Watching that staggering semi-final performance by Chelsea was surely a rewarding experience for most sports fans. For cricket fans, it also reminds us of the beauty of bloody-mindedness, says Ed Kemp.
Sometimes, however much we are pleased by skill: the flowing running and finishing of Messi (or the spectacular flair of a batsman like Brian Lara), there is – almost depsite ourselves – very little that can match a display of pure, bloody-minded defiance. Watching something being stopped from happening can be just as compelling as watching something being done.
For most of 90 minutes – and for more or less the whole second half, the match was attack vs defence. Chelsea had one objective only: to prevent a goal – they defended, kicked the ball out, waited for the next attack, whch came almost instantly, and defended again. Barcelona were trying to score and Chelsea were trying to stop them. Although we all love to see two teams going for victory, there was a kind of brutal clarity about this situation, a kind that makes for compelling sport.
It is one more familiar to cricket than to most other games. Often a side batting for a draw will comprise utterly defensive batsmen attempting to repel a bowling and fielding team with nothing but wickets in mind, with all the aggressive bowling and field-settings that attend. These can be some of the most thrilling passages of play.
We admire those who can repel: they have, what Mike Atherton always says is required of Test match players: “heart”. Top sport is as much about proving your mettle as about exhibiting your skill. Test cricket is as good an example of that as any game going: its mental challenges as tough – that’s why Tuesday’s game at the Nou Camp particularly appealed to many of us.
The forces of attack and creativity aren’t always necessarily more spiritually pleasing than those of destruction and defence. There is, as Chelsea proved last night, just as Atherton himself had proved in Johannesburg in 1995, a certain beauty to a prolonged act of pure, wholehearted resistance. It was nothing more than that: resistance, but almost for that very reason it was special.
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