Monday, August 9, 2010
I don't love Cricket, I like it
Despite the strong allure of sitting in the sun drinking lager all day, the idea that I would have to keep an eye out for a ball that weighs the same as a small child and is as hard as a Duckworth-Lewis calculation seems a step too far on the dangerous side. I mean, if I wanted to combine stupid risks and drinking, I would just go for a beer with my Brother-in-law in the Czech Republic.
Nope, I’m off to the new version of cricket, Twenty20. I know purists hate it, it’s fun, it’s fast and you actually get a result, so you can see their problem with it. Plus all the teams get to dress in bright colours and not those dreary old whites. From the point of view of a person that has to do all the washing at home, I’m anti white anyway. After all, you can’t spray fabreeze on something white when you’ve forgotten to wash it and still pretend it’s clean. With colours I can and often do.
Luckily enough I had won a pair of tickets, so I invited my cricket mad mate JG to come with me. Not only could I pick his brain on cricket law and etiquette, but he was also a booze hound not unlike myself, so he would obviously know the best place to sit. Apparently you need the perfect combination of view and accessibility to the bar. To be quite honest I wasn’t too worried about the view, I was escaping from the kids for the day, so we could have been watching women’s darts for all I cared.
Walking into the ground I was struck by how much quieter the crowd was compared to a football match. I realise that you get a lot less fans at a cricket match, even compared to those small provincial teams like Tottenham, but everything seemed quite jolly and subdued. There was no tension in the air, just a feeling of calculated nonchalance. Missing was the smell of fried onions, instead replaced by a heady mixture of Old Spice and linseed oil.
Beers needed to be procured first, seats second. Those kinds of priorities are ones I am always happy to go along with. As we took our place in a very polite and organised queue, I looked around to take in my surroundings. Above the bar were photos of all the previous Essex Captains, proud, distinguished, moustachioed men. Oh, and Ronnie Irani.
We stepped out of the clubhouse with our pints of Oranjeboom, a lager I thought had disappeared with my milk teeth. I shielded my eyes from the sun and looked out at the pitch, which we were viewing side on. I then had to shield my eyes again as the Middlesex team took to the field to warm up, resplendent in bright pink. I had put my back out the previous day so we decided to stand against the clubhouse wall for a while, the fact that we were standing next to the nearest door to the bar was nothing but mere coincidence.
As I was purchasing my third pint, the teams decided to take to the field and a polite round of applause rippled around the ground, more of a royal wave than a Mexican one. Essex were fielding first, and the fine chap to my right obviously mistook my three pint mellow face for that of a cricket expert. He voiced the opinion that we should open the bowling with someone that was proficient in the art of in-swinging. I voiced the opinion that I had only had a few drinks and it was a bit early to be asking me to throw my keys into the middle of the table. My new friend decided to move elsewhere.
It was towards the end of the innings, and mid pint number six, that I heard the glorious sound of ball hitting willow in the perfect pitch. I knew the ball had been hit for 6 before I even turned around to watch its trajectory. I had been asking the new gentleman standing next to me how much a cricket ball actually weighed, this had become annoyingly important to me as I had had an idea for a blog. The next sound I heard as I struggled to find the balls trajectory, was the noise of something weighing 163 grammes (I googled it in the end) and travelling 60 mph, hitting the brick wall a meter above my head. The ball bounced off the wall and hit the guy 4 rows in front of me in the back of the head.
Despite the shock of a near miss, I still managed to laugh like a loon at the poor bloke, which seemed to be the correct etiquette as everybody else was. I looked up to see the mark where the ball had struck and realised I was standing under the O in ESSEX COUNTY CRICKET. Maybe the opposition were using the circle as target practise, maybe it was a fluke? Either or, I decided to take a couple of steps to the left and stand underneath the Y. I mean, why not?
The innings soon ended and it was half time, or tea. I had stopped caring about the correct terminology by then, and started on the spirits as the pint glasses were becoming too heavy to hold. The Essex innings went by in a bit of a blur. I do remember that the bowler we had been having a pop at had then turned into an excellent batsman, but I may be wrong about that, they all looked the same to me. It all got a bit tense towards the end, I could tell because the crowd had actually started to make a bit of noise. We eventually lost by 11 runs, but apparently it didn’t matter because Surrey or Sussex or Stockbrokers XI, I don’t know which, had also lost so we were through to the next round.
I can’t really remember much about the journey home, although I do know we stopped in a pub before we got on the train. I also know that I was 10 minutes from home at 9pm, yet walked through the door at 11pm? The next morning my head hurt, my only consolation was that it probably didn’t hurt as much as it would have had the ball actually hit it.
In conclusion, the only difference my untrained eye can see between a Twenty20 match and a five day test is that with one you drink all afternoon, and the other you drink for five days. Maybe that’s why they call it a test?