“Cricket lovely cricket” is the title of a West Indian calypso written in 1950 following the first West Indian victory over the English cricket team on English soil. The spin duo of Ramadin and Valentine that did much of the damage would later be replaced by a succession of fearsome fast bowlers that along with some equally formidable batsmen enabled the West Indian team of later years, together with some even later Australian teams, to become in my opinion the two stand out great cricketing sides of my lifetime. “It is not cricket” is a phrase that has often been used in everyday speech to represent something that shouldn’t be done because it isn’t fair or appropriate. When a certain well known English batsman recently failed to walk when everyone except the umpire knew he was out, the phrase might well have applied except the game that fascinated me from as a child because of its among other qualities, sportsmanship, is no longer keeping with the spirit we associate with it (although “bodyline” some 80 years earlier might have suggested that had long been the case) – for now, and ever since the Kerry Packer revolution, it seems that commercialism often dictates how the game is played.
I elaborated upon these two quotes, which will probably only mean anything to fellow cricket lovers, by way of an introduction to a game I have loved ever since I was a small boy when I played numerous games of cricket with friends in the local park. My fondest memory is playing with 2 or 3 chums, with a proper bat and ball (but other than that, no other cricketing gear) using a park waste bin as the wicket, placing it in front of the fence that was the boundary between Blenheim park and the school (that way we could dispense with the wicket keeper). While not an avid spectator (frankly, I don’t have the patience), I have ever since followed from a distance the game, especially at the higher levels and in the longer, especially five day Test matches, rather than shorter forms of the game (that still doesn’t especially grab me). As a junior school boy, I played for my school team but not as a regular as I wasn’t that good and recall the delight when on occasions I was allowed to score, fascinated as I was by cricketing statistics and accurate record keeping. In my secondary school, I was not especially sporty and only resumed my active sporting interest when I went to college. Later, I played for various works teams and made the odd contribution by virtue of being able to slog the ball and score quick runs with my bat.
Throughout all of this time, I was following the game, mainly through television and radio, and especially via Test Match Special (TMS), when I would spend many a pleasant hour listening to cricketing pundits, especially under the veteran broadcasters: Brian Johnston and John Arlott, along with two cricketing greats: Fred Trueman and Trevor Bailey, talk about the game and much else besides (and as those who follow TMS know, it is when it is raining and no cricket is being played that TMS really comes into its own!). These days, one of my daily rituals when England are playing test matches (along with catching up on “the Archers”) is listening to TMS podcasts (yet another way the Internet revolution has changed our life habits) by the unlikely pairing of Jonathan Agnew and Geoff Boycott, summarizing the happenings of that day.
I can recall watching parts of games played in local parks. Unfortunately, living in an urban area, I don’t get to watch the game on the village green which is where ideally it should be played. I have also watched and taken part in games in humble villages in India. I also follow the fortunes of my local county side, Essex, which these days are a middle of the table team but had been right there at the top and before that right near the bottom. One of my earliest memories, as a 13 year old, was sneaking into the ground and watching them beat the Australians in nearby Southchurch Park, with my hero Trevor Bailey scoring the winning runs. Years later and for years to follow, I watched Essex play at least one day in a season (paying this time) and during that time would read that year’s handbook, with all its statistics and reflections, from cover to cover, while trying to follow the game as it was being played.
While there are those who know a lot more about world cricket than me, I know enough to hold my own with cricket enthusiasts, talking about cricket sides and individual personalities throughout the history of the game, particular games, incidents etc. Like most fans, I have my fancies and foibles along with views on how to play the game and the relative merits of anything ranging from teams or individuals, past or present, to changes that have been introduced over the years. I have done this throughout my travels, notably in India. My favorite Indian, and anywhere else come to that, publication is “Sportstar” and it is one that I read avidly.
As I write, my national team has recently suffered a humiliating and overwhelming five match defeat in what some would see as the pinnacle of world cricket – the Ashes, played against the Australians in Australia. A few months earlier, the English had inflicted defeat on the Australians when contesting the Ashes in England, although not quite so crushing as the one they were on the receiving end of. Reasons for this major reversal of fortunes in such a short space of time are many and on which I like many have views, as I do on what should happen next and much else besides, and in a more relaxed setting and among those who are interested in the subject I could happily spend time sharing these. In a nutshell, a team that might still be described as ordinary, which was in disarray, had somehow lost its way and lacked discipline when they played in England last summer, had within a matter of months got its act together in Australia, spurred on by a home crowd, gelling as a unit, spearheaded by a penetrating fast bowler, with a solid game plan and steely determination. England, on the other hand, which had a short time before been proven world beaters, did not get their act together, along with a few mishaps, such as the early return of one of its star batsmen because of a stress related condition, and many of its stalwarts surprisingly under-performing. The later dropping of its enigmatic premier batsman and the resignation of its head coach begs the question: what went on behind the scenes? How things change in a short space of time and how salutary to think the line between being winners and losers can be so fine!
I suppose, the point of what some would see as a lot of trivia (at least compared with my earlier blog) is that cricket lovely cricket, like another game I love – chess (which I hope to talk about in another blog), is something that continues to fascinate me, is a game that I enjoy and follow with interest and occasionally participate in (although much less so nowadays as I am growing old), is a game I would be keen to develop, especially at grass roots level. I would love to see my national side yet be rated alongside the great West Indian and Australian sides I mentioned earlier (they have come close but not close enough), while reverting more to what is noble and excellent (although it is hard to see how the commercial dominance can be reversed). There will be those who won’t understand why I am fascinated with a game that might be played over five days and still end in a draw, yet they miss the point that it is the ups and downs, reversals, heroism, skill, guile, determination, attrition, unpredictability, personalities. and mind aspects that attract. It is a game that in many ways reflects life and, at its best, the best in life.