I’m taking today off from blogging because I’m hunkered down in front of the TV watching the Ashes. The Ashes, as many of my readers probably know, is the regular series of test matches between Australia and England. It’s named after the tiny urn that goes to the victors. Right now, England has the urn, and Australia has gone to England to try to get it back.
The teams are ranked 3rd and 4th in the world and smart money has England winning the series, but both sides are vulnerable in some way.
Over the past decade, I’ve really come to like cricket. I might be obsessed. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Cricket is Simple. The basic rules of cricket are exceedingly simple. You have a bowler who tries to get a batter out by either knocking a pair of bails of three wooden stumps or causing the batter to put the ball in the air so that a fielder can catch it. The only really important rule that comes regularly into play is that you can’t block a ball from striking the wicket with your legs.
The batter has to both protect his wicket (this is the stumps and the bails) from being hit by the bowler and to score runs by putting the ball into play and running to another wicket which stands opposite.
England chose to bat first this morning, and now it is Australia’s job to get all 11 England bats out. Then Australia will have a go with the bat and England will try to get them out. Once that happens, England will have another chance, and Australia will follow. All this has to be completed in 5 days. To win a team has to score more runs and get the other side all out twice. If they don’t get the other side out, but score more runs, the match is a draw.
2. Cricket is Pre-Modern. I’m an academic historian and, as I have mentioned here in the past, academia is one of the last bastions of pre-modern work cycle where our pursuits are often better described as crafts than professions. Cricket is pre-modern in that a day of play stretches over close to 8 hours and makes no concessions for day of the week. The rhythm of play can be breathtakingly fast, but it can also creep along holding our modern attention spans in utter distain. Also, it is outdoors, played in natural light, and full of traditions maintained for the sake of tradition.
My well-meaning colleagues often refer to cricket as boring, but that’s only because we’ve become so accustomed as rapid-fire, blurs of sports where constant action holds fast to our digitally-atrophed attention span. Cricket – particularly Test Cricket – requires patience, rewards attention to details that mark the ebbs and flows of the contest, and provides an oasis from the constant demands of modern life.
3. Cricket is Global. I’ve blogged on this before, but cricket is a truly global sport. While it originated in the colonial encounter – spreading throughout British Empire – the rise of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the West Indies over the course of the 20th century ensured that the game quickly became hybridized. In fact, cricket may be the game of the 21st century (even more so than Formula 1 or football/soccer which remains largely anchored in Europe and nourished by European capital – although this is clearly changing as money from Persian Gulf has fortified European leagues) as the India, in particular, has come to increasingly influence the shape of cricket on a global scale. Massively capitalized tournaments like the India Premier League (which features the shortest form of the game) has pushed international cricket to adapt their schedules and shift priorities. I am not much of a fan of the short form of the game, I can think of few other sports where the likes of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, can genuinely influence the global structure of the game.
Moreover, cricket is a sport of immigrants in the UK, South Africa, and Australia where players with names like Nasser Hussain and Hashim Amla became stars and a 19 year old of Sri Lankan descent, Ashton Agar, earned his first cap this morning for Australia. Cricket reflects the shifting centers of global power and show how sport is place where new forms of culture are negotiated even as the importance of tradition remain intact.
I’ll concede that cricket is not for everyone, but for those of us in academia where the slow grind of simple tasks repeated meticulously, drenched in tradition, and ringed with innovation and perspective, there is something special and distinct about the sport. So, if you get a chance, head over to Cricinfo and check out the coverage of The Ashes this week (or anytime really in the next month and a half), revel in the simplicity of the Laws of Cricket, be amused by the bizarre language of cricket jargon, and ponder tensions between the simplicity of the action and the bewildering array of fielding positions.