I’ve done a good job of teaching Mrs G the rules and laws of cricket, she can tell me what a maiden is and the difference between the main forms of the game are. She’s also getting the hang of the LBW law (the cricketing litmus test – if you understand leg before you had a decent grasp of the game, a bit like the offside rule in football).
She is also slowly grasping the naming of the fielding positions (like what a “silly mid-off” is and how it differs from “third man”). This is pretty impressive considering that she comes from the relative cricketing backwater of New York. Where she struggles is not in the application of the game, but the matches themselves. Like many she doesn’t get the meaning of cricket.
No other sport I know has generated an idiom like “it’s just not cricket”, we don’t say “that’s just like football” or “going round like a Formula 1 car”. There is something about the sport that makes it special, even the laws of the game have a specific section about the “spirit” of the game. Do the rules of baseball, basketball or rugby look to codify the behaviour of the players in such a way? It’s not because cricketers are constantly treating the game with disdain but more because the way it is played is perhaps more important than the participation.
Yes winning is important, but there is sometimes as much joy in not losing. When I try explaining to someone that a Best of Three series can end without anyone winning any game it can be a bit difficult to justify following cricket as a sporting competition. We are conditioned to believe that there has to be a victor. Yet after this series both teams will feel like they are winners, and both losers. Neither will be happy with the final result yet a draw does mean nobody is really licking any wounds.Trying to tell non-cricket lovers, and Americans, that there is the potential for this years ashes to be played over five tests of five days each and still not to have a victor seems to break their sporting brains. Even when football was introduced following USA ’94 it was altered to have a contrived shoot-out to produce a W-L resolution.
Test cricket allows for narratives, in the way that shorter length games fail to do. You have the dramatics of the “Greatest Series” in 2005 where Australia looked insurmountable, until Glenn McGrath stepped on a ball and twisted his ankle. The match at Edgbaston that come down the to two runs after five days of play, batting it out in the 4th test and the race against the rain at the last. All the euphoria and joy of the open top bus tour and MBE’s was then crushed months later at the hands of a 5-0 drubbing down under.
This is the meaning of cricket. A game where fortunes swing as much as the Duke ball in Jimmy Anderson’s hand. Where failure is just one ball away, and you go from hero to zero to hero within an afternoon’s play. It’s the feeling that events are building to crescendos with every run or dot ball, where not scoring is as exciting as watching the ball sail over the ropes for six.
The battle for a strip of grass just 22 yards long between just two men in what is a team sport, where failure is individual and success collective.