 05:00, following twitter whilst straining to hear the commentary from the other room. You drink more than predicted, but bags of food go unopened. From the safety of a living room, the outside world seems strange. A distant flashing blue light is occasionally spotted through a gap in the curtains. After 2am sometimes the sound of revellers returning home disturbs the peace. Little do they know what is happening out in the middle. Every so often there is a noise from a neighbour – a flushing loo or a cough – and you wonder if they’re also following the cricket. But then silence again.
The breaks in play cause concern. They are the opportunity to leave the sofa for more than a piss. To freshen up? To take a stroll? To stay seated and listen to the special feature on the television? To catch-up with an episode of something completely different on Sky+? Or to listen to some music whilst wandering around the flat trying to find something to do that isn’t the washing-up. Songs, whether deliberately listened to or heard via an advert, often define the night, echoing around your head mixed with the commentary. Last night it was Steve Mason’s Come To Me, tonight it will be something else. Probably that bastard from the advert shouting “Victor!” (of course, it is those nice guys at Unibet who have the only good commercial across the duration of the Tests, the rest are utter rubbish).
Seven hours during the day is a long time indeed. But during the night it is oddly brief, even with those long hours either side of tea. And finally bed, for never enough hours, before rising for analysis, highlights, news and views. Counting down the hours until midnight comes again, there seems little to do. Your body doesn’t know how to deal with the unusual hours of operation – one day you eat four meals in twelve hours, the next just the one at around 16:00. As the time approaches there is a sense of optimism. The next session is always crucial but you never know! But then that first hour races by and things go horribly wrong again. Oh what a night, oh what a fuck-up.