I’ve been pondering this subject for some time and have come to the conclusion that there is no one answer or reason – I suppose you could work that out before you started but do other sports (and I mean the sport not any team or allegiance) have such a complex array of reasons why people follow it – and in some cases, to the exclusion of all else?
Like most love affairs, you have to go back to the beginning to start answering the question ‘why’? For me, it was black and white TV coverage of tests in the 1960s during the school holidays which filled the hours whilst waiting to go back to school (sorry, I suppose I was the equivalent of a ‘geek’ back then in just loving school and learning!).
And once I’d learnt that you can combine the grainy TV pictures with the mellow tones of Arlott, the schoolboy fun of Jonners, the numerical wizardry of the Bearded Wonder, the moaning of the Alderman and FST, the permanent bewilderment of Boil Bailey and the mickey being taken out of every touring commentator, then the fun and fascination just multiplied!
By why? Ok there’s the perfection required in keeping score – the total batting must equal the total bowling at every stage (a haven for anyone with a hint of OCD); the playing of chess in human form in field placing; the added variables of the weather, the selections made for every possible reason – cricketing and non-cricketing, slow play, fast play, broken limbs and egos. All requiring courage beyond measure to prevent the other side winning, the grounds with all their history and foibles (the slope of the local cricket club ground puts Lord’s to shame – for Essex it’s almost like playing on the side of a mountain!) and so forth!
And then of course the skills required and on display – how I wish I could have 1% of the skills on display at professional level; paid players are given money for doing something they love, their hobby, their best pastime and then they moan about work loads – but we mere mortals with 9 to 5 jobs, mortgages, commuting, climbing up or sliding down the greasy corporate poles with imaginary glass ceilings and trying to do our best for our children/families and society just have to try and eke out a few pounds to go and watch our heroes in action for the odd day a year at a test match (assuming we can get tickets in the first place) and pray that it won’t rain! I recall a day a Lord’s in the 1990s against Australia when there was no play before 5pm after rain, but the play stopped at 6pm even though the conditions were perfect! But still we persevere every year!
The skills on display – a Gower or Cowdrey cover drive (the best since being those by Malan at Perth last December), the keeping abilities of APE Knott, Marsh, Dujon, Engineer et al; the sheer doggedness of Boycott, Tavare and latterly Trott, the sheer cussedness of Atherton against SA, the skills of G A Gooch, A N Cook, A R Border, I V A Richards, B C Lara, Garry Sobers, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and many many others; the length of the run up for Graham Dilley (he nearly started in the local street at Fenners one year!), the antics of IT Botham in 1981 through his exceptional skills; the hair flying in all directions by R G D Willis and the mesmerising talents of Deadly Derek on a wet English pitch and so forth – are just mind blowing. And then when you add captaincy to the mix – management of every type at every level and you have another layer to consider.
Add in the laws (not rules) and playing conditions and then change or tweak them for different formats of the game. Laws show the resonance with cricket’s history and it’s large role in colonialization, the British Empire and Commonwealth etc. Would we have had world wars if Europeans played cricket? Perhaps Queen Victoria should have spread the word more around her cousins!
I suppose laws are made to be broken (makes decision making all the more easy) whilst rules can be open to interpretation or mis-interpretation? Playing conditions – did hitting the tree inside the boundary at Canterbury score four or six? When’s lunch or tea – used to be after 25 overs in the second innings of a one day match but now lunch and tea are combined into an ‘innings break’. And talking of food – a game which lasts so long (six hours a day and for several days) needs time to replenish the calories for the players and provides the hosts with the chance to show off their cooking and culinary skills; and when TMS got into cakes…!
For anyone with a sense of history or are just fascinated by the achievements, the statistics and records – grown in range and scope beyond any imagination in the modern world when compared to the paper and pencil club-level score sheets of yore – are a delight, a curse, a fascination or a chore amongst others – you take your choice!
So what skills do you need or what do you learn by playing this most wonderful of sports?
- obviously maths and arithmetic (basic counting to six),
- strategy and tactics,
- morals and ethics (just how far in the lead do you need to be before you declare?),
- courage (physical and mental – Holding at the Oval in 1976 or the Aussies at Brisbane in 2017/18 are just simple examples),
- aerodynamics (spin and fast bowling are different branches of the same science!),
- geography (not only where you’re playing and how to get there but also where to field!)
- English (if only to understand the fielding positions!),
- manners and behaviour
- and so forth
So far, this has just covered what happens on the field of play! Off the pitch, there’s the camaraderie of the eleven (or forty/fifty plus in modern international sides at home or abroad), touring – in your own country or overseas, the experience of other cultures etc.
And one other aspect, cricket unlike any other sport has generated more books/literature/plays/tv programmes etc than any other sport – I suppose the hours it takes for a game just leads to the lure of pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). But like other sports, each follower has their own view of what needs to be done, has been done or could be done – millions of opinions and views, but just so few good enough to succeed and flourish.
I suppose that’s why we love cricket – yes, its a sport like many others but it’s more than that to most followers and I still can’t work out why we love it…perhaps it’s a topic to revisit at some point?