#39 – Watch a professional cricket game
I spent a good part of my childhood playing around the sides of a cricket pitch with my sister whilst my Dad played amateur Sunday local league and my Mum made the teas. I must have learnt something from this because it turns out that I understand the rules of cricket reasonably well. Admittedly the niceties of things like LBW escape me somewhat, but generally I get it. However, whilst I have attended hundreds of professional football games following my local team up and down the league, the only time I’ve ever been inside a cricket ground was to watch Oasis play a gig. Yes, it was some years ago… So, whilst I was drawing up my 40 before 40 list, I thought it would be a good idea to supplement my rather one sided view of professional sport by taking in a match of this oh-so-English game.
And cricket is so quintessentially English – we invented it, exported it to the colonies, then sat back and watched as they became so much better at it than we are. Perhaps it’s the heat. Cricket is definitely a fair weather game (and therefore not actually all that suited to the English climate) and, compared to many other sports, so remarkably well mannered. In the full day version of the game there are breaks for lunch and tea – what other sphere of life has afternoon tea hardwired into it? When a batsman leaves the field, everyone politely applauds regardless of which side they’re supporting. A tiny bit of rain stops play. Contrast this with football where the opposing team, their supporters and the officials are roundly abused for the duration, they play in practically all weathers and no-one can be trusted with beer pitch side, it was a very different experience for me.
It’s really a bit silly that I’ve never been to a professional cricket game as Hampshire’s county ground is only a short distance from home so I was happy to accept an invitation from friends to join them for a T20 Blast game one Friday evening to watch Hampshire take on Surrey. (One of the major flaws of cricket in my eyes is that it largely requires time to be taken off work in order to go and see it played and, for me, time off work is in very limited supply.) On the other hand, T20 (an abbreviation of Twenty 20) is a shortened form of the game in which both teams have only one innings of twenty overs (six balls to an over) so they basically have to try to score lots of runs when they’re batting and take lots of wickets when they’re fielding. There are some other stipulations which differ slightly from the normal rules of cricket: there is a limit to how many overs each bowler can bowl (which forces teams to play bowlers of different styles) and there are rules about where fielders can be placed particularly during the early overs, so this creates more opportunities for high scoring early on. T20 was created deliberately to make the game more of a spectator sport and increase the audience it appeals to. Instead of three or five days as for a Test match, a T20 game takes about three hours. I have to say in my view it works. It was an exciting and fast paced game and I had a fantastic time.
Arriving shortly after the game started due to public transport issues, Hampshire were batting and seemed to be doing reasonably well. There were a number of fours being scored and runs made and their score seemed to be going up rather quickly. Installed in my seat and issued with a card to wave around when fours or sixes were scored, it was great to sit in a relaxed friendly atmosphere with a beer, enjoying the evening sunshine.
My friends had chosen ‘serve to seat’ tickets, which meant we had ladies bringing cool boxes round to us so we could purchase various alcoholic beverages whilst still in situ and watching the game. Very civilised indeed.
As the evening continued, it became apparent that in some ways the cricket itself is slightly incidental to the occasion. It seemed to be an opportunity for friends or families to get together, go out for a few drinks, have a chat, have something to eat and perhaps watch a bit of cricket on the side. I missed a number of wickets, which were fortunately replayed on a big screen, because I was talking, or exploring the ground, or taking photos. It didn’t seem to matter, especially in this rapid scoring/rapid wickets game. Highly unlike football where you can sit there for 90 minutes and see only one goal so you absolutely curse yourself if you miss it.
During the game I went on a wander around the ground, grabbed a real ale from the bar and a lovely beef baguette from one of the concessions, checked out the cricket from all angles and generally enjoyed the laid back vibe. This was all very different from my experience of football which is decidedly tribal and aggressive, although admittedly a huge adrenaline rush as well. En route, I had to smile at the chap holding the chain to prevent you from walking behind the sight screen at the crucial moment (something I learnt when very small and can remember lurking with my sister behind sight screens waiting for the ball to be bowled).
Meanwhile, in terms of the cricket, Hampshire really gave us something to cheer about by scoring a massive 186-5 and then taking Surrey to 157-9. It was pretty much all over by the time Surrey needed to score 55 from the last three overs, so the end of the game slightly fizzled out rather than building to a nail-biting climax but that didn’t detract from a very pleasant evening out.
I think I will be returning to this most gentlemanly of games, certainly for more T20 but perhaps also for a longer, more conventional match – if I can somehow carve out the time!