- 18 Oct 04
Beer, profanity and last-gasp English defeats...cricket has it all!
With the possible exception of being eliminated from a major football tournament on penalties or occupying a country that doesn’t belong to you, few activities are as downright English as a day at the cricket.
Perhaps that’s why the sport has never really taken off in Ireland, as a cursory glance at the Twenty Questions feature in the sports section of the Sunday Independent each week is quick to reveal.
The questionnaire does exactly what it says on the tin. Each summer Sunday, a well known GAA star answers 20 quick-fire questions, one of which is “Sports watched?”. For the sheer predictability of the answers given, it might as well read: “How much do you hate cricket?” Almost to a man, the featured hurlers and Gaelic footballers see this as an opportunity to wax lyrical about how much they despise the game of cricket.
“Soccer, horse racing, darts, snooker, monster truck driving, hockey … I will watch any sport for love, but I won’t watch that,” a typical answer might read. “It’s boring. It’s slow. It takes too long. It’s too complicated. Nothing ever happens. To be honest, I’d rather watch paint dry.”
I’ve always been slightly bewildered by this emphatic dismissal of one of my favourite sports, particularly when it comes out of the mouths of hurling players. Whatever about Gaelic footballers, who pull and drag for fun and could therefore be forgiven for struggling to comprehend any sport with a basic set of rules in place to prevent anarchy, I’d always assumed that their infinitely more skilful ash-wielding GAA brethren would appreciate the wide range of subtle flicks, murderous welts and athletic catches that light up the average cricket match.
Ironically enough, it was as myself and a few mates prepared to go to the recent final of the ICC Champions Cup one-day final between England and the West Indies at London’s Oval, that I realised cricket and hurling have even more in common than you’d think. Tickets? Check. Silly hat? Check. Ham sandwiches wrapped in tin-foil? Check. Assorted other food-stuffs wrapped in tin foil? Check. Spare tin foil wrapped in tin foil? Check. A big bottle of Lucozade? Check.
I was ready to go and the only discernable difference between me and a bewildered Tipperary hurling supporter going “up to Dublin for the big match” was that (a) I didn’t need a map to get where I was going, (b) my ham sandwiches contained actual ham (as opposed to “hang”) and (c) my Lucozade bottle contained actual Lucozade (as opposed to cold, milky tea).
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the rules of cricket, here’s the basic gist of them culled from The Big Book Of Cricket For Girls by long dead English cricketing legend Sir Garfield Willow: You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that’s in the side that’s in goes out, and when he’s out he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out. When they are all out, the side that’s out comes in and the side thats been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out. When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in. There are two men called umpires who stay all out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out. When both sides have been in and all the men have been out, and both sides have been out after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game.
It’s simple really, although even a basic grasp of them was completely unnecessary for the match I was at, which began at 10.15am, ended in near darkness at 6.45pm and saw the hosts snatch the most unlikely of defeat from the gaping jaws of victory. Let’s face it, when a match in any sport lasts over eight hours, you’re swilling pints from start to finish and England lose, it’s best just to sit back and enjoy watching the spectacle unfold, as it really doesn’t matter whether you know what’s going on out on the field or not.
Of course as a mixture of English stiff upper lippery and modern day professionalism precludes the players from quaffing anything stronger than soft drinks from the garish Pepsi refreshment trolley that occasionally trundles out into the arena to raucous cheering from the cheap seats, they’re forced to keep themselves amused by “sledging” each other. A skill at which Australian cricketers are renowned as the masters but other nations have made great strides to catch up in, this involves making smart-arse comments to members of the opposing team in an attempt to put them off. It’s most entertaining, not least because it often backfires.
The blazers at Lords hate sledging, believing it to be foul-mouthed and demeaning those who play and watch the game. Bollocks. If anything, it makes things more interesting .
“Hey Viv, it’s red and round, see if you can hit it next time,” shouted cocky Glamorgan bowler Greg Thomas to the then world’s best batsman during the course of a match in Nottingham some years ago. Richards responded by smashing Thomas’s next delivery out of the stadium and into the river Trent. “Hey Greg, you know what it looks like, now go and fucking find it.”
Widely regarded as the sledger other sledgers doff their caps to, Australian paceman Glenn McGrath met his match while bowling to Zimbabwe’s decidedly portly batsman Eddo Brandes. “Oi Brandes, why are you so fucking fat?” he inquired. Without batting an eyelid, the chunky object of his derision replied: “Because every time I fuck your wife, Glenn, she gives me another biscuit.”
So in summary: We have drunkeness, foul and abusive language, and nail-biting finishes that England lose. And to think some Irish people find cricket boring.