#SOTD 29: Context is everything

1. Make me Understand / 2. Make me Engaged

#SOTD 29: Context is everything

In the recent test match between Pakistan and Australia, played at Karachi, the ESPNCricinfo commentators had this to say for a ball in the 26th over:

25.5 Swepson to Babar Azam, FOUR runs

Cracked through point! Too short and Babar was back in a flash to give room and smash it forward of point.

Just a regular short ball and a boundary off it.

Oh, but that straightforward description misses so much context.

In a riveting 1,128-word piece written for the Cricinfo website, Danyal Rasool tells you the story of that shot, which kicked off that Babar Azam innings which saved the test.

Of the 1,128 words, how many words does Danyal to set the context, before he reaches the first shot played by Babar?​

652. More than half of the entire piece.

Here’s how he does it:

What Danyal is doing in these 652 words is essentially setting the context for what happens next. He is describing the context of Pakistani cricket: The context of the power its administrators have, of the vicious criticism that befalls anyone who loses, of the specific challenged circumstances of this captain and then the specific challenged circumstances of this match.

Essentially, the writer tells us – what makes Babar’s performance so special are the norms that contextualise it. Here they are:

  • Normally, Pakistan don’t lose in Karachi (their fortress), but staring at a huge 4th innings target and down two wickets for 23 runs, they were staring at that defeat
  • Normally in Pakistan, captains have been unceremoniously dumped for much lesser losses
  • If Pakistan would have lost the test, normally critics would be ready and quick to point all blame towards Babar Azam
  • Normally, if he had a suave personality, he may have been able to hold his own. But Babar was coarse in front of the mic and awkward in TV commercials – not someone who could hold his own in a press conference
  • Normally if he had the PCB chairman’s support, he may have still withstood the pressure. But with the departure of the chairman who elevated him, he was unlikely to get support from those quarters
  • And with all of these doubts and scenarios (probably) swirling in his mind, when Babar is faced with the prospect of surviving for more than 170 overs in the fourth innings with a 500+ target, one of his key players gets out cheaply. Almost in a farcical manner. In normal circumstances, this would stress out the captain even more.
  • In such a stressful, challenging context, how does a player, the captain of the team, with a Damocles sword hanging over his neck – normally respond?

We don’t know about that, but this is what he does:​

25.5 Swepson to Babar Azam, FOUR runs

Cracked through point! Too short and Babar was back in a flash to give room and smash it forward of point.

​This was the first boundary of the innings. The first of many to come.​

But it had a story behind it. And Danyal made sure we got the story and understood the significance of the moment.​

#SOTD 29

Get Storytelling tips in your Inbox

Subscribe to the 'Story Rules on Saturday' newsletter

Get a free e-book that decodes the hidden storytelling structure used by leaders like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
Your infomation will never be shared with any third party