Ah, the satisfying thack of the sound of willow on tanned hide…
And then, of course, as bat meets ball of course.
Get your mind out of the gutter, I’m talking about cricket here! No, not the insect of the family Gryllidae, but the sport. Next to chess, it is arguably the finest pastime man has developed. But how does one begin to explain to the uninitiated the nuance and toe-curling pleasure of a game that lasts five whole days and then ends on no result? (And of course, trust the English to develop a game that requires five days of consecutive sunshine!).
I’m sure that to the average American, and continental European, the game of cricket must seem as banal as going to bed early on New Year’s eve and a pointless as fingerless gloves! It is unintuitive, slow, lacks any form of action, and the rules make as much sense as… well, as gridiron football’s rules make sense to us!
But if you were born with it, grew up with the game on your daddy’s knee, listening to the ball-by-ball commentary on the radio, and you understand the intricacies of the game, there is something special about it.
Especially the five-day version. Do not get me wrong, I love the fun and pace of pyjama-cricket limited overs as much as the next guy, the hit-and-giggle T20 format is great to watch, and attending a couple of IPL matches when it was held in South Africa is the most fun I’ve ever had at a sporting match (even though I was subject to the torture of Enrique Iglesias singing live as ‘entertainment’ before the opening match of the tournament commenced).
However, the real magic lies in the five-day version. Hour upon hour, day upon day of cricket. A slow-paced form of the game that to the trained and appreciative heart and mind is more exciting than a FIFA cup Final.
So, what is it about cricket that is so alluring? Well, firstly there is the history. Not that anyone can nail the origins of the game down, you see, it just sort of “developed” on its own. The mythical 99.6 of Bradman, the 400* of Lara, the strokeplay of Tendulkar… Yeah, yeah Gerry, every sport has its history and heroes, its folklore and so bloody what makes this different?
And I wish I knew. I wish I could put into words the joy of cricket. I spent the bulk of today watching a South Africa-Pakistan test match in Johannesburg. Day 3. I watched Quinton de Kock amass his 3rd test century, and equal his best ever score. I watched as Duanne Olivier edge closer to amassing the most wickets in a 3-match series. And these things move me. It moved me to see Sachin Tendulkar score a century, and Jacques Kallis chalk up 200, on the same day (I was there, wearing a makeshift superhero outfit, in Pretoria summer heat!). All I know is that for these hours over five days, time stands still. I can sit on my butt, and stare at the telly (or, if I’m lucky, at the field), and the world goes away. Nothing matters while the players are in the middle.
When the world hurts, when life becomes unbearable, when nothing makes any sense anymore, and depression turns your stomach and anxiety claws at your heart, there is nothing like sitting for five days, staring at a battle between a bat and a ball, to make the world make sense again. Cricket does not just bring joy, it brings peace.
It is no coincidence that Mikey, my male protagonist in Discovering Leigh is a cricket fanatic. Cricket helps me make sense of the world, and by projection assists him in his grappling with the contradictions of life as well.
PS: the cover image is not mine. I do not have any cricket images that does not need a model release from a player, so, the image is courtesy of Pexels.com