Ah, cricket, my unlikely love affair”¦I never liked gym lessons in school, and my teenage sports obsessions with football (the soccer kind) and tennis were strictly non-participating. There were good-looking players in those, and that would do. Playing those sports demanded too much stamina and talent. I did show an unhealthy interest in scores, rankings and statistics though, and maybe that was a first sign of things to come.
Studying translation involved a lot of cultural studies, and cricket was one of the famous stumbling blocks when it came to reading English newspapers and understanding certain idioms. It was a given that cricket was not only incredibly complicated, but every foreigner’s natural enemy. As a result, nobody even tried to understand it, since a translation of anything cricket-related would most likely never even be commissioned due to a distinct lack of interest. I lived by this rule until I moved to England and lived with a group of Australians during the famous Ashes summer of 2005 (if you have too much time, feel free to watch this). The guys started disappearing into the TV room, and one day, walking past, I thought I might test the god-given rules of the uselessness of cricket. I stopped and said:
“Is this cricket? How can you watch it when it’s so boring? Can you explain how it works?”
To his eternal credit, my mate Tim said the magic words:
“The first thing you need to know about cricket is that Australia always wins.”
In retrospect this was hysterical, because Australia lost, and it’s been downhill ever since, but he got me there. Australia was exotic enough to be interested in, and I sat down – and had an epiphany. It was really quite easy.
Everyone is dressed in white. Only one team scores points at a time, and after their points are accumulated, it’s the other team’s turn. This is weird and all kinds of different, so deal with it. Everything else then makes perfect sense. Educate yourself with the help of these two wise men:
We went out and played that very same day. That’s how easy it is. Of course there are things that are potentially confusing: Almost everything is called wicket. Everyone looks the same. There’s LBW. The scorecard gives every detail of who bowled to whom at what point in the game, resulting in what exactly. It looks frightening, but have someone explain it to you, and it will all make sense. For many, including me, this obsession with detail is part of the beauty of cricket. Assuming every player is more or less equally skilled, it all boils down to tactics. And contrary to popular belief, this makes it more, not less exciting. Eight hours can fly by. (Did I mention some games last eight hours? If you have the time, and a drink or two, those eight hours can be the best day you ever wasted watching television.)
And, of course, it’s all gloriously English. There is a tea break. There are big books full of rules, and we know the English love their rules. It’s all so very civilized, with muted applause between overs and the occasional loud appeal which is immediately silenced by a mere shake of the umpire’s head. Taking a picnic to the cricket on a sunny Sunday is hands down the best, most relaxing way to spend a day in England. Even if you don’t watch the game. Most people probably drift away at some point, but for those playing, it’s worth missing out on their family lunch once again.
For me, it’s all of the above, and the feeling that finally I have found a sport that I not only love watching, but love playing too. Of course I’m beyond bad at it, but it doesn’t matter. It feels good. I love cricket. I love watching it, I love thinking about it, and I loooove talking about it. When I had my first child and started freaking out about the impending emergency c-section, I asked the anesthetist to talk about cricket with me. It calmed me down and cheered him up no end. (The child that eventually interrupted our talk is now ready to start playing. She’ll be the only girl and the only German in the team. My work here is done.)
There’s another bonus in the form of countless books written about the subject. Most of the ones I’ve read are quite humourous, and all of them are a bit worrying in their tunnel vision of the women-free, male-bonding culture of cricket that is still very much alive today. Angus Bell, the man from the video above, wrote my favourite book of the lot, the once questionably named Slogging the Slavs, which has now been renamed Batting on the Bosphorus. It tells the story of how one cricket fanatic tries to educate Eastern Europeans about the game, with amazing and heartwarming results. Even though in this case the Germans are the only ones who don’t turn up for their game, I have made it my life’s goal to translate the book into German and find an audience for it – and maybe change those cultural studies lectures forever.