Saturday, January 3, 2015

My Love Affair With Cricket

It all began with a trip to Goa, India, in early December 2007. I didn't realize beforehand I was going to a cricket-mad country smack in the middle of a Test series against Pakistan. It turned out to be a vacation that changed my life. Literally.

PictureI became curious about cricket when I saw that the Indian newspapers were full of reports of the Kolkata Test – and found that I didn't understand anything of what had happened during the previous day’s play despite being fluent in English. Despite, in fact, being a translator. Returning home to Finland, I decided to learn enough cricket-speak to understand what was going on. Then I meant forget all about it.

But one thing led to another. As I read cricket reports online, I blessed Wikipedia daily. It has taught me pretty much everything I know about the Laws of Cricket. But it took more than a year of intermittent study, as understanding one term just presented me with more new words. Or, often enough, old words that proved to have entirely new meanings. There are the classics, like duck and beehive, but I was stumped (yes, stumped) by words like crease (clearly not a reference to ironing gone wrong) and beat (as in beating the batsman). And so many cricketing expressions leave big chunks of the action unsaid. Leg before, of course. But also It was going to hit the middle of middle and off. Imagine for a moment that English is your second language (or third, as it is for me) and you are faced with middle of middle and off. Trust me, you start looking for the word you missed on your first reading.

In 2009, during England’s tour of the Caribbean, the pieces finally fell into place. I understood the game; saw what a difference a quick five-for can do for the fielding side; realized the importance of a good partnership; picked up the fact that seemingly little can happen for a whole day and then one over can change everything – and that the captain has to take all that into account when deciding when to declare. Not to mention that I saw that the declaration must be the best thing in the whole world of sport.

But what you must realise is that at this point cricket to me consisted of words. I had still not seen a game played. Not even on TV. Because there is no cricket on TV in Finland. But when I finally understood cricket, I thought I’d like to know what it looks like too. Whether the action is as good as the theory. So I went back online and ordered a cricket DVD. And another. And then I went on another site and got myself tickets to a day of the World T20. I saw South Africa v West Indies and New Zealand v Pakistan at The Oval. I enjoyed the experience – but there’s no declaration in T20, so I vowed to return to London for the highest form of cricket.

In the meantime I got involved in cricket in Finland. Yes, there is cricket in Finland, I found. I started sponsoring the local club and little by little I got involved in Cricket Finland as well. What’s more, I made friends all over the world, as I suddenly had something in common with all sorts of people in far-away countries. All you people reading this column, for instance.

Two years later I returned to London, as an English friend invited me to join him at Lord’s for the 2000th Test. A wish come true in the best way possible: England v India at the Home of Cricket. Heaven, in other words. After five days of Test cricket I was exhausted, but definitely hooked on the game for life.

Since then I’ve learned the intricacies of ballots, priority windows and patient online queueing for hours – and managed to make one more wish come true by returning to The Oval for the tail end of the 2013 Ashes. I’ve made my debut as acricket writer. But like the learning of one term lead to curiosity about another word, I find my wishes multiplying: In the coming years I hope to go back to India and experience a Test match there (preferably against Pakistan, of course, to complete the circle), but I also want to go to Test matches in other places, not just London and not just England. In fact, I want to see the game played in all Test countries. And I want to see new nations being granted Test status. And I want to see Finnish cricket move forward. And…

There is a lot of worry about the future of Test cricket, but I’m living proof that Test cricket is doing fine. The game is truly great enough to survive the onslaught of T20 and blinking bails.

P.S. If you’re tasked with explaining cricket to a complete novice, start by telling them that the two batsmen are on one team and all the others the opposition.

Sara Torvalds (@SaraxCricket) for DieHard Cricket Fans

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