If there is one thing that truly and utterly sums up what it means to be English, then it is without doubt the sport of cricket. They literally stop the game to have a cup of tea, yes the tea break is an essential part of a day of cricket. And I say a day of cricket because the full form of the game last for five days! Imagine that, one game lasting five full days. Of course you need a few tea breaks.
This is a sport that I have tried on numerous occasions to explain to my wife and a few Croatian friends, but to no avail. The legendary actor Peter O’Toole once said “The only thing I've ever been interested in teaching anyone in life is cricket.” But to be fair there are people in England who don’t understand the rules of the game.
“So it is basically baseball for the English,” my Croatian nephew once commented. Ah, no. Although the beginnings of baseball did actually start with cricket, brought to the New World by English colonists. But today baseball and cricket are about as similar as water polo and ice hockey. And although football really rules in England, and indeed the world, cricket for me is a very, very close second. And the beauty is that the cricket and football season don’t overlap too much, meaning I have plenty of time to enjoy this “confusing” (as my wife says) game.
I grew up with cricket from a young age. My mother is nuts for the game. The first sports uniform I ever wore (and she still has the photos to prove it) were the all-white cricket strip. Unfortunately, I was as good at cricket as I am at origami, basically terrible, probably to the huge disappointment of me mother. But that didn’t stop me from catching the cricket bug.
I am not going to try to explain to you the rules. I basically don’t have enough paper and quite frankly they can be quirky. Its yet another sport that the English invented and the spread to the rest of the world, mainly through the former British Empire, and then the rest of the world started beating us at. And in fact this is how cricket came to Croatia. In the early 1800’s part of Lord Nelson’s fleet was anchored on Vis. Yes, another of our regular battles with the French. The ship’s crew were bored on the island so the Admiral basically said “there’s a flat piece of grass, go play cricket.” And they did. And the same club is still functioning today.
It is an extremely eccentric sport, another reason why it’s just so English. Cricket is basically the sport version of Brexit. Nobody outside “the island” can understand why we do it and yet that’s one of the reasons why we love it. It isn’t supposed to make sense.
Only the British could invent a sport that takes five days to play and could well end in a draw. Although cricket is actually the third most watched sport in the world, but that’s mainly due to the fact that it is the number one sport in India, the second most populated country in the world. In fact the current Prime Minister of Pakistan is a former cricket great and captain of his country, Imran Khan. And the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, started his life as a cricket player.
It’s a game played in the English summer, which of course means that due to rain games are frequently delayed or even stopped completely. Why we couldn’t invent an inside sport I don’t know?
And one of the biggest matches is currently underway. So imagine this. England against Australia in a series of matches called “The Ashes.” Firstly, there are five matches in the series, and each game lasts for five days, so rain permitting it is a competition that could last for 25 days, or almost a month, or roughly the same length of time as the complete World Cup in Russia took. And again at the end of the month the result could well be a draw. In fact, the result now is 1 – 1.
And what do these cricketers receive as a prize after exhausting themselves over that month, maybe a huge trophy. No, they actually receive the smallest trophy in worldwide sport, only 15 cm tall. And in contains, or according to legend contains, the ashes of an early wooden cricket ball, hence the name The Ashes. I did tell you that cricket was a quirky and quintessentially English sport.
I am completely gripped by the action; I am actually listening to cricket over the radio. How mad is that! “I understand cricket - what's going on, the scoring - but I can't understand why,” once wrote my favourite author, the American Bill Bryson. That “why” is about as hard to explain as the actual rules.