Eight years ago, when Michael Vaughan and Ricky Ponting strode out for the first toss of the 2005 Ashes series, I knew very little about cricket, other than that I didn’t want to watch it. By the end of the summer, I was a fully-fledged “Ashes bint” (I had nothing better to do that year), and my love continues to this day.
When I figured the game out, my dad expressed his surprise that it had taken me long: a sport which includes timed meal breaks, said he, was inevitably going to be one of my favourites. Sandy Balfour’s brilliant book “What I Love About Cricket” explains everything far more eloquently than I can, but I’ll add my own thoughts (if you haven’t read this book, do. It’s as much about family relationships as it is about the game).
My recently-found love of cricket has brought me a large group of friends, with cricket being the common thread between us, and other interests being discovered as similarities at a later date. We socialise out of season, spending time together without the game surrounding us, as well as staying up late into the night during the winter in order to shake our fists in frustration at our radios or to cheer the lads on when all is going better than hoped. Despite the phenomenal success of the England team over the last few years, the most common state of an England fan is still disappointment.
The game allowed me to get closer to other members of my family: asking my grandfather for his thoughts on the current game always produced a humorous reaction (if England were doing well, it was because the opposition were terrible; if England were doing badly, it was because it’s no longer the 1950s, they all wear helmets and drink isotonics rather than real drinks and that they’re basically useless).
I’ve also been fortunate enough to see the game at close quarters from behind the scenes: stints working at Lord’s and Headingley have given me the opportunity to make further friends, as well as to meet many of the game’s heroes (and a few villains). Seeing what goes into putting these sporting shows on has only strengthened my enthusiasm for the game, giving me a glimpse of the world beneath the surface – it’s great to see that the passion for the sport extends to those who are retired as players, or viewed by many as mere observers.
Having thought about cricket, what makes it special and why I like it, I’ve come to the easy conclusion that I agree with Balfour, and found an explanation as to why it took me so long to catch on: cricket isn’t a game you like or enjoy, it’s a sport you fall in love with. It has idiosyncratic charms – which everyone who sat in the Upper Edrich Stand one rainy day in September 2006 with my friends and me can attest – and some elements which are confusing at best and inexplicable at worst, but there’s nothing quite like being sat with a group of friends, radio in one ear, replay screen opposite you – for the inevitable moments when you’re too busy chatting or sniggering at the obligatory obese, sunburnt, sleeping man nearby – large picnic at your feet and the sun on your back, roaring along in support of your team with a partisan crowd.
One of the things I’ll miss about the UK this summer in particular is the opportunity to once again be part of the Barmy Army, cheering England on. I hope that everyone who goes, and everyone who inevitably falls in love this summer enjoys it as much as I have. I also need England to win, because there are a lot of Aussies at camp who will make sure to let me know if our performance is poor!