There is a debate going on in the Goodreads humour club about British humour versus American humor.
And we have just got to the subject of cricket. Joseph has come up with the delightful explanation:
“Cricket is actually an elaborate rain-ceremony with a high success rate.”
That is such a good line that I was tempted to leave it there. But it doesn’t quite tell the full story. You see, I don’t think that cricket is a sport. It is really a metaphor – a metaphor for Britishness.
First and foremost, it’s an agricultural game. The ball is cork wrapped in leather. The bat is usually made of willow. In other words, the game is a confection of cow and tree. A bucolic celebration of all things farmyard.
It is a game of manners. The two sides politely take it in turns to bat and bowl. “After you, sir.”
Cricket is quite possibly the only game in the world that stops for tea in the afternoon. American football stops for advert breaks. Golf, perhaps understandably, stops when there is lightning in the air. Skiing stops when there is no snow. But only cricket stops so that the players and spectators can remind themselves of the empire we used to have by drinking a hot beverage made from leaves grown in parts foreign.
Not to mention cucumber sandwiches and Victoria sponge cakes. Also known as the “start tomorrow” diet.
A proper game of cricket takes a looooong time. Five whole days for the full fat variety. Even the faster versions take several hours. The reason for that is simple – it’s all about the beer. Cricket is an excuse to spend a whole day in the countryside getting happily sloshed.
And here is cricket’s secret advantage over football. Goals in football are relatively rare. A game might be decided by only one goal. It is unusual to have a game of football with more than, say, five goals. And that means that no-one wants to go the bar to fetch more beer. There is always a chance that you will miss the one crucial moment of the match.
There are no such worries with cricket. You can safely wander off to the bar for refills, safe in the knowledge that you won’t miss much. It’s a different pace.
If we were cynical marketeers, which as a nation we are usually not, we would sell cricket as an exercise in mindfulness. It is yogic calm. A meditation in the sun. With beer.
I suppose we have to talk about the weather. Joseph is quite right. Britain has more than its fair share of rain, so why do we invent a game that stops for precipitation? It is not unknown for a game to last for four days … and then to be abandoned on the fifth because it’s raining. Or if it is too dark. A game can be decided by a portly bloke in several jumpers deciding that there is not enough light left.
Americans just don’t get it. Frankly, the rest of the world doesn’t get it. If we are not stopping for tea, we are stopping to get our umbrellas out. And we resolutely do not play cricket in a stadium with a roof. That just wouldn’t be … ahem … cricket.
The answer is that the score of a cricket match doesn’t really matter. We don’t really mind who wins and loses, at least most of the time. And anyway if it rains we get a chance to talk about the weather. Which is one of our national pastimes.
When two British people meet, there is a very good chance that they will talk about the weather within the first couple of minutes. When you think about it logically, that’s pretty silly. These two people have many things that they don’t know about each other. What they do for a job, their family, hobbies, what they had for breakfast, the adventures they had yesterday.
All of these would make for an interesting conversation. But we don’t do that. Instead we talk about the weather – the one thing that both of us have in common. The one thing that we probably don’t need to tell each other.
If it is raining, we have the overwhelming need to tell the next person we meet that it is raining. And, if they are British too, they will want to agree with us. Yes, it is raining isn’t it?
It’s a way of connecting to another person through a shared experience. I am wet, you are wet. That makes us related, part of the same clan.
Wittering on about the weather is another expression of our agricultural roots. Deep down, we are all still farmers. The rain matters. It’s not just an annoying interruption in our sport. It’s an affirmation of rural life, it helps crops to grow. And it gives us something to grumble about.
And that is the essence of cricket. We watch it because it connects us to other people. We all ooh and aaah at the same moments. The thwack of ball on bat is reassuringly organic and wooden. We know it’s a game that most of the world doesn’t understand , and that’s a good thing. It makes it into a secret club to keep the riffraff out. Whilst drinking beer and moaning about the weather.
That is, until we taught the colonies how to play. They picked up the rules pretty well, but then they didn’t understand that it’s not about the winning. They started to play a different form of the game, where the winning is more important than the beer, sponge cakes and common meteorological experiences.
That’s okay. We can evolve. These days, cricket isn’t just a chance to moan about the weather. It’s also a chance to moan about how the England team doesn’t win any more. And if there is one thing we like to moan about more than the weather, it’s about how often we lose at sport.