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Cricket: The Empire strikes back

The British Empire in 1815, aka the Cricket World

The British Empire in 1815, aka the Cricket World (Image via Wikipedia)

Cricket. Now theres a sport that stepped in history, heritage and culture. From the evocative names such as Lords, Headingley, The Oval and the ‘G, to the origins of the game itself, Cricket is literally dripping in tradition and history.

Look at the teams that play Test Cricket – England, Australia, India, South Africa, West Indies, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Pakistan, Bangladesh. All former British colonies. Cricket was exported as a genteel game for the well-to-do by Brits abroad in the mid Nineteenth Century, during the height of the British Empire. In the same manner, Polo became popular in the Indian-Subcontinent, and Rugby in South Africa and the Antipodes. Fine example of sport having strong cultural roots.

Empire History is even evoked in song: ‘Captain Cook only stopped for a shit’, ‘You all live in a convict colony’, and even ‘we come with rucksacks, you came with a ball and chain’. The banter even goes into national stereotypes – one Barmy Army t-shirt has on it ‘Your nation has been found guilty of being a barbecue-obsessed, Olympic-whinging, rugby-choking, mullet-sporting lazy bunch of convicts. I hereby sentence you to another 200 years of having a chip on your shoulder’. Classic.

Cricket tends to remember and cherish its history better than most games. While most Pompey fans have no idea who Jimmy Dickinson was, all English cricket fans will know hallowed names like Grace, Trueman, Cowdrey, Boycott and Botham. Stands at Cricket Grounds are almost always named after ex-players. The Pavillions hark back to the old days of the sport, reminding us of roots long before newer larger steel and concrete stands. Lords in particular is a cricketing world all of its own – the Long Room, old father time, the Museum, and even the new media centre.

The other thing about Cricket is that due to the way its played – and its long history – its a statto’s wet dream. Virtually every match sees some record or other being broken, be it individual, team, partnership, or batting, bowling, fielding or whatever. There’s even a Society of Cricket Statisticians out there. I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that players play with one eye on their statistics – their averages and their place on the honours boards, for example. And even in a moral sense, events such as the miracle of Headingley in 1981, the infamous Bodyline tour in the 1930′s and even the story of the little urn itself… they hang over the sport like some kind of mystical cloud.

The Culture of Cricket is also legendary. Hence the phrase, ‘its just not Cricket’, implying that certain things are just not on. Such as claiming a catch when you know it didnt carry, or staying at the crease when you know the ball took a nick. These sorts of values encapsulate the old-fashioned British sense of fair play, and for many people transcend the sport. Sadly these have been less in evidence in recent years – Australian arrogance in success and bitterness in defeat (see Ricky Ponting, also see ‘worlds worst loser’), and numerous ball-tampering, match-fixing and spot-betting allegations. But there are still examples of sportsmanship – how Adam Gilchrist used to walk of his own accord, and Freddie Flintoff consoling Brett Lee after the second test at Edgbaston in 2005, for example.

Thats not to say that I agree with all things to do with Cricket. The ‘old boys club’ part of it does make me feel like projectile vomiting – especially at Lords when you have the wonderful spectacle of row upon row of portly gentleman sat in MCC Blazer, who couldn’t chase a ball across the outfield if their life depended on it. I abhor snobbery in all its forms, and especially in sport. The snobs who criticise the Barmy Army for standing up and daring to support their team should just go home and listen on the radio. They’re the same ilk who years ago held that batsmen were ‘gentlemen’, and bowlers were ‘amateurs’. Pathetic.

But yes: to cut a long story short, I’m looking forward to watching England knock the Aussies all over Sydney again, it will be particularly sweet.

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