Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Strange and Beautiful Game, or How I Learned to Love Cricket

Long before baseball captured the American imagination, another sport—also played with a bat and a ball—was part of the cultural landscape.
Although the sport of cricket is today thought of more as belonging to quiet English summers and to hot days in Asia, even before the United States came into being cricket was played in the New World, with the sport mentioned in private diaries as early as 1709 and in the public press in 1751. In fact, it is believed that George Washington himself watched some of his soldiers play “wickets”—which historians believe referred to cricket—in Valley Forge during the summer of 1778.
Despite such early roots, the shorter and faster-paced game of baseball eventually surpassed cricket in America, and the so-called “sport of kings” was reduced to little more than a niche interest for the elite. Cricket may yet make a comeback, however, thanks to the United States’ growing population of immigrants from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and parts of the Caribbean—areas where, along with England, South Africa and Australia, cricket is still very much a popular sport. Throughout the United States, cricket clubs are popping up in big cities, on college campuses
            My own long distance love affair with cricket dates to 2007. As a long-time Brit-o-phile, I have always been drawn to all things British. My favorite television program: Last of the Summer Wine. My favorite composers: Ralph Vaughan Williams, Thomas Tallis and Hamilton Harty. Movies, reading materials, dress, beer; my tastes in each of these areas has been heavily influenced by the British. I even listen to BBC Radio online and have for years.
When I was younger, baseball was my game. I had been a fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs before mostly losing interest in recent years. I had, in fact, lost interest in nearly all competitive sports. I had, however, always wanted to find out more about this strange-sounding game of cricket, and so in 2007 while browsing through the BBC News Web site I came across mention of the World Cup taking place in the West Indies. Although I couldn’t access the BBC online coverage, I looked around and found audio commentary being provided via and began tuning in while at work.
I had no idea what was going on at first—why was someone bowling to a batsman, what was a sweep and a cut shot and why were there two batsmen changing ends all the time? Despite my lack of knowledge, though, as I listened to that World Cup I was enchanted and well and truly captured by this marvelous game. I came to understand some of the rudiments of the game, was able to follow along using some graphics of what a cricket pitch looks like and read up on some of the rules and history. I also managed to win an England ODI shirt—which I continue to wear quite often (much to my wife’s dismay), despite the fact that it now looks like something I took off of a dead bum in an alley.
My burgeoning enthusiasm wasn’t even hampered by England’s second round departure from the tournament—as mentioned above I’m long-time Chicago Cubs fan so I’m used to losing. (It’s a good thing, as England headed down a road that led to disappointment, defeat and major changes in the squad.)
            Over the next four years, I became more and more fascinated by the King of Sports—or the Sport of Kings, whichever you prefer—and followed England’s progress (or lack thereof) in international tests, ODIs and Twenty/20 cricket (more about these names and what they mean later). Although a Brit at heart, as an American I felt I needed to at least attempt a show at support for my home country, so I began researching the state of cricket in the United States. It didn’t take long to figure out that cricket fell just above toenail clipping and just below nose picking on the list of things Americas follow and watch with any interest. I did, however, discover another format that became what I would call my true cricket love: English county cricket.
            I spent some time searching around the BBC Web site, and on various county sites, before finally determining that I would follow Surrey. My highly personal, heartfelt reasoning? I liked listening to Mark Church—who is the BBC radio commentator for Surrey cricket—and found him to be better than any other county presenter. As it turns out, this choice was in keeping with my personal sporting tradition: Surrey was losing a lot but also had a lot going for them in terms of quality players and atmosphere.
            I hesitate to guess at how many long work days Mark Church—and his sidekick, Johnny Barran—have gotten me through. They have given a great deal of life to the hours I spend working on technical documentation for my employer. The same can be said of the commentators on Test Match Sofa, and also Test Match Special favorites Henry Blofeld and Jonathon Agnew.
Cricket commentators like to joke that county cricket matches are so dull and ill-placed in this day of fast moving business and less daylight leisure time that the only people attending most matches are four old men and a dog. Thanks to the Internet, they can now say four old men, a dog and me—at least in spirit. My hope is that, through this blog, my fellow Americans will learn enough about cricket to discover the joys of listening to and watching it, and that they will take that interest outside, where it belongs—and take up this most wonderful of sports. So pick up your bat and take guard—I’m off to bowl you a googly. Let’s see how you handle it.

1 comment:

  1. Our stories have many similarities - keep writing!