Stumped by an unnatural love

13 Feb

Despite an initial distrust of the game, I soon found a love of cricket rising from the Ashes.

moustache

As summer began I have to admit I felt deeply suspicious about cricket in all its forms. Lasting for days and sometimes ending in a draw, Test cricket seemed to me a feeble excuse for grown men to spend the best part of a week sitting on the couch drinking beer in their underpants.

Gaudy and brash, the newfangled Big Bash League was nothing but a cheap spinoff for the entertainment of fans with short attention spans and a penchant for pyrotechnics, pop music and cheerleaders. One-dayers, meanwhile, were cruel methods of torture that forced spectators to sit in a plastic seat for eight hours, getting a sunburnt neck while drinking poor-quality beer. Yes, cricket was a waste of time, but even as I tried to avoid it, I found the sport was still sucking the life out of my summer.

“Shall we go to the beach?” I asked my Significant Other one lovely sunny day. “The beach!?” he replied, shocked. “It’s the third day of the fourth Test! I’m not going anywhere!”

“Shall we go see a movie?” I suggested one evening. He stared at me in dismay. “A movie? Tonight? But the Stars are playing the Sixers in the Big Bash! They’re top of the ladder!”

“Is there anything good on TV?” I asked, reaching for the remote one night after a hard day’s work. “What!” he exclaimed, grabbing the control. “We’re playing England in the first International T20!”

Relegated to playing second fiddle to eleven men in white tracksuits, I had no choice but to flop down in resignation and watch some of the ghastly stuff. And sure enough, something horrible started to happen. I started to LIKE CRICKET.

Despite my inability to understand how any sane person could enjoy this rubbish, I found myself becoming inexorably drawn to the game, no doubt brainwashed by its ubiquitous presence on large television screens at home and at work. Like one of those Magic Eye pictures from the 1990s, the more I stared at Test cricket, the more a beautiful pattern began to emerge.

Far from being less interesting than watching grass grow, Test cricket was actually a heady chess game of tactics and patience, where shaking your opponent’s self-belief was as important as actual skill with the bat and ball. It was an old-fashioned pantomime where England’s Stuart Broad played the role of the villain who drew boos from the crowd, while beleaguered captain Alastair Cook elicited my sympathy as his melty brown doe-eyes seemed to grow larger and fill with despair after every loss.

Australia’s hero was played by a swaggering Mitchell Johnson, whose aggressive deliveries and fearsome moustache rattled the Brits’ sang froid and rendered them as incapable as a pack of hapless amateurs. I even developed an affection for plucky batsman David Warner, whose goofy features and stocky physique belied an ability to peg it from wicket to wicket in record time.

Swept up in this rush of enthusiasm, even one-day cricket became exciting. I watched spellbound recently as James Faulkner lifted a losing Australia to victory at the Gabba, smashing 69 runs from 47 balls as Australia faced the improbable task of beating England’s 300 runs. Batting at No.9, Faulkner’s breath-taking performance included a quickfire five sixes and three fours to win the game. Magical stuff!

Before I could tear myself away from the box, I even started liking the Big Bash League. I picked the Perth Scorchers as my favourite team, due to an admiration for the graceful humility of last year’s Test prodigy Ashton Agar. Although the teenage superstar was relegated to carting around drinks for most of the season, I soon found much to appreciate in the broad grin, protruding tongue and nifty fielding skills of veteran Brad Hogg, and was bowled over by the speedy efforts of beaming Pakistani import Yasir Arafat.

As summer wore on, I even began to understand why it was so important that we not only beat England and reclaim the Ashes, but that we crushed them to a pulp until they ran home humiliated with their tails between their legs – in a very sportsmanlike way of course. To make matters worse, I found myself slipping into the dialect of a true-blue cricket fan; whenever an umpire looked ready to judge a batsman out, I found myself yelling “GORN!” But if the ump failed to lift a dismissive finger, I would start muttering “Bullshit” and make scathing remarks about his faulty eyesight.

No doubt, as soon as I manage to get my head around the silly mid-ons, fine legs, yorkers, reverse sweeps, doosras, googlies and night watchmen, the glorious summer of cricket will end and a new sporting season will begin. So what will I do then? Who knows, I might even start liking AFL.

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