|A Science Fiction Fanzine||Winter 2008-9|
Cricket: A Sport for Novel Readers
The long, hot, lazy days of summer; the sound of wood on leather; beach reading: summer, it appears, is a time for sitting back and relaxing and enjoying the good things in life. It is not a time for rushing around being energetic. Do you ever hear of books being described as “piste reading”? No, of course not. If you are on a winter vacation you don’t expect to spend time reading, you expect to be either Doing Things to keep warm, or be huddled around the fire with friends. But in summer you can relax in the sun with a good book. And consequently, I think, summer sports have a lot more in common with reading than winter sports do.
I am going to go a little further than that. I am going to make a special claim for test match cricket, that form of the game that leaves Americans totally nonplused because each game lasts for up to five days. But that, my friends, is the whole point. It gives you space in which to develop a story.
All sporting events have a story to some extent. Soccer, by cliché, is a “game of two halves”. A claim can be made for ice hockey having three chapters, and an NFL game four. A five set tennis match can see many ebbs and flows of fortune. But the longer a game goes on, the more time there is for drama to unfold, and the more opportunity there is for other factors to intervene. Test cricket is a book of 15 chapters: three two-hour sessions per day. Each one has its own story, each is a battle to be won or lost, each can end on a cliff-hanger, or with one team seemingly without hope, only for the next session to change things around totally.
Part of the reason for this is that cricket has changes of scenery. Not, of course, that you change where the game is being played, but you can make significant changes to the environment. A game of 2-3 hours is not often unbalanced by the weather. I’ve seen various types of football played in awful weather, but usually it affects both sides. Fortunes in a cricket match, on the other hand, can hinge on how the weather develops throughout the game. In England it is often important to bowl first so as to take advantage of the morning damp on a green wicket. In India you are more likely to want to bat last after the sun has baked the wicket to dust. Rain, fog or bad light can interrupt the game at crucial moments. Over five days, particularly in a country like England where weather systems change every hour, the constantly changing conditions are a crucial part of the game.
The most important part of any novel, however, is the cast, and cricket has more opportunities for character development than any other sport I can think of. Some sports, like golf, are all about the individual, but only cricket pits the individual up against the team for extended periods of time. The closest I can think of is the starting pitcher in baseball, who has the fortunes of the team resting on his shoulders for much of the game. Cricket asks a lot of its bowlers too, but it is the batsmen whose character is really put under the microscope. A top class player like Sachin Tendulkar or Ricky Ponting has to be prepared to bat, not just for a few hours, but for a couple of days if necessary. During that time he may have to cope with everything from a fast bowler trying to give him free dental work to an expert spinner trying to bamboozle him with deliveries that turn and kick in many different ways. The concentration required is phenomenal, and all that time the batsman is out in the middle of the pitch with the cyclopean eye of the TV camera focused on his every move.
Most sports, then, are like movies. They are fast, and can be very spectacular. They can move you to tears at times with the concentrated emotion. But nothing develops a story like cricket. It is comfortable, and you can relax into it. What better way to spend a warm summer’s day?