Tag Archive | spectators

Little things

The size of the cricket field and its 360 degree sweep of action give the spectator a variety perspectives and with that arise different appreciations of play. At a club or county match, where the ground can be circled, you can experience at your own pace how the game changes with the angle of view.

At an international match, these biases emerge when friends meet during the intervals and discuss the play. Those seated square on will comment on the pace of the bowling, the carry of the ball or the footwork of the batsman playing spin. Seated straight on and the movement of the ball from seam, swing or turn is revealed.

A single incident carries multiple images. A boundary catch off a top-edged hook is marked from some vantage points by the sudden lift the bowler generated; other spectators will be positioned to track the trajectory of the ball, certain it had shot straight up, or convinced it would carry the boundary; those sitting behind the fielder would have the thrill of seeing the player strain to cover ground and keep balance enough to clasp the ball safely.

This is a week of a month of a year when big things demand our attention. Bigger things than the third Ashes clean-sweep in 136 years. The game that has muddled on for so long may be considering (if given any choice) bold, radical changes underwritten by motives that repel many cricket lovers. Mutton, Haigh, Mehta, Degnan, Bal, Kimber, and many others must be read.

As a cricket blogger, these machinations freeze my ink. I am happy to defer to those I have mentioned. They have political and economic nous and calm minds that unpick what we’ve been told and calculate a prognosis for the game.

One sentence read today, however, from Matt Becker’s piece ‘The Highway is Alive Tonight‘, unblocked me and inspired this post:

The magic in cricket is in the little things.

I have wanted to write about something that delights me about the experience of watching cricket in a large crowd at a major ground, but it always felt so slight that I struggled for a reason to describe it. That the magic is in the little things, releases it.

Watching, say, a Test match: in between overs, the sound of applause, distinct but feint through distance, will drift across the ground. There’s no action for the crowd to respond to and nobody around you is clapping. But some 150 metres away a fielder is jogging or walking away from the square, with hand raised, holding hat or cap, towards a section of the crowd. It’s the bowler whose over has just finished, perhaps having taken a wicket, or completed a spell, but definitely having impressed. And now that bowler is returning to his fielding position close to the boundary, close to a section of the crowd who, independent of allegiance, identify with the bowler and welcome him back.

On the other side of the ground, the noise feels like a reaction to an event already viewed and understood. Or simply an echo delayed by the reach of the ground. At a distance, the harshness of clapping is tempered, not hand smacking hand, but raindrops on a roof, hooves on soft ground; insistent and gentle. Above all it’s the warmth of cricket and its people.

Now is the time to find the balance: getting the big things right, so we can enjoy the beauty of the little things.

The rarely spotted Test victory

England victoryI have never seen England win – in the flesh.

It’s 29 years since I saw England lose – in the flesh.

I estimate that I have seen 70 days of Test cricket, all involving England and the vast majority at Lord’s. I have seen England construct dominant positions. I have seen England struggle to keep their opponents in sight. Occasionally, I have sat tense through days of tight cricket as the teams wrestled for a telling advantage.

My dearth of victories and defeats is because I attend some combination of days one, two or three of Test matches. I immerse myself in these games, spending ten or eleven hours a day in and around the ground. But then I leave and head home with the game’s fate, perhaps not in the balance, but unresolved.

Over two decades ago, revelling in the enigmatic culture of our new, but temporary, home of Japan, my friend Bruce told me about Noh – Japanese opera. The performances were lengthy and so spectators bought tickets by the hour. As we savoured this further example of Japanese exceptionalism,  the analogy to our own consumption of Test cricket dawned on us.

Test cricket spectators are not unique amongst people attending live sports in having an experience of the contest that is neither comprehensive nor holistic. Spectators at golf tournaments see either a lot of a few golfers or a lot of golfers playing a few holes. Many tournaments last days – tennis, athletics – and an individual will only see a portion. But each provides a neat package of discrete contests that make up the larger tournament. Test cricket doesn’t parcel itself up conveniently. Last May I saw the final ball of the West Indies innings – last man Gabriel dismissed to the first delivery of the day – and England take a 26 run lead with three wickets down at the end of that second day.

Consuming live Test cricket ‘by the day’ influences the experience and the memory. The focus is on the passage of play and the individual performance. I remember the first Test of the 2005 Ashes series most for England’s rousing first morning, where even in the ‘posh end’ fists were pumped for each of the five wickets that fell before lunch and, shamefully, for Harmison hitting Ponting on the helmet. Australia won by 239 runs.

The match at the same venue four years earlier stays in my memory only for Mark Waugh driving, deflecting and flicking his way to the most easeful of hundreds. He seemed to draw the ball delivered by the bowlers to his pads from where he could direct it around and between the legside field. Australia won by eight wickets.

Back in 1984 I was thrilled to see England go toe-to-toe with the mighty West Indies on day three, establishing and then building on a first innings lead. Greenidge’s day five brilliance won the match comfortably, but I was back at school by then.

2000 was the year that Lord’s hosted a match that I could have eaten whole. England won in the evening of the third day, having bowled the West Indies out for 54 in 26 overs on day two. But I was honeymooning in Corsica at the time.

Next week my spell of runs and wickets without seeing a match reach its conclusion could come to an end. I have tickets for day four of the second Test at Old Trafford. Will I see England retain the Ashes, Australia pull themselves back into the series, or merely the match teed up for a different crowd of spectators to see the outcome on day five?