Tuesday, July 1, 2008
I'm back from England -- just in time to celebrate our nation shrugging those bastards off like fleas from a dog -- and I have to ask: Where has this sport been hiding all my life?
While I was in England, awake at 3 AM due to the time shift, I watched the first cricket match of my life on the TV in my hotel room. Previous to this, cricket had meant little more to me than a punchline when I wanted to make a joke about the English. A sport where the players wear white sweater-vests, taking multiple days to play a match, with breaks for tea and lunch, lends itself to Yankee ridicule.
But it turns out that cricket really is a spiritual father to baseball (my love for which is well-established) and offers an evolutionary glimpse at baseball's precursor. Indeed, baseball did evolve out of cricket, and cricket shares many of our game's pastoral pleasures and stately rhythms (some would say "boring" rhythms).
Plus, it turns out that cricket today has been streamlined and souped-up for the benefit of the unwashed masses such as myself. Now the most popular format is played in a single day, with teams in bright baseball-style uniforms. It looks almost snazzy. And the TV broadcasts are as slick and statistic-filled as any baseball telecast.
The match was awesome. It was England vs. New Zealand and five minutes on Wikipedia was plenty for me to learn all the rules. The match had drama, nuance, and the Olympic-style tension of international competition. Plus there were no tea breaks in this single-day format.
I was impressed, so upon my return to the U.S., I did a little reading into cricket and discovered that it once had strong roots here in the colonies. George Washington played cricket with his troops at Valley Forge. Americans played the first-ever international cricket test, when they played the hated Canadians in an early-19th century exhibition. And, according to some sources, the reason we call the president of the United States "the president" owes to cricket -- the founders didn't want to use an imperial title like "chancellor," so they settled on "president" because the term was in common use for the heads of colonial cricket clubs. John Adams is on record in the Congress saying that's why he favored the term "president" for the nation's chief executive.
Luckily, I've got some good English friends right here in the Bay Area who subscribe to mega-expensive satellite-TV packages so that they can watch all the cricket they want. Thanks to them, I'll be able to watch some more. How about that -- now I can be a fan of two boring bat-and-ball sports!