Cricket is, at first glance, a very boring game to watch. Like baseball, except longer and with less action – two shortcomings baseball already has in spades. However, it also exceeds baseball in the statistical and strategical aspect of play, and this makes for a deep experience beyond the first glance. The glory days of baseball were the days of radio and playing cards, where kids followed the box scores and filled in a wealth of excitement from numbers and crackly voices. Cricket is, to me, a similar experience, but in a modern multi-media sense. I’ve watched whole games, but it’s hard to stay up till 3 am on a work day. However, the game courses through multiple mediums – the web (CricInfo), the security guard’s radio, casual phone conversations with friends, and the cheers of the people next door. I was replacing my car battery last night and you could reliably tell the score from the noise the neighbors were making. And that is the appeal of cricket, to me, that it is a profoundly social sport, and a modern sport in terms of media.
Cricket is the one thing me and the security guards at my apartment can have a reliable conversation about. It branches off into other stuff, but asking the score every 10 minutes is a pretty stable ice breaker. I’m in the parking lot trying to get my car to start and he’s trying not to doze off during the tail end of a boring shift, but the cricket is there throughout whatever we’re doing. In that context, the length is ideal. I remember being stuck in a warehouse trying to clear some goods for hours, and the match is on. Everyone sitting in that interminable wait was watching the match, and thank God that it lasted through the whole business.
The Sri Lankan (and Indian) economies generally entail a lot of people sitting around. If you’re getting something fixed in the house they’ll invariably send over 8 people, half of which are visibly unoccupied. In any government agency there’ll be desks crammed so as you can’t move, but only one person that can actually do anything for you. At the police checkpoints I’ve seen literally 15 cops, waiting for I don’t know what. Security guards are another case in point. My apartment building has someone at the door all the time, staring at the paper in front of them and listening to the radio. Not to mention drivers, domestics, etc. There are millions of people (including the Middle East) spending a lot of the day waiting without much distraction besides a paper and a radio. These people need more than one or two hours of entertainment, or even 6 hours in front of a big screen. They need at least a day of distraction, and that is what cricket provides.
Besides length, cricket also has a depth of meaning and a wealth of meaningful numbers. There is the score for one, but that is rendered fluid by wickets taken and run rate. In baseball you either get out or you score, but in cricket there is a balance, resources to spend and numbers to gain. In the England game, for example, Sri Lanka only had two wickets (out) after 20 plus overs, but only about 100 runs. Cricket is also a guessing game in that you put a score out there and the other team has to match. As a spectator, you can bring other experiences into that guessing, and it makes for fruitful debate.
I only get the bare surface of the strategy, but you can see in conversations that it is there, and that it is fun.
So, while I was always a fan of playing cricket, I think I’m also becoming more and more a fan – not necessarily of watching – but of experiencing the national sport.