Indian sports fans this week will mourn not only the loss of their cricket side’s number one Test status, but lament the manner in which they tamely surrendered the recent Test series with England. The only question that remains is why the hell I, as an American, should give a shit about any of this.
My parents bred me to eat Wheaties, guzzle Gatorade, waste my weekly allowance on baseball cards (I’ve kept them all, Dad – you swore they’d be worth a fortune someday!) and skip school for Super Bowl Monday. Yes, as the time zone reveals, I grew up an American abroad. Which means nowadays I’d rather have beans on toast with a proper fry up, gulp down a pint of Tetley’s, obsess over Panini sticker albums and laze about on a Sunday watching Formula 1. Still, a love for proper English breakfasts and Premier League football can’t explain why the hell an American would willingly watch cricket.
In an attempt to explain myself I’ve outlined a few points on why an (unwilling) American would enjoy cricket. The format is purely for clarity and has nothing to do with my laziness or contempt for blogging.
- Adored in India and the loved in the Caribbean. But make no mistake about it, cricket is a proper English sport. And by that I mean it’s not the least bit American whatsoever. You do not have to worry about cheerleaders taking the field at Lords during the tea time break.
- Tea time breaks! Brilliant! There does not exist a more comforting English institution than that of tea. Granted tea at Lord’s might be slightly different than the McVities and Ribena of my childhood, but the idea remains. America, as usual, takes eating and sport to the extreme (ie. the insane annual hotdog eating competition). Not proper, not cricket, not English.
- The ICC might not yet have brought back the timeless cricket series but there is still the possibility of playing for days, weeks, even months over a test series and still finishing with a draw. Yanks would find this insane. No Game Seven Showdown??? No one gets named World Champion? No one gets all the marbles? To add to all this lunacy the game continues despite a winner, as is the case with the fourth Test match between victors England and India. There’s something admirable in playing for no other reason besides playing.
- Similarly cricket extols the seemingly unsporting virtue of patience. Sometimes in cricket you simply need to survive. You don’t have to hit boundaries every ball. Just grab a single here and there to stay up at bat. Certain situations require you to simply grind out victories. American sports usually reward the stronger team. There are upsets, sure, but when the underdog plays well. Americans don’t like it when a weaker team wins. Also considering the modern sportsman’s inclination towards impulse and overindulgence, a little bit of patience is a breath of fresh air.
- The umpire will hold your jumper. Not knowing the rules very well I’m not quite sure how this works, but I think the umpire will hold your jumper and cap while you bowl. Fucking awesome. Don’t have to worry about it getting dirty on the ground. Obviously the last couple of points highlight the importance of morality in cricket. Worse than losing a cricket match is taking an unfair advantage. Proof of this belief is shown in India’s reinstatement of Ian Bell after the England batsmen mistakenly walked off the pitch for tea. Since that moment India looked a lost side in the competition.
- Cricket used to be dangerous. Most people don’t know this, but there was a time when fast bowlers would scare the living shit out of batsmen. These men had families to take care of and a broken jaw or hand certainly didn’t help pay the bills. Not to mention the fact that more than a few batsmen died from a fast bowl to the head. Modern sports are by far much more tame than thirty of forty years ago, but its worth remembering the history of sport when judging the courage needed to participate in the competition.
- Following on from history is the importance of politics (sport’s ugly and remorseless twin). How can you begin to imagine what it meant to former colonies such as India and the West Indies to defeat the English at their own game? Yet the recent documentary on West Indies cricket, Fire in Babylon, hit the nail on the head. While cricket used to be a game for English gentlemen on a quiet afternoon in the country it’s now played on the streets of Mumbai, the beaches of Kingston and even war ravaged Kabul. To ignore the political weight of cricket would be extremely foolish.
- Finally, the most enticing quality of cricket? Americans will never, ever, ever be interested in the sport.