Marcus Berkmann: The way to a higher consciousness, while eating biscuits

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The Independent Online

You can't tear yourself away. House burning down? Must be someone else with a telly nearby. Life goes on; former foreign secretaries drop dead and are buried with full political honours; Big Brother comes to an end and many of my friends have been holidaying in the airport.

But which would you prefer? Two weeks in luxury hotel-cum-prison-complex on the prestigious Turkish Riviera surrounded by screaming infants with sand in all available orifices? Or Flintoff bowling to Ponting?

It's no exaggeration to say that a Test series like this one can alter the texture to our lives. Well, maybe not all of our lives, for there are apparently some people who don't like cricket, or even understand it.

On Friday night in my local, I witnessed a very excited and slightly drunken man trying to explain to his Scandinavian girlfriend exactly what it meant for Australia to be 210 for 7 and still needing 35 runs to avoid the follow-on. I noticed her shoulders slump once or twice during this 35-minute monologue (one for each run required, as I was tempted to point out) but she obviously loved him very deeply as she didn't actually stab him, or sneak away when he was threatening to fall asleep on the bar. He's a lucky man.

But was this a serious cricket fan, who had suffered through the fallow years, or a Johnny-come-lately, who will change allegiance without a second's thought once the football season gets going?

Right now it can be hard to tell the difference. Man in pub may never have seen Matthew Hayden's eyebrows before this week, and so failed to notice his extraordinary resemblance to a Thunderbirds puppet on steroids. But then I am cricket-crazed, and even I haven't seen that much of Hayden batting.

What has usually happened before is that England have lost the first toss of the series; Australia have racked up 100 without loss; I have switched off the TV and never bothered switching on again. That England would lose almost every match against Australia was tough enough to bear, but sitting and watching it? Now there's no way you can keep your eyes off it.

Someone I know was interviewing a professor on a local radio station last week about his very important new book, and the professor embarked on one of those sentences that you feel sure will end eventually because sooner or later he has to go home for his tea. This sentence, though, seemed to ramble on more than usual, because out of a corner of his eye, my friend says, the professor was watching Pietersen whipping short balls outside off stump through mid-wicket for four.

Eventually he totally lost track of what he was talking about, or where he was. "Oooh!" he groaned, rather too viscerally for BBC Radio Wherever's audience, who tend to be elderly and easily confused. But what else could he have done? Warne had spun one two feet out of the rough, for God's sake.

Psychologists talk about "flow", which is the ability to lose yourself utterly in some activity, so that time flies without you noticing it; and people who regularly experience "flow" tend to be the happiest and most well adjusted.

This is good news for lovers of Test cricket. After all, a football match lasts just 90 minutes, with a few minutes added on for Mark Lawrenson to talk rubbish. A cricket one-day international lasts but one day, and you can see why Shane Warne grew tired of the form. One day, one dimension. Whereas you can truly lose yourself in a Test. As the overs pass and Mark Nicholas's metaphors wrap around each other like a Möbius strip, and the same ad for piles cream is shown for the 83rd time, you can reasonably be said to have attained a higher state of consciousness, while eating a lot of biscuits. If that isn't happiness, I don't know what is.

The only problem is that everything we do and say as individuals affects the result. So if I go down to the kitchen to get more biscuits, England will lose a wicket. (Ian Bell is particularly vulnerable at such moments.) Whereas if Ashley Giles is bowling, his only hope of taking a wicket is if I switch the TV off altogether. Long may his success continue. I'd love to be watching it, I really would.

Marcus Berkmann is the author of 'Zimmer Men: The Trials and Tribulations of the Ageing Cricketer'