Australia is a Cricketing Nation. I’ve lived in Australia for thirty years, the first twenty of which I am ashamed to say was spent poking fun at the noble game of Cricket. Somewhere around the start of the New Millenium the penny dropped. I got it. Now I am what’s known as a Cricket Tragic.
My husband, Nigel, and his brother, Roger, were both POMs. I should pause here and explain the term POM. It is an Aussie term for English-born. It is a somewhat disparaging term, but many POMs wear it as a badge of honor. Sometimes it is said with affection, so unless it is part of the phrase ‘Pommy Bastard’ it is generally not taken as an insult. It is an acronym, but I can’t tell you it’s origins for sure. There are different explanations for it, none of which sound very authentic to me. Anyway, for our purposes here, you only need to know that a POM is an Englishman. A pommy Bastard is probably an English cricketer. At least, an English cricketer is a pommy bastard.
The point of all that is to say that both Nigel and Roger were mad keen cricketers in their youth, so naturally were still fans at the point when I came on the scene in 1979. It wasn’t long before they stopped trying to explain points of the game to me as I would invariably laugh and make a bad pun or other disrespectful remark. I have to admit, it isn’t all that difficult to poke fun at the game, especially from an American point of view. There are certain features of the game which, if not fully understood, can seem a bit . . . amusing. But more about that later.
Fast-forward twenty years. I don’t really know what changed; it might have had to do with the rise and rise of a young Tasmanian cricketer (who is now the Captain of Australia (Cricket-wise) and the Number One Batsman in the World. Anyway, I began to take notice. And learn. And here I am now, a fully fledged Cricket Tragic. To be a Cricket Tragic, there are certain expectatons. For example, you can be expected to
- prefer talking about/watching/listening to/reading about/or attending a cricket match to pretty much anything else;
- plan your day around the upcoming match so that you can stay up all night watching or listening to the broadcast from the other side of the world;
- probably own a little pillow speaker so that you can listen to the match in bed without annoying your spouse;
- know the names (and nicknames) of all Australian players and most of the players from other cricketing nations;
- have at least one pet named after a cricketer;
- care who wins the toss;
- know what ‘Silly Point’ is;
- never, ever, call the batsman a batter, or the bowler a pitcher;
I promised I would mention a bit about why it is easy for someone who knows nothing about Cricket to poke fun at it. Please understand that I don’t want to make fun of the game now, just for laughs; I did that for years and now I still have night sweats because of it. (At least I think that’s what’s causing them.) Anyway, I’m just telling you these things because I want you to know that they are not at all funny.
I suppose the first thing that people might be mistakenly amused about is the duration of a match. A proper Test Match lasts five days. Full days. And may still end up without a result. There are other forms of the game, namely Limited Over (or One Day) Cricket which lasts, funnily enough, one full day, and a new form which is called Twenty20 which lasts about three hours. But Proper Cricket lasts five days, unless it is being played in England, where they are lucky if they get two full days without rain.
Another often misunderstood feature of the game is the bowling. (Never, ever say pitching.) First you must know that the bowler is required to throw (bowl) the ball over-hand, without bending his elbow. That’s not all that easy to do, I have to tell you! And it is normally expected to bounce once before arriving at the batsman, though that isn’t a requirement. There are two major categories of bowlers: Fast Bowlers and Spinners. The Fast Bowler is at the top of the bowling food chain. He is the most feared and revered. At least that was the case until an Australian leg-spinner came on the scene and made bowling history, but that’s a story for another day. The point here is that for a fast bowler to bowl fast — really fast — he must run for a long time before he lets go of the ball so he can build up momentum for the ball to go even faster. I admit, it looks a bit peculiar to see the bowler running and running and running and running before he delivers the ball, but it seems to work. Nigel was a fast bowler, so I have to take his word for why they do it.
Another thing that cricketers do that is sometimes the subject of jokes by non-fans is that they polish their balls. Stop snickering; this is important. The cricket ball is red (well, a sort of mahogany red), and it has a seam around its equator. For the bowlers to work their magic with the ball, they like to have it polished on one hemisphere and roughed up on the other. So every player on the bowling/fielding side who handles the ball is likely to rub it vigorously on his groin in order to polish the one side. This tends to leave a prominent red stain on his white pants, and it is easy to see who likes to polish the balls the most.
I think that is enough information for one day. I hope you now have a much greater appreciation for the game that Englishmen stand out in the midday sun for. Whenever it shines, that is. MM