No 52: Because Winning Really Isn’t That Important

I feel that I’m already on the defensive with such a ridiculous – indeed downright heretical – header. Over the next several lines I will try to explain why it is not the most outrageous comment you will read on-line today.

To explain myself it will help if I explain a little bit about my sporting background, such as it is. For over 50 years I have been a supporter, & occasional season ticket holder, of one of the top Premier League football clubs in England (one of the ‘Johnny come lately’ teams in the eyes of many – but I was watching them when they really were ****!). I have also been a follower of & occasional live watcher of one of the top rugby union teams in Northern England (come on, there aren’t that many it can be!). Do you know what? My support, particularly for the football team, has almost killed me. Why? Because in football results are all important. Not only that, but your whole weekend &, indeed, week ahead is dictated by whether your team won or lost. My late mother, who had no interest in football other than wanting her son to be happy, used to say that in the 1960s (pre internet; pre round the clock TV coverage of football) she would know if my team had won simply in the manner that I used to knock on the door when arriving home from a match – mother was not joking. In later life & still to this day I struggle to watch tight games against rivals for fear of what it will do to my blood pressure. It is often far easier (safer even) to wait until the match is over, take one quick look at the result, on-line, and get on with life – win, lose, or draw. If readers think that I am exaggerating in what I say regarding football results & blood pressure you might want to have a look, some time, at just how many people have died of heart attacks whilst watching matches. Well, can I not watch a match and enjoy it for the skills of my players & those of our opponents? Not a hope. Where I was brought up football is very tribal. The result is everything. The opposition? I hope they have a collective nightmare of a match when they play us & that everything bad – short of serious, long term, injuries – happens to them. Time for me to see a shrink? Maybe it is.

So now let us turn to ‘the greatest sport ever invented’, as I recently described cricket elsewhere on these pages & look at how differently things are. For convenience I will separate my comments into ‘Club cricket’ – where I have 15 years of playing at a low level, as well as a further 5 years of umpiring at club level ; and ‘First Class cricket’ – where I have almost 50 years experience of watching.

Club cricket

I played my club cricket in the Manchester Association in the days before there was a recognised 3rd X1 competition. Thus, my cricket playing comprised mostly of playing for the Sunday side, playing ‘friendly’ matches in & against teams of variable quality (the ‘Has beens, maybes & never will bes’ as the late ‘Major’ Frank McCartney once described them), along with being on almost permanent standby for the 2nd X1. For three glorious years I was honoured to captain the Sunday side. Those were happy days of visits to the countryside, for us boys from the big city suburbs. North & mid Cheshire has some beautiful grounds. Grounds that encouraged even us average cricketers to perform, & clubs who had some wonderful guys playing for them. And do you know what? Having been retired 20 years (a bad back & dreadful bowling technique are a deadly combination) the things I remember most are the characters – Bob Hutton at Styal CC, to name but one; the grounds – just how awesome is Bollington CC; & the performances – Justin Mobey getting his first ton, as well as the gentleman at Timperley CC who got to within four runs of a deserved ton & then had the misfortune to come up against the one ball of that season that yours sincerely bowled which both pitched on the wicket and turned! Can you see a pattern developing here? I probably played about 300 games as an adult. I can only tell you the outcome of about half a dozen of those games. Even at the time, whilst I was disappointed to lose, I never found myself in a football style sulk – even when we played local rivals – and never to a point where my life away from cricket was effected.  It always was the pleasure of battling against opponents in the open air that mattered. Easy win against poor opponents? No thank you! Close loss to better quality opponents? Yes please – especially if I got a wicket or two in the process. Don’t get me wrong, I played the game hard (& I expected those I captained to play seriously). Wickets taken were celebrated as if the opposing batsman was Boycott or Gavaskar. Catches, similarly, received the ‘that one has just won The Ashes’ treatment. But if we still lost, well next week was another match – another chance to dream of 5fers or improbable stays at the crease to save a game.

First Class & Test Match cricket

How lucky am I? Born almost within sight of a major First Class & Test Match ground, even now I only live 15 minutes drive from that same ground. Not only that, but I am little more than a decent walk away from where my county regularly plays 2nd X1 matches. I am proud of my county & those who have played for the Red Rose. I am also a proud Englishman when those Englishmen are playing cricket. Whether it be at Lords, or Mumbai, or the MCG I always want England to win. But, somehow it doesn’t seem to matter if Lancashire or England lose.  The reason? Well if Lancashire lose, or England lose then it is highly likely that a member of the opposition has done something special. I can honestly say (& I defy any true cricket lover to disagree with me) that to see a Randall, with all his eccentricities; or Tendulkar, with the air of a man who must have been wielding a bat in his mother’s womb; or a Warne – nothing to add there; or, indeed, countless other wonderful cricketers; it has been worth the defeat of ‘my’ teams. If you are a regular watcher of cricket at the highest level, think of what you remember most about matches you have seen. Was it the disappointment of defeat, or was it the performance of an individual – who just happened to be playing for the opposition? I’m not being totally cynical when I make the following linked statements:- Disappointed by the loss of The Ashes? Well don’t worry, there will be another Ashes series in a year or two. But- Disappointed that you missed Shane Warne’s career? So you should be, as there might not be a similar bowler coming along in your lifetime.

I started this article with what I accepted was a contentious statement. I hope that I have now shown that, if you exchange your own playing & watching experiences for mine, winning at cricket really isn’t that important.

No 46: Size Doesn’t Matter

‘Me? At my peak I was about six feet tall & weighed under ten & a half stones.’

‘So you were a batsman then? Using your reach & light weight to move effortlessly into place, before executing a perfect drive through the covers?’

‘Er, no.’

‘So (& I’m sorry to get personal here) you used the power from your ample backside to thunder into the crease, scaring the wits out of batsmen the length & breadth of the country?’

‘Er, no again, sorry.’

‘So what did you do that made you such a successful cricketer?’

‘Well I’ve got buckets for hands. Oh &, like my father, I was left handed. Is it making sense now…?

So began the Test Match Special interview that never was. The TMS team were never going to interview me about my career.  Players who don’t make it beyond the 2nd X1 of a couple of very average teams in the Manchester Association rarely are interviewed on national radio – certainly not about their cricketing exploits. Ah well. Did my lack of success diminish my love for greatest sport ever invented? Did it fiddlesticks!! (You haven’t just dropped a catch off my bowling, reader, so I’ll keep the language polite.)

So what is it I love so much about cricket? To answer that question, let us start by looking at a couple of other sports that are popular with amateurs – football & rugby union. In both sports, to succeed at even a lowly level it helps to be physically big. Sure, in football, you will occasionally come across a slightly built but technically gifted midfielder. However, he will be greatly outnumbered by the man mountains in the defence & forward line. As for rugby union, the need for big men is even greater. Long gone are the days when the half-backs were slightly built guys who could wriggle their way through the opposition. ‘You want to play at scrum-half, son? Come back when you are six inches taller & two stones heavier.’ Well that stopped me ever enjoying either aforementioned sports, irrespective of a complete lack of ability.

Cricket, on the other hand? Well, at all levels of the sport, but particularly at club level, I’ve seen all sorts of physical specimens have success. Bit of a short-arse are you? Doesn’t matter, you can still become a decent batsman (for a start you won’t have to duck as frequently when the short pitched stuff is flying around) in the manner of the late Harry Pilling or, for that matter, any number of teenagers playing  for their club first team. Want to bowl spin? Well I’m sure that the MCC boffins have, under lock & key, the blueprint for the next English Murali but don’t let that worry you. I’ve seen spin bowlers who looked no more like Murali than I look like Miss World. Big guys, little guys, in between guys…they could all bowl spin with varying degrees of success. One thing they never lacked was enthusiasm. See yourself as the next great fielding sensation? Jonty Rhodes your hero? Again, don’t worry that you are only five & a half feet tall & weigh close to fourteen stones…we’ll put you in the slips & with those large hands of yours & your mental speed of reaction you can take twenty catches a season to turn our season into a successful one.

The above examples are but a few of the hundreds that I could quote, at all levels of the sport, but particularly at club level. There are, as this site proves, hundreds of reasons to love cricket. However, cricket remains, even at its highest level, the one major sport where size really does not matter.