Thinking Allowed: Play up and play the game

My granddad taught me how to bowl. A cricket ball, of course; for him there was no other sport. I remember standing in the back garden, the smell of cardigan wafting from behind me, his big hands over mine.

Granddad had half-moon glasses, befitting his status as a retired school principal. He had yellow nicotine teeth, a rasping laugh. And standards. When Granddad was around, you noticed where you put your knife, your fork and your elbows. You had to behave yourself; otherwise it just wasn't cricket. Manners mattered. His idea of civilisation was very firmly rooted in a meat and three veg tradition that meant pasta was a foreign nonsense and chopsticks a sign of barbarianism.

''Why can't they learn to use a knife and fork?'' was not a question to be met with aesthetic support or practical explanations of a method of eating that might've been around for 2000 years longer than even spoons. Best not to go there. Best just to top up Granddad's's whisky with the requisite amount of ice. Not too much. Don't be crass.

Of course, the things we call civilised are necessarily convoluted: one definition of a civilisation is a complex state. And a complex state needs complex rules.

I sometimes think about Granddad when I'm rolling my eyes at the kids for putting the cutlery the wrong way round on the dinner table. Fork on the left, knife on the right. It's not like I'm asking them to set out silver service, it's just an etiquette thing. A ludicrous one, probably, because I don't follow through with all that stuff about holding the fork prongs down and not transferring implements from hand to hand. We just shovel in our pasta like noble savages, elbows and conversation everywhere.

Granddad wasn't proper posh by English standards; he drank at the workingmen's clubs but that didn't stop him being a firm fan of the gentleman's game. Which, incidentally, started off as a whack-around with sticks, stones and stumps among country kids in the UK, at least 400 years and a few class divides from the supposedly toff sport it is today.

I'm a cricket lover, too, and not only through nostalgia. It's not just cricket. It's all the impossible lifestyle trappings around it. I've had a good long time to think about this already this year, being the proud parent of a team member (and isn't there a World Cup or something coming up as well?) who gets to play extended Saturday morning games. Every week brings a triumph of hope and washing powder over reality, as the teams troop out wearing white-as whites. Every success is met with polite backslaps, hugs and high fives. The players don't complain about standing around in the hot/cold/windy/unpredictable conditions. They are there, like us on the sidelines, for the duration. And because it takes so much time (And isn't time a refined luxury too? And don't get me started on five-day tests), we supporters have ample space to plot civilised accoutrements to the cricket experience. Gin and tonic. Pimms. Little crustless white-bread sandwiches with a thin smear of butter and wafer-thin cucumber inside. I mean, who serves sandwiches with crusts? How uncivilised.

We don't go as far as a dress code for the sidelines (being much more relaxed than those soccer parents who have to turn up with Ugg boots, iPhones and competitive attitudes) which means Granddad would fit right in. He'd probably be sad to learn that his favourite cardigans would have barred him from entry to the Pavilion at Lords, although he could certainly have kept up the requisite civilised drinking quotas with the gentlemen there.

I like to think Granddad would be proud of me for upholding civilisation, as he understood it, for another generation. I like to fool myself that there is some genetic ability that I have passed down, thanks to him. Although I'm much better on the sidelines: most balls I throw go either short or wide and I often have to check who's doing what on the pitch, and why. But the rules aren't the point. Or if they are, they're just part of it. It's not just cricket. It's civilisation. It's life.

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