Wait until next year

Putting off what could be done tomorrow, today

Tag: cricket

Everyday Adventures

Dog riding a bicycle

You find yourself exploring parks you’ve never really explored before, working out their boundaries and the links between each park as you make your way. You spot streetlights right in the middle of one park, which seems odd. You think people probably use these paths as handy cut-throughs from one street to another. There are the old tennis courts, some neglected, some with new play furniture built upon them. Read the rest of this entry »

Winning isn’t everything – Cricket and the beauty of the draw in sport

England’s nail-biting draw with South Africa yesterday reminded me of how much poorer cricket would be as a sport if it was purely based on wins and losses. Cricket is an idiosyncratic sport, and it is hard for an outsider to to appreciate how a game can last five days, with a draw being a good result. But I think yesterday’s game showed how.

By the last day of play England had only the remotest chance of winning. If a draw wasn’t an option in cricket, the final day would have been incredibly dull and frankly pointless. Instead, it provided incredible drama and the stage for some genuine sporting heroics. This was a stoic, resolute rearguard action. There was something incredibly noble in batsmen heading to the crease knowing they cannot possibly win, but determined to not lose.

Paul Collingwood is the king of this scenario. He is the kind of batsman who has the character to bed in and bat for hour after hour, repelling whatever the opposition has to throw at him.

The oft-maligned Ian Bell accompanied him, who up to that point had never really displayed the mental toughness to match his innate ability. Yesterday, he put in a watershed innings. He was no longer the batsman who throws his wicket away with a lapse in concentration or technique. This time he would stand firm.

As hours passed, the draw looked more and more likely, but things are never that simple for England, are they? Yet again, a mini-collapse led to a dramatic final phase. England were down to their last wicket. One more out and South Africa would win.

Graeme Swann (my current cricketing Man Crush, for those keeping score) and Graham Onions somehow held out against South Africa’s fierce fast bowling. Onions faced the final over, and for the second time this series survived. Twice England’s worst batsman has been called upon to salvage the game. Twice he has answered that call successfully, bravely and calmly.

Despite only managing to follow the game over the internet (damn work!) this was still a gripping, intense finale. Waiting for a webpage to reload has never engendered such nerves. The draw was finally secured, and England live to fight another day.

I think yesterday’s game really shows how other sports that forego the draw are missing out. A draw can mean as much as a victory, as it did for England, or a defeat, as perhaps it did for South Africa, who had clearly been the better side over the five days. Fighting for the draw did not require a swashbuckling effort or a brief flash of uncommon skill. It required character, determination and patience. Sport would be poorer for lacking those qualities.

‘Sudden death’ or similar was not needed to make the game compelling. And maybe this particular narrative was more intriguing, engrossing, complex and satisfying than just a simple win and loss.

Photo by vagawi via Flickr

Are the Ashes Tests going to return to free-to-air television?

Some potentially good news for non-Sky subscribing cricket fans today, with news that the panel established to recommend the ‘listed events’ that should be available on free-to-air television will propose that the Ashes should rejoin that list.

These so-called ‘crown jewels’ are the sporting events that the British government essentially decide should be made available to all, and so cannot just be shown via a subscription channel, such as Sky Sports.

The Ashes were on this list, but were removed prior to this summer’s series, meaning cricketing fans had to either pay a subscription of around £40 a month, or find somewhere else to watch it.

This development is obviously good news for sports fans – free sport is always a good thing. The cricketing authorities are not so happy. The England and Wales Cricket Board have a £300m deal with Sky that would be at risk, and the terrestrial channels are unlikely to pay anywhere near that amount for broadcasting rights.

Clearly, a loss of income isn’t brilliant for English cricket. But is it the end of the world?

I say no. If anything, the cricketing authorities are potentially making a quick and easy buck at the expense of the future of the game. Sure, that money can be put into grassroots development, but what about the continuing popularity of the game?

Far, far less people saw England defeat Australia this year than in 2005. Potential new converts to the game missed out. The next Andrew Flintoff may well have decided against pursuing his interest in cricket, as it wasn’t there for him to watch this summer. While a sport isn’t on ITV, BBC or Channels 4 or 5, is it really mainstream?

Cricket (and sport in general) needs to look at the bigger picture and make a decision. Take the cash now, or build a stronger, larger long-term following?

Why we watch sport (or Winning isn’t everything)

Last Sunday Larry at Wezen Ball posted a wonderful report on his last opportunity to watch the Milwaukee Brewers this season. He ended with this:

“There’s still nothing better than seeing Major League Baseball games in person – even if those games are of a sub-.500 team with failed postseason expectations. Baseball really is that good, and we’re lucky to have such a fun, talented and likable squad so close and so affordable. It’s worth remembering every now and then, and this weekend did a great job of reminding me of it.”

Unfortunately, living in England, I can’t actually get to see any Major League Baseball. And being a busy bee, I can’t get to as much live sport as I’d like, or have managed in the past.

Still, there is something very special about going to a game, in any sport, at any level. I enjoy a day out watching non-league football just as much as a day at Wembley, just for different reasons. I went to the cricket this summer for a County Championship game and had a wonderful time, and could probably find just as much to enjoy from a simple village green game as I would a Test Match.

So, sport is fun to watch, even if your team isn’t a massive success. Nobody wants to see their team lose, of course. Even so, the experience, and for some the ritual, of going to the game, is almost enough.

For most of us, the main emotion we experience as a follower of sport is disappointment. Our team can’t win every challenge, every tackle, every point, every game or every championship. But still we return, time and again, year on year.

We accept that we can’t win all the time. And there is a particular dignity in those fans that see less wins than most. It’s not that they don’t care about winning. Far, far from it. It’s just that their support is ultimately unconditional. No glory hunting here. They may scream for change (of tactics, playing staff, coaching staff, owners), but the team will always be their team. And hope springs eternal, just wait until next year…

There is more than the result to keep a supporter hooked. There’s the socialising, the community, the peripheral elements to the main event. I live near Charlton Athletic, and can see the supporters gathering in the cafés before the game, the pubs after. The sense of community, lost in so many other walks of life, is palpable.

Plenty of people seem to go to the cricket for a doze, a read of the paper and a chat. Good on them.

When I caught the baseball, on a trip to New York, the pretzels and beer (and unexpected high-fives from fans nearby) was as much fun as the game itself.

Even armchair supporters enjoy more than just the game itself. It might be that well-earned can of beer or slice of pizza accompanying it. Or the friend who pops round to watch too. The chance for some ‘time out’ from the real world. If the fan is really tech-savvy, they might enjoy the chance to connect with others via twitter, blogging or whatever else.

There’ll be times when they will swear and throw something at the television because the game isn’t going their way. But there will also be the times when they’ll catch a game, just because it’s on, and be more than happy.

While the recent sporting scandals in rugby union, Formula 1 and elsewhere suggest that sportsmen and women are increasingly looking to win at all costs, that isn’t the case for supporters. There is more to the enjoyment of sport than just the contest, or the result of that contest, itself. There’s meaning in sport beyond the score.

Maybe while those directly involved (the players, coaches, owners etc) see sport as a business first and foremost, it’s still a game for the fans.

Sports stuff I’ve enjoyed this week

This week I put an inadvertent curse on two sides by making them my surrogate baseball teams and looked at twitter, telly and the future of watching sport, which were fun to write for me, if not fun for you dear reader. By enough about me, what did I enjoy looking at this week?

What have you enjoyed this week?