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Rugby – and more on cricket

It’s been a difficult time to be an England sports fan. First there was the shambles in South Africa with the cricketers. England, for all the difference it may make to anything serious, eventually refused to play their game in Harare, and Zimbabwe took all the points. And remember how I reported earlier, in my description of how cricket differs from baseball, that Zimbabwe even did better than England in the protest department. Well, this is a reminder that things like that can get serious.

Zimbabwean fast bowler, Henry Olonga, has been banished from the Takashinga Cricket Club following his public protest of political conditions in the country during a World Cup match.

That tells you a lot about the atmosphere in Zimbabwe just now. Hats off to Henry Olonga. He’s only 26 years old, but maybe he figures that cricket in Zimbabwe has no future to speak of anyway.

Meanwhile our footballers (that’s British football – not the rebel US variant) were humiliated by Australia, who are not supposed to be any good at that game. The Oz media went crazy, apparently. They do love to stuff the poms there, and stuffing us at cricket has got boring. But yesterday things picked up. The England rugby team, are doing us proud just now. They proved Antoine wrong last weekend by beating France (see the comments we exchanged for the details) and now they’ve just won a difficult game against a Wales side smarting from defeat by Italy and with nothing to lose against a heavily fancied England, and playing in their own Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. Wales did well in the first half, but England scored two tries early in the second half (that’s like touchdowns) and although England never cut loose, that was enough.

Rugby? Well, that differs from American football in that you don’t wear girly space costumes, just rugged, manly shirts and shorts. Although that is beginning to change – the rugby players are starting to wear strange padded black undergarments. The rugby ball is pretty much identical to an American Football ball, but in rugby you aren’t allowed to pass the ball forwards the way a US Football quarterback does. There is nothing like the same focus on the rugby “fly half” as there is on the quarterback, but the fly half is still important, and England have a particularly effective one just now, a little guy called Wilkinson. Wilkinson is the England team’s specialist kicker of penalties (field goals), which are awarded when infringements occur rather than merely when you are in range. The game is interrupted less and is all over well inside two hours. Blah blah blah. Commenters, if you care, sort all that out for me, would you?

Meanwhile, England’s cricketers yesterday roundly defeated Pakistan in the World Cup, and after the Zimbabwe nonsense, that game counted for a lot.

However, the cricket history books won’t remember anything England did. For them, the big news will be that Shoaib Akhtar, the “Rawalpindi Express” became the first fast bowler to have been recorded as bowling a ball at over 100 mph.

One of the shrewdest comments on the differences between cricket and baseball which I tried to explain here in my earlier piece a week or two ago, was this, from Sam Ward (and I swear I didn’t realise he mentioned my Iraq posting that got all the comments this week until I went there just now, but thanks):

One Key difference that wasn’t made clear between cricket and baseball is this:

In baseball, when you do connect with the ball, you are forced to run at least 1 base, which results in being “run out” very often.

Cricket, on the other hand, leaves the decision entirely up to the batsman. If you don’t hit it very well, you can simply remain in position and take another “pitch”.

You can continue bunting the ball back to bowler (pitcher) as often as you like, and take runs only when you hit it somewhere there are no fielders.

This is the most important difference between the 2 sports in my opinion. The “forced run” in baseball balances things heavily in favour of the pitcher, since the batsman is forced to take a full swing at every pitch.

Cricketers can just bunt or let go as many balls as they like until they get that perfect, hittable ball. The only qualifier is that it can’t hit your stumps.

Thus sums up the problem that “traditional” cricket has had in recent years very clearly, and it explains why attendances for these games have declined. Time was when solemn crowds of stoics in cloth caps or blazers would stand in their thousands to watch this kind of thing for hour after hour, but those days are gone. Relics of that age still attend county cricket games in England and snooze in deck chairs, but most of the excitement now is in one day cricket, which is the sort being played in South Africa. In one day cricket, there is a strict limit to how many balls each side may face, and towards the end of such a game “dot balls” (that is to say balls not scored off) are greeted with cheers by the supporters of the side doing the bowling. Just waiting for the right ball to hit won’t do any more, which means that cricket is becoming more like baseball.

In general, English cricket crowds, when they can be persuaded to assemble, are a much more rowdy lot. What’s happening is that British sport, like British society in general, is reverting to a pre-Victorian and less pious atmosphere, with more drug abuse and corruption and less general back-suited pomposity and solemnity, but also higher crime figures and more blatant political corruption. Cricket was a huge part of the Victorian era, with all-white muscular Christians playing up and playing the game, etc. Now they sport hideous, garishly coloured pyjamas, take drugs, and also bribes from shady bookmakers, and play a less elegant, but more exciting and belligerent game.

Or, you might say, cricket is becoming more American. The final commenter on my earlier piece, an American cricket enthusiast, added this:

We need to look for the kids that fall between the gaps of Baseball, Football, Basketball and be there with Cricket, which most kids find a very satisfying game to play , especially adaptive versions like Kanga Cricket, Kwik Cricket , Hot Shot Cricket. Having done a bunch of school demos of cricket , I know that a resurgence of Cricket in America can happen.
Edward Fox
Kansas Cricket Association

Both of these comments probably came too late for regular Samizdata readers to notice them. But I was impressed.

I tried to put all this up last night, before the Samizdata drinking session to celebrate us getting past half a million hits, but it was too complicated, so instead I merely became one of the many contributors to the eerie hush, see below. And on a day when Stephen Pollard was kind enough to say of us that “barely a day goes by” without fascinating stuff. Kalashnikov umbrellas aside, such a day passed yesterday. Apologies. But it was a Saturday.

4 comments to Rugby – and more on cricket

  • Henry Olonga may well have decided that the Mugabe regime’s days are numbered, and is prepared to let his career be interrupted for a year or two in order to speed up Mugabe’s fall.

  • I’d love to be more interested in top-level cricket, rugby, International Soccer, and other sports that the rest of the world loves. The problem is that I just can’t see them here in the states. Perhaps this will change in the future. I certainly hope so.

  • As a cricket purist, I deplore the advances of the one-day match, which are nothing other than slugfests with calculators.

    The entire point about cricket is its subtlety — that it’s like a chess match rather than draughts/checkers.

    There’s nothing better for the soul than watching two teams battle each other over five days of activity — the swings of fortune, the choice of strategies, the feats of endurance and defiance — good grief, when’s the next Test at Lord’s so I can jet over from the United States?

    I played cricket for the first thirty years of my life, and I’ve loved the game all my life, without reservation. It is the greatest test of intellect and ability ever devised — and a pox on those who think it’s boring: these are people who prefer half-hour sitcoms to movies, most likely, or who can remember an advertising slogan, but not the Queen Mab speech from Hamlet.

    Boors and yahoos, the lot of them.