Jun 21, 2012

Apologies to Cricket

Inspired by Jason (George from Seignfeld) Alexander’s eloquent and deep apology to the world about his gay cricket jokes, I would also like to offer my heartfelt apologies to the world of Cricket. It not only is a real sport, it’s a rather manly one, and surprisingly interesting.

Like the Salvation Army in Major Barbara or trying bbq turkey tails in Ghana, it started out as a lark. I’m here in this former British colony where one of the best legacies has been one of the best cricket teams in the world. So one night at the hotel I sit with Somasiri and let him enthusiastically explain the game, pretending to care more than in a cultural-museum kind of way. But by the end of 4 wickets I’m not only getting it, but am genuinely cheering for the boys in blue (and yellow, looking much more Swedish than British).

Just like the mighty last-second alley-oop in an NCAA championship that taught me to appreciate basketball, it took just one amazing fielding play to win me over. The 130km ball was smashed even faster from the canoe-paddle of the Pakistani batsman, far out into left field. Our outfielder read it perfectly, sprinted halfway across the world and dove full out to catch it inches from the ground. The nation rose as one and roared in unison.

Can I add that he caught it bare-handed? How padded are baseball gloves? How much padding does our macho North American hockey or football player hide behind?

Throughout the month we’ve caught more of this two-month visit by Pakistan, watching multiple-matches by carefully choosing restaurants and roadside snack bars with the game on TV. I’ve seen way more diving, close plays, quick reactions and drama than in any baseball game. And action happens at every pitch (“bowl”). The bowler is changed out every 6 or 12 bowls, so there’s plenty of variety. And the bewildering (at first) talk about the number of wickets and overs and strike rates would make any TV announcer deliriously happy (isn’t that the main reason soccer isn’t popular on American TV – the lack of stats?)

The culmination was going to the big stadium for one of the international matches. We bought the cheap zone tickets from a scalper, putting us in festival seating on cement benches packed with men (mostly) singing, dancing, raising flags, fighting, cheering – nothing unusual there except the dancing. After the first two hours we were treated to 70 minutes of watching the tarps quickly pulled out to protect the turf from the rains, then pulled off again while a cricket zamboni (a steam roller with giant sponges) did its rounds. I was ready to leave, but over the next 2 hours watched as the rhythm changed, two batters got into a groove, different tactics employed by each team at various phases of the match. By watching all of Sri Lanka’s 3,000 pitches (60 overs) I came to a much deeper understanding of the nature of the sport. Then back on the hotel I watched much of Pakistan’s turn and their historic collapse. True drama.

Of the many lessons and wonders I’ve experienced in Sri Lanka, perhaps the most surprising is an appreciation of cricket as a real sport – and a really interesting one at that.

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