Why, cricket? why are so many grown men and women in the UK and far afield flooding out their emotions as if the death of a cricketer, who most barely knew of, is a major bereavement?
I was always told, “Never try to explain cricket to the unbeliever”. Well, that was mainly referring to the rules, which of course remain unexplainable to all but players, but I shall endeavour to explain why this sporting death is somehow different from others.
“What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?”
CLR James was quoted by John Arlott in answer to those who recognised his worldly wisdom as well as his encyclopaedic cricketing knowledge, and he eloquently summed up why he loved the game. My view is based on my “nearly fatal” experience.
I took up cricket for the 2nd time at the age of 25 – bowling for St James, the local Sunday league and midweek evening matches in Cardiff. The camaraderie was better than any I felt when playing football and there was that marvellous first game when I took 3 wickets and an amazing catch to earn my permanent place in the side. We never wanted to take it too seriously and were often deliberately losing a couple of games to avoid being promoted to the first division where it was treated as a matter of life and death.
It shouldn’t be a matter of life and death, no sport should, but motor sports, mountaineering, and several others have seen more deaths than cricket, which has had a few at all levels. In one game we had a member of the opposition who loudly made loud sexist comments at a woman jogging around the boundary edge, he was also a loud and arrogant mouth on the field as we batted.
It came his turn to bat and I got plenty of, but didn’t need any, advice from my team-mates to “Let him have your fastest”.
As it happened I found a great spot just short of a length with real zip, and, our midweek pitches being of the poor quality they were, this ball happened to rear up and smack the batsman right under the sternum. He staggered backwards and fell onto his stumps, “HOWZAT!” the whole team shouted with glee…
As it turned out he was helped off the field with only a bruise for his trouble, and I felt no guilt whatsoever, indeed I happily accepted the massive kudos I got from my friends for silencing him. However, had he ducked, and turned his eyes away from that ball, he could, just as easily and freakishly as Philip Hughes, have caught a fatal blow. How would I be feeling now, had that happened those 30 years ago?
Perhaps the love of the game that unites players and fans alike is the knowledge that serious competition in cricket is a matter of importance, but that we are all respectful of this tribal interaction as a way of bonding whilst encouraging individual excellence. The pleasure of taking the final wicket to win a game is immense but the main pleasure was merely taking the field – the cliché of the green expanse and the sound of willow on leather is further enhanced when you have heard the thunder of the paceman coming up behind you as you prepare to back up the facing batsman – (or are the umpire). The thrill of out-thinking an opponent so he makes a wrong move to fall into your trap is immense… but the longer games gave me a sense of both tranquillity and excitement that cannot be matched in any other sport.
I feel for Sean Abbot – and all those who have put out their bats, literally or metaphorically, as we have what is almost a Princess Diana moment, not in this case for a mass celebrated individual – but for what that individual represented. This is what we see in this great fellowship of the game. #putoutyourbats.