I am now way into my 90th decade but it is only in the past three or four years that I can claim even to have started understanding the game of cricket. When I was younger, it used to bore me rigid, and I mean bore with a B. But with the technical advances in TV coverage I began to see the action from several different angles and in slow motion and little by little I started to get just the vaguest inkling of what might be going on and so I began to watch it a bit more. It was now no longer a case of sitting in front of the TV (or, on one occasion, in Sophia Gardens, Cardiff, where a gang of us had sloped of work early to take advantage of the post-4pm free entry and to down a pint of beer or three) watching a game in which apparently nothing happened at all for what seemed like days on end. You found yourself wondering whether to give it up as a lost cause and switch to the other channel - in those days there were only two - when suddenly there was a split-second flurry of action as a wicket fell. This excitement was then followed by several minutes of watching a group of men in white shirts and white trousers standing around talking to each other as the dismissed batsmen left the field and was replaced by a new batsman, before we were obliged to put up with several more days of nothing happening.
Modern TV coverage changed all that and once I was able to see what was taking place on the pitch, I was able to try to understand the game more and more. And slowly I did. But I have every sympathy with every ‘foreigner’ (and as every Brit will assure you, the world is full of foreigners) to whom the game is incomprehensible nonsense. Let me qualify that: by ‘every foreigner’ I mean ‘every foreigner’ whose country didn’t at some point in the past have the great good fortune to be ruled by the British. There are some ‘foreigners’ who have more than taken a shine to cricket and because of this love of the game might well qualify as ‘honorary British’. I mean, of course, the Indians, the Pakistanis, the Bangladeshis, the Sri Lankans, the New Zealander, the Australians, the South Africans and the Zimbabweans. But generally speaking the other ‘non-British foreigners’, such as the Yanks, are utterly, utterly baffled by cricket and appalled that, for example, a game which at Test level is usually played over five days can end in ‘a draw’.
Quite apart from being thoroughly entertaining – that is once you know what the bloody hell is actually going on - the game of cricket is useful as it gives the outsider an insight – or rather can give the outsider and insight – into how the English mind works and how they like to go about doing things. And I must stress that I am talking about the English mind, not the Irish, Welsh or the Scottish minds, which are anything but English and to a large extent far more rational. (Yes, and the Irish – don’t believe any of that shite about the Irish being away with the fairies. It’s just another piece of disinformation put about by the English who in many ways can teach the Irish a thing or two about being away with the fairies. Proof? Just two words: Morris dancing.
That insight occurred to me two days ago when our esteemed Prime Minister and former Etonian David Cameron made the first move in the battle ‘to save the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ for which read ‘preserve England’s hegemony over these British Isles. Cameron and other unionists, of which there are more than makes me comfortable, claim it is threatened by the stated intention of the Scottish National Party and is leader Alex Salmond to hold a referendum to ask the Scottish whether they would like to declare independence. Cameron’s move came three days ago when he suggested that it might be ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘unlawful’ for the Scots to hold a referendum. To which the answer of this disinterested – although far from uninterested – observer is ‘Hmm’. Really?
Given that Britain doesn’t actually have a written constitution, any ruling on ‘constitutionality’ would consist, at best, of the opinion of several High Court judges who might or might not be to the liking of the Scottish Parliament and who might or might not (although very probably might or else they would not have been chosen to give their opinion) be in favour of ‘preserving the Union ‘. Alex Salmond is anyway, and unsurprisingly, having none of it: he has declared that whether or not Scotland decides to hold referendum is only Scotland’s business and doesn’t in any way rely on the say-so of the British government. And oor’ Alex also gave short shrift to Cameron’s other demand that if
Incidentally, it is also worth bearing in mind the French have long regarded England as Perfidious Albion and, as a rule, choose never, ever to trust us. Forget all that brave talk of the ‘English sense of fair play’, the British preference for compromise and how our empire was, at heart, a force for good. Forget it and hit hard the next Englishman who tries to oblige you to believe it. The English are as two-faced as the next man, but their good manners and courteous manner has fooled many. And that is where cricket comes in.
. . .
Talking of national ‘sports’ – you’ll understand why I use quote marks in a minute - one way of looking at the former global spat between the Yankee Dog and the Soviet Devil (the Evil Empire ©Ronald Reagan) was to consider that the Yanks preferred baseball and the Russians had a penchant for chess. This is not to say that the Yankees didn’t have their fair share of intellectuals with a gift for long-term strategy or that the Russian Soviets weren’t above indulging in solutions which demanded the application of brawn rather than brain power, but broadly I’ll ask you to let my description stand. So where Uncle Sam would delight in throwing money, manpower and the latest latest at a problem, Uncle Vanya was more inclined to think it all through and consider where this, that and t’other course of action was likely to lead him. I have to admit that neither approach was foolproof, and both the Yankee Dog and the Soviet Devil ended up on the losing side from time to time. And what makes the analogy of a Great Game even more fatuous is that it was never time-limited, so there was no point at which one could definitively say: Well, the Yanks/Ruskies won. Pedants might point out that the Yanks did win because the Soviet Union no longer exists and that Ronnie Reagan strategy of outspending them paid dividends, to which I will respond, rather inscrutably: Well, perhaps. And perhaps they didn’t.
There is a theory that the lads at the KGB were aware that the things in the Workers’ Paradise weren’t quite working out, that it was not so slowly going bust and that Change Was Afoot. Their solution was to be part of that change, and it has to be admitted that in many ways nothing much has changed in Russia. Well, some things have in that Mother Russia can now boast of ‘having a middle class’ – glory be! – and that car ownership is now more widespread, the queues outside the grocery shops no longer exist (as far as I know) and you have a real choice of which state-regulated TV stations you watch. On the debit side, of course, the country is still ruled by a self-interested, self-perpetuating oligarchy with close links to both big business and the KGB’s successors, the FSB , there is apparently no rule of law, the police are said to be pretty bloody corrupt and, the clincher, it still gets very bloody cold in winter and not very warm in the summer. Does it really matter whether the gang of hatchet-faced gents are now far better dressed and don’t belong to the Communist Party. No, it doesn’t.
Not that the U.S. has that much more to crow about. A wet little liberal like me still finds it hard to cheer on the Land of the Free when it means in practice that it is a land in which you are free to starve if that is the fate life has in store for you, be denied medical help if you are not insured and free to be just as ripped off as any middle-class chappie in the former Evil Empire. Yes, I’ll admit that analysis is pretty broadbrush – everyone will be given emergency healthcare and the Americans are enormously community spirited loathe to see a neighbour helpless and the vast majority of them will really put themselves out to help even a stranger – but I do get fed up with all the claims that the U.S. is God’s own country which the rest of the world should damn well learn to emulate. If the U.S. is so keen on sharing its capitalist wisdom, why all the millions spent on keeping out illegal immigrants who simply want their moment in the Yankee sun? I happened to be looking up statistics the other day and was not surprised to see that the proportion of blacks in prison or without a job is far higher than the proportion they form of the U.S. population. All things being equal, the two proportions should be the same. And I still get fed up with all the Land of the Free posturing when to this day the U.S. will not admit to being responsible for the genocide of several million Native Americans. But before the Russians start crowing ‘why, the bugger is on our side after all’, they might care to reflect on their own, more recent, genocide which was the great Ukrainian famine. Several million Ukrainians are thought to have starved to death in that episode of the making of the Socialist Dream.
NB. I am on no one’s side.