Cricket - The greatest sport of all
Ian on Sunday
April 25, 1999
When I was young I played a little cricket. Indeed, one of my most precious memories, a memory now nearly fifty years old, is of playing for my school third eleven on a rough pitch up at Mount St. Benedict in Trinidad and taking 5 wickets in one eight- ball over with some slow and cunning leg-breaks which did not turn. However, much to my regret, I never became a serious cricketer. I played tennis hard and grew to love the game. And tennis was certainly good to me, filling my life with much pleasure, excitement, challenge, and reasonable achievement. It was a game that introduced me to many life-long friends and taught me, I think, a few of life's important lessons.
And yet always, in my heart of hearts, I have thought that cricket is the greatest, the most splendid, game of all. If I had been given the choice by some benevolent God between winning Wimbledon and hitting a century at Lords for the West Indies I have always known which I would have chosen.
I have no doubt that cricket is in fact the greatest game yet invented. No other sport compares with it in the number of skills displayed: batting-skill; bowling skill; throwing skill; catching skill; running skill. It requires fitness, strength, delicacy of touch, superb reflexes, footwork like a cat, the eye of a hawk, the precision and accuracy of a master jeweller. It involves individual skill and nerve and also unselfish team play. It calls for short-term tactics and long term-strategy. In the course of a good cricket match there is a mixture of courage, daring, patience, flair, imagination, expertise and dour defiance that is certainly unequalled in all other, more superficial games. It is not at all surprising that cricket has inspired by far the best and most varied literature of any sport.
There are games that take strength, games that take more speed, games that require a higher level of fitness, games that require deeper resources of endurance. But no game equals cricket in its all-round deployment of all the talents. There are games that contain a greater concentration of excitement per playing hour. But no game approaches cricket in its blend of subtlety, entertainment, sudden thrill and sustained intellectual interest. Cricket, like no other game, takes the whole of a man - his body, soul, heart and wits.
Cricket - real cricket, that is Test cricket - has been stigmatised by some as being too slow, too leisurely, lacking in colour and excitement. I believe this is simply one more aspect of the malignant modern appetite for instant stimulation and quick-fire titillation. The slash-bang games may sometimes satisfy the craving for a quick thrill, but they bear about the same relationship to a good game of cricket as instant food bears to a superbly cooked gourmet dinner.
It is like the difference between lust and love. There is, it is true, the temporary excitement of a passionate one-night stand. But who can doubt that the more mature, the more beguiling, the longer-lasting love affair provides the more challenging and the deeper experience?
So it is with cricket. Like any lasting love affair a good cricket match has its moments when the play is ordinary, slow-moving, and even boring. But the complex inter-play of emotion, psychology, and individual character, allied with the sudden bursts of excitement and the unexpected twists of fortune, add up to an experience which far outweighs the temporary and quick-fading lust for instant gratification which so many other sports supply.
One of the glories of cricket is the way the drama of a match develops, how the pace varies from the leisurely to the suddenly lethal, how the plot thickens, and the sub- plots are inter-linked, as the play goes on, how the heroes and the villains take the stage with time enough to act out their roles. A good Test Match is the equal of a 5-act masterpiece of the stage. Even the best of the other games can really only compare with one-act spectacles that pander to those whose attention-span is brief and whose imaginations are lacking. It may be that the latest pop star, with his highly charged and hectic act, can attract much larger crowds than Shakespeare's King Lear or Berthold Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle, but we all know that the one will fade into oblivionhan Shakespeare's King Lear or Berthold Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle, but we all know that the one will fade into oblivion long, long before the other's glory ends.
I think there is a measure of truth in what the old men say - that in cricket today there is too much playing for self, playing for averages, playing for money, and that therefore some of the variety, and spice and spontaneity has gone out of the game. And yet ... and yet ... I wonder. Cricket is a game great enough to rise above the limitations of this overly commercial age. In cricket we will always have dramas and performances to match the past. Think of the West Indian victory at Kensington a couple of weeks ago. Surely the last 6 hours of play on the last day of that match has never been surpassed in sport for sustained excitement, nerve wracking swerves of fortune and high drama.
Cricket contains the pure stuff of human nature. As Neville Cardus advised long ago, you must go to this best of all games with your imagination's eye, as well as your physical eye, open. To the dull of spirit who merely looks at the scoreboard,
"A Lara at the crease's rim,
A simple Lara is to him
And he is nothing more."
But to the cricket-lover of sensibility this Lara, and his fellows, are artists all, and the game they play is the wonderful game of life itself.