Opinionista Antoinette Muller 20 December 2017

#ANCDecides2017: The conference is like a Test match

Politics is just like cricket, really.

Sports reporters might not be the first people you associate with covering elective conferences of former liberation movements. But life sometimes mirrors sport and the African National Congress’ 54th conference has a lot in common with cricket.

It goes on for five days. It’s packed with delays. A few results are possible. Spin is paramount to success. And by the end of covering it, your brain’s wires are so crossed that you can’t even remember what happened. That’s exactly how things played out at Nasrec, with a few added extras.

Anyone who has ever covered cricket in any capacity, even for a short period of time, will be familiar with the lessons of patience it teaches you. No matter how impatient you are in the real world, cricket tugs you by the hand and puts you on a time out, constantly. Chill – just wait.

Much like the morning of a Boxing Day Test match, the anticipation in the lead-up to Saturday’s anticipated start to the conference is palpable. Ke nako! You can’t wait to hear the sound of leather on wood for that first crack of the day. You’re all set up. All systems go. Even if you’re covering the action from TV, far away from the venue, the visuals on the atmosphere seep through the transmission and infect you.

You ask your colleagues who are there if they’ve spotted anything that might not get shown on TV. Did any caps get handed over in the huddle? Was anyone marking out their guard at the top of their run-up that’s not usually in the squad? Nothing.

It’s better, you see, live updates from the television – you get to see replays and you can rewind if you missed something. But filling the wait time is not so simple.

And then it rains. Before the toss even happens. And so, we wait. For hours on end. The covers look like they’re coming off, then they go right back on. On off, on off, a whole day’s dance with the forces of nature and the forces of politics. Third forces? Nah, not here.

Delays make you immensely grateful that you’re covering all of this from the comfort of your couch. The fridge is within walking distance and your own fare, you think, is often better than the press box.

But other than watching and waiting, there’s nothing you can do. Maybe this is not like cricket at all. The umpires would never be so guarded about why play is delayed.

Late into Saturday, we started to lose overs. How will that affect the strategy? The team batting first will have to be more aggressive – get out there and put on a big score. Are we going to make up the lost time in the morning? No, this is the modern era, we have floodlights now and in this fictional world, the rules have been amended so that you can play under lights.

But players need their tea and lunch breaks – you can’t be strategic on an empty stomach. And so, no matter how far behind we are, we eat. Some of us accidentally eat with the players.

By day two, conditions are better, but we’re still delayed. Play starts with one typically boring opener, who goes off course to be uncharacteristically aggressive in parts. See, we told you, the team batting first has to take that approach. Finally, a wicket.

Now what? Play carries on, you dip in and out checking the score every now and then. This is a Test, after all, it’s a waiting game.

Deep into the night, there are more delays. Covers are off, umpires are inspecting the conditions and we don’t know when play will resume.

You start wondering if this match might be abandoned. But that’s not possible, is it? Overnight, the balance ebbs and flows. This is going to go down to the wire.

We’re into the final session of day three. It’s tense. There are cracks in the pitch. Spin is key as the light begins to fade. One team is quite obviously ahead now.

Day four. A collapse is on the cards, but the team somehow manages to hang on. The score feels like it might be adapted in accordance with Duckworth-Lewis-Stern. The press frantically scrambling for these precious, printed lists to reconcile the adjusted score.

No, this is a Test match. There’ll be no such changes.

Day five is tense, but it ebbs and flows, and rekindles its equilibrium, like it so often does. They settle for a losing draw. And the fans breathe a sigh of relief – not so much with the result, but rather, that the result didn’t go the other way. DM

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