Is there anything lovelier, at the end of a long working week, than to come home on a sunny summer’s day to watch the cricket on the telly. Thanks to Oggie and his wizardry I can watch this marvellous game from my living room in Prague.
Today is the second day of the Third Test Match in the three-match series between Sri Lanka and England. Sri Lanka are doing well after two catastrophic matches played on pitches in the north of England during the last three weeks. England have already won the series but the Sri Lankans have their honour to play for. With a risk of rain on Sunday, a draw seems the most likely outcome. This Third Test is being played at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, the greatest cricket ground in the universe, at least as far as we know. But how marvellous it would be if, when aliens finally arrive, they were to arrive as a team of eleven in cricket whites. We would know that they must be intelligent.
You don’t have to concentrate on cricket. When those moments of excitement come and a wicket falls, you can abandon your blogging, cooking, or whatever you might be doing, and watch the replay. The sound of idle banter between the commentators is the perfect background music to the summer. Perhaps it reminds me of those summer days when my father would do something pointless in the garden with the cricket radio commentary playing loud enough for everyone, including the neighbours, to hear.
I played the game, too, as a child. I loved to bowl, but I was too scared of the rock-hard ball to bat with confidence and I was completely hopeless at catching. The ball comes at you at 90 miles per hour with the hardness and weight of steel, as it rockets or glances off the batsman’s bat. Custom demands that you never wince at the pain (my Godfather once took a catch in Malta at the cost of a split finger).
Cricket, in its Test Match variety (true cricket), must be the longest game that humans play. It lasts no longer than five days, but of course a full five day series (as between Australia and England when the Ashes are played for) may involve twenty-five days of cricket. It is the only game, as far as I know, that stops for tea. Though it demands great physical fitness it isn’t vulgarly physical and it is rare that one player ever touches another. It is the game that most closely resembles life or war- there are long periods of quietness (I won’t say tedium) and then moments of immense excitement, and always plenty of tea. It is affected by the arbitrary forces of nature – on a damp day, the ball will swing more alarmingly, or bounce more erratically, and if the rains come the match is suspended with no compensation. Strategy, patience and thoughtfulness are rewarded, and aggression concealed beneath a patina of politeness and gentlemanly conduct. Fair play, decency, magnanimity, gallantry, and giving credit where it is due – these are the values of the game.
I have long since ceased attempting to explain the rules of the game to the barbarians amongst whom I live in the Czech Republic, but I believe the game is occasionally played by the Commonwealth expats who live here. At least it is allowed. In fact I know of no country in the world where the game is outlawed. It is permitted even in places where it is impossible to play it, such as Antarctica. Even the UN fields a team.
The EU has not so far, legislated on the issue of standard competitive games between EU nations, and I suspect it never will. If anything is evidence that the culture of a nation is safe within the European Union it is cricket.