Test cricket: an enduring love affair

I’ve loved a few things in life. A very short list of women, and now no more. My son and my wider family. A frankly stupid boat. A few drinks, and then a few drinks more. The crackle of a Marlboro light in a silent room at 3 in the morning. The noise and smell of a pub with a coal fire at Christmas time. The sound of a merlin engine. Cinema; westerns, noir, Indy and Star Wars. Detective novels, Hammett, Chandler & Parker. Branford Marsalis and Jeff Tain Watts.

But enough of these things, its time to talk about something really important.

Cricket

I’ve always loved watching the game. From Botham and Lamb sometimes holding things together in the 80s to Robin Smith for a little while being the best batsman in the world in the 90s. There was nothing to match the excitement of Smith vs a battery of real pace bowlers. Ok so Warne did him, but that’s no shame. Then there’s the wider hinterland of county cricket. Going to the Oval with dad and seeing the fearsome Sylvester Clark, Monte Lynch catching flies and a great surrey team develop with Stewart, Thorpe, the Bicknells and the Hollioaks.

My first game was Surrey v Lancashire at the oval in 1988. Sylvester Clark ran through lancs like a knife through butter, or Tweety through rum punch. It convinced me of something that remains a solid truth. World class pace bowling wins more games than anything. http://static.espncricinfo.com/db/ARCHIVE/1980S/1988/ENG_LOCAL/CC/SURREY_LANCS_CC_25-27AUG1988.html

I played a bit at school and after and was ok, but never anything special. I knew what should be done but lacked the talent to do it. I’ve given a lot to cricket; broken fingers, torn rotator cuff, shot knees, but have taken so much more from it; playing, watching, chatting with mates. My lack of playing skill increased my awe at what Malcolm Marshall or Waqar Younis could do with a ball, or how Viv or Tendulkar could take any attack apart.

This brings me to another point. Cricket is tribal but inclusive. Cricketers and supporters appreciate the game no matter who plays it. This is different to football or rugby where tribalism is sort of the point. Asked for my favourite ever players, there’s more foreigners than Brits.

In team order – and this is my favourite team, not a world xi

Greenidge
Gooch
Viv
Robin Smith
Monte Lynch
Graeme Thorpe
Alec Stewart
Malcolm Marshall
Curtley
Waqar
Sylvester Clark

You see what I mean? 5 England qualified, but 2 of those were foreign, and they’re all there because I saw this team do things that made me laugh with joy.

Then there’s the stories and the history. Each series fits into a sporting historical narrative that i can understand through cricinfo or my collection of wisdens from 1989 onwards. There’s heavier stuff as well. Sometimes sport is heightened by political / economic / historical and contemporary trends.

Colonialism, post imperial decline, the rise of India and the political power of sport are all part of the tapestry, which has created some incredible sports writing. Cricket has been blessed with a literary canon unmatched by other sports – possibly because the game invites contemplation through its inherent time scale. There are some wonderful cricket writers at work now, many but not all ex pros; Selvey, Marks, Atherton, Haigh, Premachandran. Note again the international nature.

I can mark a lot of my life by cricket. England were playing India when Dad and I climbed Ben Nevis, it was Gooch’s 333 series. I toured Barbados as I left school. I moved from Bell Pottinger to College Hill during the epic 2005 Ashes, and then to Ketchum during the 2009 Ashes, both of which I attended. One of the reasons I knew I’d picked a winner was when Kirsty told me she was a tms fan, when we were getting to know each other and falling in love (she also loves football, rugby and boxing, but supports the wrong teams in Liverpool and Northampton). Of course it’s just one piece of the jigsaw but an important one. We were both at (separately) Matt Prior’s debut test v the windies at Lords. We’re getting married in Barbados and it just so happens to be their cricket season.

I started this post because even though the first two days of the current test v NZ didn’t light too many fires, I loved them because its the first test of the summer. Quiet sessions allow chat, contemplation and beer. They provide a relaxed sound track whilst working in an office listening to Test Match Special. A few quiet sessions or days merely set the scene for the drama that kicked off this morning with Anderson taking a great pfeiffer (five wickets) and Finn chipping in with four despite not bowling that well. I think it will be a tough series and a great appetiser to the Ashes double header.

I know I’m rambling a bit, but that’s the cricket way isn’t it? Like a tms session, there’s a thread running through this post, with a lot of tangential asides. I’ll blog about more specific things at another time. I suspect these will be on fast bowling, test v 20:20, and the ashes. But for now I’ll leave you with this thought.

Cricket is a sport planned around meals. Sport & food. No wonder I love this game.

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