Cricket, in the eyes (and words) of an American

The following is an excerpt from Bill Bryson’s “In a Sunburned Country.” Bill Bryson is an American and the book is a handy guide to Australia- historically and otherwise. Keep in mind that I am favorably disposed towards both Mr. Bryson and the game of cricket.

“I had stumbled into the surreal and rewarding world of cricket on the radio.

After years of patient study (and with cricket there can be no other kind) I have decided that there is nothing wrong with the game that the introduction of golf carts wouldn’t fix in a hurry. It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect. I don’t wish to denigrate a sport that is enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game. It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as players—more if they are moderately restless. It is the only competitive activity of any type, other than perhaps baking, in which you can dress in white from head to toe and be as clean at the end of the day as you were at the beginning.

 Imagine a form of baseball in which the pitcher, after each delivery, collects the ball from the catcher and walks slowly with it out to center field; and that there, after a minute’s pause to collect himself, he turns and runs full tilt toward the pitcher’s mound before hurling the ball at the ankles of a man who stands before him wearing a riding hat, heavy gloves of the sort used to handle radioactive isotopes, and a mattress strapped to each leg. Imagine moreover that if this batsman fails to hit the ball in a way that heartens him sufficiently to try to waddle forty feet with mattresses strapped to his legs, he is under no formal compunction to run; he may stand there all day, and, as a rule, does. If by some miracle he is coaxed into making a misstroke that leads to his being put out, all the fielders throw up their arms in triumph and have a hug. Then tea is called and everyone retires happily to a distant pavilion to fortify for the next siege. Now imagine all this going on for so long that by the time the match concludes autumn has crept  in and all your library books are overdue. There you have cricket.

But it must be said there is something incomparably soothing about cricket on the radio. It has much the same virtues as baseball on the radio—an unhurried pace, a comforting devotion to abstruse statistics and thoughtful historical rumination, exhilarating micro-moments of real action—but stretched across many more hours and with a lushness of terminology and restful elegance of expression that even baseball cannot match. Listening to cricket on the radio is like listening to two men sitting in a rowboat on a large, placid lake on a day when the fish aren’t biting; it’s like having a nap without losing consciousness. It actually helps not to know quite what’s going on. In such a rarefied world of contentment and inactivity, comprehension would become a distraction.

…I may not have all the terminology exactly right, but I believe I have caught the flavor of it. The upshot was that Australia was giving England a good thumping, but then Australia pretty generally does. In fact, Australia pretty generally beats most people at most things. Truly never has there been a more sporting nation. At the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, to take just one random but illustrative example, Australia, the fifty-second largest nation in the world, brought home more medals than all but four other countries, all of them much larger (the countries, not the medals). Measured by population, its performance was streaks ahead of anyone else. Australians won 3.78 medals per million of population, a rate more than two and a half times better than the next best performer, Germany, and almost five times the rate of the United States. Moreover, Australia’s medal-winning tally was distributed across a range of sports, fourteen, matched by only one other nation, the United States. Hardly a sport exists at which the Australians do not excel. Do you know, there are even forty Australians playing baseball at the professional level in the United States, including five in the Major Leagues—and Australians don’t even play baseball, at least not in any particularly devoted manner. They do all this on the world stage and play their own games as well, notably a very popular form of loosely contained mayhem called Australian Rules football. It is a wonder in such a vigorous and active society that there is anyone left to form an audience.

No, the mystery of cricket is not that Australians play it well, but that they play it at all. It has always seemed to me a game much too restrained for the rough-and-tumble Australian temperament. Australians much prefer games in which brawny men in scanty clothing bloody each other’s noses. I am quite certain that if the rest of the world vanished overnight and the development of cricket was left in Australian hands, within a generation the players would be wearing shorts and using the bats to hit each other.

And the thing is, it would be a much better game for it.”

One thing that can be said about cricket is that it allows one the luxury of reading a book while not missing out on any of the action. In contrast, sports like Tennis, football, F1 demand your complete attention and aren’t in the slightest bit accommodating.  How rude.

One thing that can be said about Americans is their tendency to look down upon the pastimes of other countries, like cricket and football. They aren’t biologically evolved to accept ‘tie/draw’ as a result of a sporting contest for one thing, and continue to wonder why footballers just don’t use their hands, for another.

As for the copyright violation, I plan to argue that I am furthering the reach of Mr. Bryson, for I haven’t heard a single acquaintance of mine mention the name of his. It’s a different matter that the blog gets barely 2 visitors, over a year.


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