I’ve been challenged to write a short piece on the game of cricket. Cards on table: in my youth I couldn’t stand to play it; as an adult I seldom watch it or take any other interest in it. I consider cricket to be a boring sport either to play or to watch; similar to marbles or tiddlywinks. Before I elaborate on this potentially inflammatory judgement, here is a short well-known explanation of cricket for those unfamiliar with the game. I can’t better it.
I discovered the boredom aspect of cricket when I played the game while a junior at my secondary school back in the 1950s. As I moved up into the senior years at school, I was offered a choice of sports during the summer term: cricket or swimming. I chose swimming. I enjoyed it, I was good at it, and it meant I sometimes got to see pretty girls in bathing suits. From that day forth, I have never played cricket and only watch it if it pops up as part of a televised news program.
Why is this? The game of cricket evokes pleasant images of gentlemanly men clad in white shirts and trousers striking leather with willow on a warm summer’s evening on a village green somewhere in the heart of England. What is there not to enjoy about this ancient and quintessential image of middle England? Everything! Let’s look at it from the perspective of the players.
First, there are eleven players per side but only two from each side get to do anything: two batsmen from the side that is in and a bowler and wicket keeper from the side that is out. The rest? Well, the remaining nine in the in side sit out, drink beer, discuss politics, chat to other spectators, and patiently wait their turn to bat. Those who have already batted have nothing to do until all those who can bat have done so, or the game is declared won or lost or out of time, or it starts to rain whereupon “rain stops play”.
Second, the remaining nine players from the side that is out are scattered around the field waiting for one of the two in batsmen to hit the ball in their direction. If the batsman succeeds in striking the ball, the nearest fielder has to run like hell to catch or otherwise stop the ball before it reaches the boundary. Make no mistake, that struck ball can be traveling at speeds up to 57 mph  and get this, fielders don’t wear gloves! Boy oh boy, if I saw a small solid cannonball-like projectile approaching me at nearly 60 mph, I would be out of there I tell you. That’s only 10 mph slower than the maximum legal speed of a vehicle on a British motorway. Jeez!
For a brief while, one of the nine fielders becomes active if he is in the path of the struck ball. The other fielders do nothing except stand on their fielding spot (of which there are many), gaze skywards or towards the pretty girls in the stands, or make daisy chains (as I did). There were many abandoned daisy chains on my school cricket field when I was coerced into playing the game as a junior. It was a boys-only school; no pretty girls to distract us from our manly sports!
Let’s return to the batsman for a minute. The person who bowls the ball, the bowler, does so with a run up followed by a fully-extended overarm swing designed to maximise the delivery speed of the ball. As the ball leaves his hand, it can do so with a speed approaching 93 mph . The standard cricket pitch is only 22 yards long so the ball’s velocity hardly drops over such a short distance. Now, imagine you are the batsman facing a solid projectile traveling at this speed. Your only defences are your bat and your reaction time. A ball travelling at, say, the modest speed of 62 mph is traveling at 30 yards/second – that is, it only takes about ¾ second to travel the 22 yards of a cricket pitch. That’s not a lot of time to judge where the ball will be and position your bat accordingly when it arrives at your end. (The time taken to blink the human eye is around ⅓ second. Two blinks and you’re done for!)
Against such speeds the batsman is protected by leg pads, helmets and visors, gloves and the uncomfortable cricket box to protect private parts from everlasting damage. Ouch.
Similarly, consider the man behind the stumps, squatted down, legs wide apart, private parts vulnerable – the wicket keeper. If the batsman misses the ball, the wicket keeper’s job is to stop and return it to the bowler for another go. Fortunately, the wicket keeper does wear thick padded gloves but he too must have lightning fast reactions; and a big protective box. It’s not much fun being a wicket keeper, I can tell you.
What about those who watch a cricket match, either at a cricket ground or on television? A full England versus Another Country cricket match is called a Test match and takes five days. Five days! Who has the time to watch a game over five days? That’s a test (geddit?) for any bench or armchair sports enthusiast. If you are spectating at a cricket ground you will need a cushion (the benches are harder than church pews), plenty of beer and sandwiches, a pair of binoculars, a blanket and, of course, an umbrella. Oh, and a smartphone or tablet to entertain yourself when the game starts to sag – that is, when no batsman is scoring 4s and 6s, the runs are few and far between, it’s lunch break, or rain has stopped play again. I can think of far better ways of spending five days than sitting on a hard bench watching four people playing cricket. If you are watching the game at home, same thing except you are probably sitting in a comfortable chair and you won’t get wet if rain stops play.
I’m afraid playing and watching cricket has passed me by. As a player, I could never see the point if you are not bowling or batting. As a spectator, the game moves far too slowly for me plus modern day cricket players have become infected with the same histrionic displays exhibited by football players – group hugs, wild ball or hat throws in the air, aeroplaning, somersaults, and so on. Ugly, ugly, ugly.
I know that some of my family and friends are either cricket players, ex-players or supporters, or all three, and I realise that I may have made enemies for life but I’m ready for the brickbats as long as they are not small round objects weighing between 5½ and 5¾ ozs and delivered at a speed of 93 miles per hour.
You’ll find me out the back watching paint dry!
This article has been about men who play or watch cricket. An article about women who play cricket, or men who watch women playing cricket, would have a different slant I’m sure. I’ve never watched a women’s cricket match but if and when I do, I may write a follow-up commentary.