Arguing the toss

A crowd settles in around Dunedin’s ‘‘village green’’, the University Oval, last month. Photo:...
A crowd settles in around Dunedin’s ‘‘village green’’, the University Oval, last month. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Cricket: it divides communities, inspiring devotion and indifference in equal measure. Liz Breslin and Bethany G. Rogers pad up and take their guard.


FOR: Liz Breslin

I’ve loved cricket ever since I can remember. Standing in the arc of my grandad’s side as he made my arm do bowling, over and over. Village greens, wooden pavilions, the ongoing little miracle of washing machines over grass stains. My own kids playing, learning the tactics, patience and tenacity necessary for the long game. Partnership, teamwork. The background sound of commentary on radio or TV, interspersed with urgent crowding-around at crucial moments.

It all comes down to the thwack and the crack on the pitch. Photo: Christine O'Connor
It all comes down to the thwack and the crack on the pitch. Photo: Christine O'Connor
I’ll be honest. I also love what new-fangled analysis and replayability have done for the game, because it is hard to concentrate on anything for long periods of time, and I’m sometimes looking the other way when the shout goes up. But I like the way  you have to be in it for the long run, as a player, or as a supporter.  You have to commit. And please, it’s not like it is rocket science to follow: cricket did start off as a children’s game. Deceptively simple, though, I might add. If you think it’s only throwing and hitting a ball, you aren’t really paying enough attention. Grandad spent a long time trying to teach me how to bowl a yorker. Had I ever mastered that I might’ve moved on to googlies, doosras, jalebis. They all sound so good. And guess what? You don’t even have to know or remember what they mean or who is bowling them because  you have those helpful commentators lulling you along with their practised knowledge and wit.I’m also attracted to the sense of decorum that presides over the general atmosphere at a cricket match, be it backyard or an international test. I like the hallowed way in which bats are still created by master bat makers. (Harry Potter fans, just think Ollivanders, but not for wands.) Long trousers and tea breaks also seem importantly symbolic in this. Although, yes, it’s not all malt bread and jolly chuckles. There’s the small matter of international scandal, of course. And some spectator louts do their best (or should we call it their worst?) to ruin the proceedings, and that is clearly just not cricket. Like the guys who abused Amy Ross and "hassled the Pakistani cricketers" last month. I don’t like that about cricket. But you could say that happens in many sports. Though New Zealand Cricket public affairs manager Richard Boock doesn’t think that’s good enough.

"NZC does not think it’s right to accept these antisocial behaviours on the basis it is just ‘part of our national culture’."

I like that he said that.  I like that when you strip away the hype, the histories and the peripheries, what  you have, with cricket, with the thwack and the crack on the pitch, is a physical and mental battle that could go any way until the end.

- Liz Breslin is a poet, playwright and columnist.


AGAINST: Bethany G. Rogers

If "golf is a good walk spoiled", cricket is the equivalent of a good festival ruined. They’ve kept the drinking in a field, but taken out all the good bits like music and dancing, forcing the spectators to entertain themselves ... with music and dancing. Watch any cricket match on TV this summer and you’ll find the commentators following the actions of the spectators more than they follow the so-called sports event on the pitch. I’ve seen cha-cha lines, tea parties and this year, spectators are spicing things up by knocking each other out in an attempt to catch a stray ball (and a few dollars). Earlier this year, commentators voiced over a cricket player’s actions moment-by-moment as he sipped on a cold beer. The cricketer in question was about 80 and had apparently been part of the Australian cricket team in the ’60s, yet he was still doing more than anybody on the pitch.

Cricket commentary can be sidetracked by the spectators. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Cricket commentary can be sidetracked by the spectators. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Typically, sports involve things such as physical exertion and technical skill, but in cricket, I see neither. To begin with, there are 12 players on each team, but the 12th player isn’t allowed to bowl, bat, wicket keep or captain the team ... so they sit to one side and enjoy a beer. Which doesn’t seem very sporting to me. A player from one team goes out to bat and is then in until they’re out. Then another player goes out until he or she is out. This goes on until the last player batting is out, apart from the one who is still in and therefore not out. It’s essentially a very slow version of the hokey tokey.

This carries on for three hours up to five whole days, enabling players to score a lot of runs ...  without doing any running. There’s also a lot of "overs" and there was once, in 1981, an "under", but we’re not allowed to talk about this in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, the spectators get inebriated and commentators desperately search for something to talk about. This year’s incident was the beer-drinking octogenarian, last year’s big incident was a player who ate a mint and licked a ball. All in all, there’s a lot of beer drinking and a lot of fiddling about with balls and not much in the way of sport. I’m not "in" with any of that, so if this month’s Trans-Tasman Tri-Series offers more of the same, you can count me out too.

- Bethany G. Rogers is a Queenstown-based writer who spends her time hiking and reading instead of watching cricket.

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