Why Cricket?

Note: I had shopped this around as a freelance piece but it went nowhere; so I thought I would just go head and post it here. And so without further ado: the story of how I fell in love with cricket:

*

My name is Matt, I was born and raised in the midwestern United States, and I am 36 years old.

In 2007, I fell head over heals in love with the sport of cricket.

And the affair continues, all these years later, and in fact my admiration and respect for the sport and its participants has only grown, and I continue to find joy in it in different ways every single day.

So how did this happen? How did a middle-aged man who had spent all of his life in a country that ignores cricket fall so deeply for the sport?

Short answer: baseball, cigarettes, and the Internet,

Long answer:

I was born in Flint, Michigan, but moved soon after my birth to Cincinnati, Ohio, and it was there that I became a kid obsessed with the great American pastime of baseball. I loved the hometown Reds, but I also loved the Montreal Expos, and the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the St. Louis Cardinals. When I was nine, my maternal grandfather gave me two books: The Glory of Their Times, The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, and A Thinking Man’s Guide to Baseball; both defined how I felt about baseball, and about sport in general. I still have, and treasure, both volumes.

When I was nine years old, my family moved to upstate New York, and then later to central Michigan, and then later again to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Along the way, I lost track of the Reds, and simply supported whichever team I fancied. The seeds of being able to support teams that existed outside of my community, something unheard of in America, were being sown.

My attraction to baseball ebbed, and flowed, as I grew older. I discovered girls: ebb. I had my heart broken: flow. There was the strike in 1994: ebb. There was the steroid era: further ebb. There was the resurgence of the Minnesota Twins: flow.

Despite the ebbs, I still loved to read about the game, its history, its stats, its heroes, its moments.

At its soul, I loved the game. But I also loved the idea of it.

Still do.

*

Sometime in 1995, I started smoking cigarettes. My addiction to tobacco was intense and all encompassing, but that is a love story for another day.

In April of 2007, I quit smoking.

This is where the cricket comes in.

Most fans of the sport will know exactly what was happening in April of that year: the Cricket World Cup, hosted by the West Indies.

The tournament is widely remembered for its empty stadiums and its bland cricket; it was too long, there was too much rain, and everyone knew Australia was going to win anyway.

But I was enthralled. My nicotine starved brain had found the one thing in the entire world that it could not relate cigarettes to. I followed every match on Cricinfo, I read, and re-read, and read again all of the rules of the game. I studied its history, I watched videos on YouTube, and I still remember the thrill I would get in the lining of my stomach (not kidding, that’s where it was) whenever I thought about the game.

I freely admit at this point that I was intrigued with the novelty of it all, and was not yet truly a fan of the game. Many Americans stumble upon cricket, find it initially fascinating, and then fade back to baseball.

Further, I also admit that I was clearly insane with the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Every ex-smoker will tell you of those odd first six months.

But I stuck with it. Thankfully, I had the Internet. And a cracking Indian tour of England that summer to follow on it. I started listening to radio coverage of County Cricket  mornings at the office. I rode my bicycle to Bryn Mawr Field in Minneapolis to watch the league of ex-pats play. I bought a bat. I started a blog. I made friends with fellow fans on the Internet. I subsribed to Willow.TV and woke at odd hours to take in important matches. I went to London and had my wife take my picture in front of Lord’s.

So what made me stay?

The game itself. And distant friends.

First: the latter. After college, or thereabouts, all my friends moved away: Wisconsin, Florida, Burma, Nepal – all the four corners of the world, in other words. And I felt a little isolated in my suburb, a little stuck, a little far away. I had a mortgage, and a job, and I had roots.

But cricket was my escape. At any moment, I could be in London, Mumbai, or Perth. Colombo, Dhaka, or Johannesburg. I could travel the world by following my sport.

But then there was the game itself.

The game.

It had its history and it stats, just like baseball, only its history went back hundreds of years, and its stats filled more than just notebooks, they filled data banks.

But more: I loved that the attacking team could change the game with a single ball, forcing the batting side to build momentum over hours, sessions, days; the opposite of baseball, and far more logical. And the batsmen, the best batsmen, bat for days, and days. What a magnificent and admirable test of patience, skill, and concentration. While the bowlers, the best bowlers, those that make the new ball sing, are like ballet dancers, steaming in again and again and again.

The game is just beautiful to watch, sometimes incomprehensibly so, considering all of the standing that goes on. But the power is in the spaces between the moments, like great poetry, or falling in love.

And more: the different formats: county cricket versus the Indian Premier League versus the Ashes. An infinite cycle of formats, players, and grounds: I love test cricket for its quiet dignity: flip a coin, play cricket for five days, but I also love an ODI in Chennai for its color and its energy, and I love a T20 in Melbourne for its brevity and its ferociousness.

And then there are the characters the game produces. Sure, the game has its pastoral side, but it is also made up of drunks, and sledgers, and criminals, and cheaters. It is a non-contact, bat and ball sport, but despite that there is violence in the short ball, in the attack, in  the 60 ball century.

Every pitch is different, some with green patches, some dry and cracked, some swing when its cloudy, some spin on day four, some crumble on day three. The ball travels vastly differently in the subcontinent than it does elsewhere – every ground is different, and therefore able to produce magic. The rigidness of the football pitch does not exist in cricket.

And then you spice the matches up with regional conflicts, colonialism, globalization, and the soup gets even spicer. The English with bacon and egg ties and their long rooms juxtaposed against one billion cricket mad Indians. Pakistan having two sources of national pride: cricket, and their nuclear weapons program. The West Indies throwing off the shackles and dominating the game for twenty years. Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, the Rebel Tours of South Africa. It is never ending.

And so I watch, and I will continue to do so. But I will also read, and write; because that’s the one thing about cricket that most people do not realize: no other sport lends itself to quality writing quite like cricket does. There are countless fantastic cricket writers in the world today, the vast majority unpaid and unknown bloggers. Romance, history, humor, drama…name the genre, and cricket will provide the fodder.

*

That is the story of I how fell in love with cricket, and that is why I will stay in love with cricket, and that is why I will bunk off work tomorrow morning so I can watch the first T20 between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, and that is why I will write a blog post about Kevin Peitersen’s decision to quit international limited overs cricket while doing so.

In the end, I am glad I stumbled upon the game. It is a great sport, albeit an unsure one: unsure of its future, unsure of its identity, and unsure of its place in the world. It also tries too hard to impress the wrong people, and tends to ignore the things that really matter, and strangely, despite all of its insecurities, seems to simultaneously think way too much of itself, especially when you consider all of its flaws.

Wait a minute, that also describes me, maybe that’s why I fell in love… we were made for each other.

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12 Responses to Why Cricket?

  1. Terry Coffey says:

    Enjoyed this, Matt! This is similar to my own story–Midwest and all–but without the cigarettes. That World Cup was my intro as well.

  2. Matt says:

    Thanks, Terry! I remember reading your cricket biography a few months back and thinking how similar our stories were.

  3. JP Daugherty says:

    Hi Matt,
    Our stories are pretty similar except for the cigarette thing. I was always intrigued by cricket except I didn’t know any of the rules. Thankfully, I had my cousins (who were missionaries in India at the time) to explain me the rules and lead me to cricinfo.com, a website I still visit daily. At the time (in July 2008) Cricinfo were showing highlights of the recently concluded Asia Cup on their site, something they don’t do anymore. I immediately fell in love with the game, learning all the rules, even if some, like the LBW rule, were hard to understand at first. I learned of the upcoming Test series between Sri Lanka and India that August in Sri Lanka, a series now referred to as the ‘Mendis magic’ series. I had seen Mendis previously dismantle the Indians in the Asia Cup final earlier, and as my cousins watched the Test series on their TV in India as I scoured the Internet in the early hours of the morning searching for a live stream. Mendis took 26 wickets in the 3 Test series played at the SSC, Galle, and the PSS (a record for a debut series) as Sri Lanka won the series 2-1. I still rate that series as the best cricket I’ve watched because of how new cricket was to me. I am looking forward to getting up early to watch the England vs SA series with my cousins (who are now back in the US) and exchanging texts while watching the game as I root for South Africa and they root for England. So there’s my story.

    JP
    PS: Who is your favorite cricketer? (Mine are Sachin Tendulkar, Muttiah Muralitharan, Mahela Jayawardene, and Virender Sehwag)

    • Matt says:

      Thanks for sharing your story. I often wonder why certain Americans are attracted to cricket, while most are fine with ignoring it. Like there is something in our DNA, our personality, that makes us pre-determined to enjoy the game.

  4. Chris says:

    I really enjoy the clarity of your explanation of the game’s appeal to you. 35 years into my obsession with cricket and I struggle to articulate its importance to me.
    I spent two years in Philadelphia in the early 1990s. Cricket wasn’t easy to follow from the US then (see http://wp.me/p1OY5E-1V for examples) and I found I quickly adopted baseball, which I loved for its sheer relentlessness. Do you have the time to follow both sports?

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  7. Matt,

    It took me a while to find your blog – I was pointed in your direction by my friend and fellow blogger Chris Smith (who comments above). Like Chris, I like your articulation of the appeal of cricket to you – for those of us whose attachment to the game almost goes back further than we can remember (my absolute earliest cricket memory is of England’s John Price, a bowler with a crazily curved run-up, bowling at Lord’s during the 1972 Ashes series), it can be harder to define what the game means to us. It just does.

    I can try to understand the frustration of finding out about things which happened in the game in the years before you knew it existed, as you touched on a few weeks back in your post about Sachin, but I can’t really know what it’s like as I haven’t become interested to the same extent in anything as an adult that I wasn’t interested in before.

    This is a great time to become involved with cricket. With the advent and expansion of T20 and what in many ways has been a golden age of Test cricket over the last fifteen years or so (higher scoring rates, fewer draws, many all-time greats playing – Lara, Warne, SRT) the game is much more varied, interesting and colourful than it was when I was young.

    Enjoy. You know it makes sense.

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