Okay, so I guess it is finally time that I say something about that Wright Thompson piece for ESPN on test cricket.
Now I have complained about Mr. Thompson before, this was back in the summer when I heard him interviewed by The Two Chucks during the first England v India test – that match also happens to be the central storyline in the essay above.
For a lot of reasons, I find Mr. Thompson annoying. First of all, I think he is stealing my schtick: I am the American that loves cricket, I should be the one telling Americans all about the sport: its trials, its tribulations, its heroes. Not you, Wright, the ignoramus ESPN.com writer. (Truth be told, however, I am stealing Mark Marqusee’s schtick, so whatever.)
Secondly, I am annoyed by the fish-out-of-water, babe-in-the-woods routine he employs in his approach to the sport. “Hey, I am a big dumb American tell me about your craaaaazzzy game there, Mr. Foreigner!”
Generally, I feel that he is encroaching on what I want to do, which is write about cricket from a unique, American perspective, and I feel like he has already cornered that market without even really trying, and I find that annoying.
So when I had heard that his article for ESPN on the 2,000th test match had finally been published, I initially decided to ignore it. And then last night @testingtimesXI tweeted that folks should be reading the story and I grew even more agitated – in fact, I was in a generally annoyed state of mind last night for a good three hours. Whenever I would think about this blog, I would feel this burn in my gut: THIS FUCKING SOUTHERN NITWIT WRIGHT THOMPSON GUY IS STEALING MY ACT!
And, of course, that is stupid. Mr. Thompson is an accomplished and gifted writer, for reals. He has a knack both with the pen and with people. I am more often than not in awe of his words.
And, of course, he works for the Worldwide Leader, so he has power of all that Mickey Mouse money behind him – and really it’s not his fault that the machine sent him to London to watch cricket, and honestly in the interview above he did sound legitimately humbled and excited to be at Lord’s.
And, of course, I was being a little bit xenophobic and insular, in a backwards sort of way. Who cares what a writer’s nationality is? I read dozens of articles a week about test cricket from writers around the globe, so why should I thumb my nose at this one just because it was written by a fellow American? Isn’t that just the kind of stereotyping that I should be campaigning against?
Therefore, this morning, I read his piece over oatmeal and tea. And here are my thoughts, summarized from my scribbled notes on the back of an envelope:
It’s long. Very long. Topping out at almost 10,000 words. Though I bet even Mr. Thompson would tell you that there is a bit of filler in there.
And, well, I liked it. It was very well written, I saw myself in a lot of what he said, and by the end of the article he really seemed to “get” test cricket – that it wasn’t really one five day match, that it was hundreds of mini-matches spread out over five days.
I liked his notes about the weather, about how all us cricket fans go nuts about rain and humidity and dryness and cloud cover.
And I liked his main point, which was the status of test cricket in the modern world. He comments on how the brains of younger people have been reprogrammed and simply cannot connect to this longer form of the game, that it would be like telling them to breathe helium instead of oxygen (my words, not his.)
In that same vein, later on he mentions a fact that I knew intellectually but one that I never really thought about. I had always assumed that cricket was a hold over from the pastoral days of pre-industrial England, but the first test match was played in 1877 – right smack dab in the middle of the Industrial Revolution. The author sums it best: “When Marqusee describes the pleasure of attending a Test match, he lingers on the way he’s able to think. In the white spaces. I think about the silence at Lord’s, and I understand. Test cricket is different from the rest of the world because it was designed to be.”
He later mentions that due to its birth date, cricket has always been dying, always been struggling against time, against technology, against progress. And I found that thought quite comforting, as maybe we really all don’t need to be worrying about the future of test cricket, as it knows perfectly well the uphill battles it faces, as it has been facing them for seven generations.
Finally, he sums it all up by saying that this just might finally be test cricket’s time to shine: as the world will sooner or later need to slow time down, and there are movements around the world already attempting to do so: slow food, knitting, urban farming. Yoga. Maybe test cricket will be the sport that fits into that movement: as “a sport existing outside the tyranny of money and time.”
Again, I took great comfort in his notions. And I am glad I took the time to read them.
What didn’t I like? Well, as I mentioned, there were a lot of unnecessary words (pot, meet kettle. Kettle, pot.) And the article seemed at some points to be less about cricket, and more about Wright. And he seemed to steal directly from his previous long-form article on the game, the one about the 2011 World Cup.
And really, I thought he gave the Lord’s establishment a bit too hard of a time.
But those were all easily forgivable mistakes.
In the end, I liked it, and I recommend it.
My favorite part of the entire article was this paragraph, as it reminded me of me, when I first fell in love with cricket:
“The English fielding strategy, I hear, contains three slips and a gully. A silly point. I’m not sure what that means, but the words are pleasing to hear. Just the sound of them.”
Amen, Mr. Thompson.
Until next time.