Posted by Dom
I can’t wait. The Ashes is upon us and this series has the potential to be one of the closest, most keenly fought and tense sporting battles of recent years. Will Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff lead the English boys to glory, retaining the trophy so dramatically won in the summer of 2005, or will the Aussies bite back and re-claim what they believe to be rightfully theirs in the first place? With blanket TV, radio and online coverage across the globe, you’re going to find it very hard to avoid cricket during the next 6 weeks.
And yet… amongst my friends, whether work-based or outside of the office, I stand out as some nerdy cricket-loving freak, immune to what is perceived as the game’s glaring faults: it’s ‘boring’; ‘over-complicated’, ‘pointless’, ‘never-ending’…. blah blah blah.
Even my own girlfriend comes up with the classic cricket-hater’s lament: ‘I just can’t understand a sport where a match can take 5 days to finish, and then not even have a winner!’. As if saying that negates anything positive about cricket whatsoever, and we should all rush back to the wham-bam, instant fix culture of football or rugby.
Well, I’m here to fight cricket’s corner, and have been doing so pretty much all my life, ever since I started going to see Warwickshire play Sunday league games at Edgbaston as a little kid. Yes, I love football, but cricket offers a whole new world of pleasures and, – yes- excitement that you just don’t get in any other sport.
The ‘5 days = boring’ argument is patently nonsense. Aside from the fact that the instant-thrill sporting fanatics which so many people seem to be these days can still get their kicks from the shortened version of cricket – 1-day tournaments, or even the razzamatazzy 20-overs-a-side version – the test-match standard of five days means that all cricket’s nuances, its personal battles, its games-within-a-game, can come out slowly, and be all the better for it. A test match takes you on an incredible rollercoaster of emotions – and it’s a prolonged thrill, not one that’s over in an hour and a half.
Cricket players aren’t on £140,000 a week, don’t gather round the man in charge in a screaming, baying mob, and in general exhibit a code of conduct on the field of play that few other sports can match. ‘Beefy’ Botham may have hit the headlines in the 1980s and 90s for various alleged drug misdemeanors, but you can still count the number of lurid sex scandals involving the game’s top players on the fingers of one hand. Whereas sometimes it seems that the News of The World would be almost out of business if our football players started to behave themselves. The lurid carnival that football’s Premiership has become would do well to take a leaf out of cricket’s book – and try and make its players realise that passionate, competitive, thrilling on-field action doesn’t have to involve cheating, diving, touchline histrionics or pathetic attempts to get your opponents in trouble.
Of course, cricket isn’t perfect. Drugs scandals, the fact that a whole day or match can be wiped out by a bit of mild drizzle (or even a team refusing to come back onto the field of play, as happened infamously in the England v Pakistan test during the summer), and some occasionally arcane rules, don’t help cricket’s cause. Even hardcore cricket fans such as myself can struggle with some of the terminology surrounding the game, and jargon obscuring even the most simple of fielding positions. Silly mid-off, long leg, backward point…. strange. But the language which has grown up around the game in my mind actually adds to the game’s charm and uniqueness – and there’s absolutely no requirement to understand every baffling term anyway.
Anyone doubting the glorious effect the game can have should have just observed the country during the last Ashes series, in the summer of 2005. Queues for miles and miles at 6AM outside grounds as people desperately tried to get any tickets they could lay their hands on, huge viewing figures for Channel 4, massive broadsheet and tabloid supplements following every single passage of play, online ball-by-ball commentaries, mass absenteeism from work, incredible sportsmanship when in the moment of victory after the ‘Greatest Test of all time’ Freddie Flintoff paused to comfort the vanquished Australian batsmen, the world’s best spin bowler (Shane Warne) practicing his trade…. and, of course, an English series win only achieved on the last day of the last test of the series, when in a manner peculiarly typical to our nation, we tried to pluck defeat from the jaws of victory, before a masterful, cocky and belligerent century from Kevin Pietersen finally meant that victory was ours.
Ultimately the people who trash cricket not only don’t ‘get’ it, but don’t even want to open their eyes to what the sport has to offer. It’s a unique game, which holds a special place in our culture as a nation, and just because it doesn’t fit in to the instant-gratification demands that seem to dominate our lives, that’s no reason to trash it.
Come Wednesday night, I’ll be watching the coverage on Sky bleary-eyed for as long as I can take it – and across the land on Thursday morning, just look at the facial expressions of the people walking to work, catching the Tube, hopping on the bus or doing the shopping. If we’re doing badly, the greyness of a cold November morning will be magnified ten-fold. But if we’ve taken a few wickets, or one of our immensely promising crop of young English batsman has come to the party early, the world will fleetingly seem a better, happier place. And we can dream that we may just be holding on to that famous Ashes urn for a while longer.