I was ‘bounced’ today by a particularly aggressive and difficult colleague. She had an issue with something I had done, which she perceived as somehow disrespectful towards her, and she very assertively diced and sliced me- with eloquent arrogance and sneering silences.
As usual, I did not cope well with the direct assault, and so bumbled my way to an apology (which I did not really mean, as I still do not know what I am supposed to have done wrong) and then threw in a few disjointed defensive positions of my own.
She put her sunglasses on and went on her icy way, leaving me grinding my teeth over what I should have said.
I had a lovely drive to Bute, listening to Test Match Special, but even hearing about Flintoff destroying the Australian’s did not drive away the cloud that hovered above the aerial of my car. A cloud of controlled ritualised aggression out there in the ether, just out of reach.
Ah… such is my condition. Despite my small and hopefully developing ability to be assertive, some situations still turn me to jelly. I wish I was tougher- a relisher of conflict as a resolver of problems and a way of defeating my enemies. A fast bowler pounding up a cloud on a flat wicket and humbling the emphemeral batsman before me…
Or sometimes I do.
Because no matter how my frailties weigh on me- no matter how unjust the day dawns. At the end of it all-
My closest friends know that I have this secret addiction. Some would describe it as an affliction.
It is called… cricket.
If all sport is distraction then it seems to me that cricket is one of the best ways to waste time. Today, for instance, is Saturday. The weather has closed in outside and the rain is rattling against the windows. We have an empty house after a week full of family and hard work re-plumbing. The house is warm and the kids happy.
And India are playing Australia in the heat of the Punjab- brought to me by the power of TV here in autumnal Scotland. India are in the ascendancy after a drawn first test match. The Genius Sachin Tendulkar has broken the record by compiling the most runs scored by a batsman in a career, and two spin bowlers are twirling away in the kind of attritional subtle cricket that Indians excel at.
Some of you will not have a clue what I am talking about. Others will already be curling a sardonic smile at my stupidity for suggesting that cricket is worth watching. It is like watching paint dry you say. Here in Scotland, despite the fact that cricket is still played, most people love to have a go at the game. Perhaps this is because cricket is seen as an English game- conjuring up images of imperialism and empire.
This makes little sense- as the powerhouse of cricket has shifted permanently east- where it is the obsession of millions of Pakistani’s and Indians. English teams have become famous for getting well beaten all around the world.
In Scotland, cricket was the most popular sport with working people until around 1900, when that other English invention- football- began to take over. Celtic bought the site of their football stadium from a cricket club.
Well, I thought I would indulge in a little cricket apologetics… For the sake of the argument, I will limit the discussion to international cricket.
Cricket is boring. Some of the games last for 5 DAYS for heaven’s sake!
Test matches do indeed last 5 days. Most purists think this is the ultimate test of skill, captaincy, stamina and strategy. These matches are full of individual one-on-one battles of wit and talent, and the whole thing ebbs and flows with high drama and tension. It is a team game, played out by individuals. Strategy is everything, and the captain’s role is crucial.
Like all things- this will indeed be boring if you do not understand what you are watching- and test matches are not for everyone. Numbers attending have been falling around the world- apart from India, and surprisingly, England, where matches are sold out routinely.
But there are also one day matches- where each team has one innings of 50 overs (each over is 6 balls). whole different set of skills and talents need to be honed.
The current craze is for 20/20 cricket though- each side facing only 20 overs. This is frenetic, crash bang whallop stuff, often played under lights in the evening. Not for the purists, but great fun and seems to be a marketing phenomenon.
It is not a sport- people walk about in white clothes in the sunshine. You can be fat and still play cricket. It is a soft game played by wimps.
Anyone who has ever tried to bowl fast, or face a ball bowled by someone who knows what they are doing and is out to hurt you, will suggest that cricket can be a serious business. At the highest level it demands great fitness, huge concentration, and above all things, strength of character.
It was the West Indian bowlers of the 70’s and 80’s whose tall fast bowlers terrified and humbled cricketers around the world. The bouncer, aimed at up into the ribs of the batsman, or whistling into the odd nose, became stock in trade. Most batsman since these days, despite helmets, padding and glove, walk from the field covered in bruises. This summer a wicked bouncer from James Anderson knocked the teeth from an unfortunate New Zealand batsman. And we were all impressed.
See if you think you could face this kind of pressure. Here is England’s talisman in full flow
Cricket is all about snobbery and English stiff upper lip affectation. It lacks passion and real emotion.
Cricket is played all over the world (unlike the American baseball so-called ‘world series’) and different nations bring their own characteristics to the the game. So the West Indians bring a calypso cavalier brilliance, the Australians bring ruthless professional gritty determination to win, the New Zealanders somehow maximise the mixed bag of limited talent through working as a close team, and the English- well expectations are usually exceeded by achievements.
Then there is the fine art of sledging- the practice of teasing, humiliating and abusing the batsman. The Australians became past masters at this- a ring of foul mouthed close fielders for whom nothing was off limits. It was criticised around the world- particularly by the ‘whinging poms’ as the English were termed by the Australian media. And damn it- the Aussies kept winning!
But sledging is here to stay- here is another bit of Flintoff. The famous ‘mind the windows Tino’ episode. You decide whether English cricket is soft and gentlemanly!
Cricket is a waste of time.
I could go on about the old imperial stereotypes of preparation for life by the building of character- but of course, cricket is indeed a waste of time.
But there are so many others. I reckon this is better than most.