There are many reasons to love cricket, at least 500 of them I am sure, but for me, a relative newcomer to the sport in my 40’s, the first thing that springs to mind is the absolute pleasure of watching from the stands.
I only really started paying any attention to cricket during the 2005 Ashes series and even then it was only because I pretty much had no choice – we only owned one TV and it seemed to be constantly tuned to the trials and tribulations of Vaughan, Flintoff, Ponting, etc. In fairness, it was a series that you couldn’t help but be drawn into and has gone down in history as one of the epic battles.
It still took a few years before I fully fell in love with cricket, but it did finally happen and like many people, I guess it was a case of the more I watched and understood it, the more I enjoyed it. I was born a northerner and in fact for a few years spent my working days in spitting distance of Lancashires ground at Old Trafford. However back then, the only team sport I followed was football and could regularly be found on the terraces at Maine Road [that was Manchester City’s stadium for those of a younger persuasion] That was the time when I first discovered the friendliness of cricket fans though. A quick check of ESPNCricinfo tells me it must have been August 1990, India were playing England at Old Trafford and I happened to be the one taking the days takings to the night deposit box, right opposite the main gates of the ground, just after the days play had finished. I found myself sitting in a stationary car, surrounded by hundreds of Indian cricket fans, flag waving and generally looking like a mob. Except they weren’t a mob, they were just having a great time. They were careful not to touch my car or any of the others also stuck in the crowd and were smiling and waving at us as well as apologising for causing the traffic jam. A far cry from our regular Saturday evening onslaught from the football fans in the same vicinity – although I admit my opinion of those might have been slightly tinged by my own club allegiances.
So fast forward 20 years and I am now a paid up member of MiddlesexCCC and can regularly be found stalking the stands at Lords or idly discussing cricket with anyone that will listen on Twitter. The more I do this, the more formats of the game I attend, the more I realise that cricket is a friendly sport. My job means I don’t really get chance to get involved in local club cricket sadly, but from county level upwards, the camaraderie amongst the fans is one of the best things about it.
This summer I sat through 3 days of test cricket, 2 at Lords [NZ & Aus] and 1 at the Oval [Aus] and on all three occasions, we were surrounded by a mix of English and opposition fans. All three were great days, we shared the ups and downs, the beer and wine and the celebrations/commiserations at the end of the day. There wasn’t a luminous yellow line of police officers making sure we couldn’t give those Aussies some friendly banter, nor orders handed out over the PA system telling the Kiwi’s to remain in their seats for 20 mins after play so they could clear the Barmys from the vicinity first. Everyone just got on with enjoying the spectacle regardless of allegiance.
At county level I have whiled away many, many hours watching cricket with Surrey fans, Essex fans, etc and in fact have made several new friends amongst fans of other counties and have learned so much about this sport from them. I’m still learning.
I suppose part of this stems from cricket being a somewhat drawn out sport. T20 aside, it isn’t 90mins of fast moving chaos and all over for another 2 weeks until the next home game. No, cricket requires the ability to sit back and take it all in over at least a day and as many as 5 days. Even the most avid fan would struggle to claim it is fast paced so the ability to communicate with those around you actually becomes almost essential – you certainly have the time and the opportunity. Test Match Special built it’s reputation on being able to talk through cricket, on it’s ability to not only describe every ball in detail but to avoid the otherwise inevitable radio silence between overs with chatter and that is just the same in the stands.
Crowd trouble? That’s simply not cricket! The worst you are likely to see is some polite huffing at someone who commits the cardinal sin of moving during an over, or a small moan as an overfilled plastic pint pot deposits its contents over someone. I may be exagerating slightly there but crowd trouble is rare at cricket anywhere in the world, it is not ‘tribal’ in the way football can be, it is polite, intelligent and accepting – it may have loud, drunken fans, especially at tests, but they are more likely to annoy you with their inability to remember the words to the songs they are still insisting on trying to sing than throwing punches at their nearest opposition fan. The crowd are all there to enjoy the days play and whilst some fairly enthusiastic, witty banter may exchange hands, you are unlikely to feel threatened and very likely to feel that you found a new mate, even if you never set eyes on them again.