The County Cricket Season started today, in customary fashion, with a Yorkshire collapse. Personally, I greet its arrival with no small amount of relish. With the resumption of baseball in the last couple of weeks still fresh in the psyche (the Cubs are already out of contention, don’t panic) the ebb and flow of the summer sports is upon us and now we have a happy few months with the sea of cricket gradually washing over the sand that resides on the beaches of our minds. There’s a little of the Darling Buds of May about English County cricket. Though it is the highest level of the sport outside internationals, big games take place at unlikely places like Taunton or Chester-le-Street, and good play is marked, not with wailing and punching the air, but a raised bat to acknowledge some polite applause.
I love cricket. There were days I was allowed to leave primary school to go to Headingley. The days of Moxon and Kellett opening up; Peter Hartley trundling in. It never mattered, really, the result, it was as much the fact that it was happening at all. Very quickly, it gets under the skin. Growing up in Yorkshire must, admittedly, help; less than a mile from my house stood the three sided monument to Schofield Haigh, Wilfred Rhodes and George Hirst (ask your
da…gra…great-grandad?). I hail from a county of outspoken belligerents who, if asked (or more likely, even if not – my mate’s dad has a joke; “How do you know if someone’s a Yorkshireman?” “They’ve already told you”) would attest that their home county was not just the best, but so far the best that the question is almost embarrassing to ask. Only on the cricket field (with 33 County Championships) has that statement looked anything short of ludicrous. It remains our game, though, and though recent teams haven’t produced much silverware, the confliction of parental pride and independent resentment of an England call-up remains happily familiar to us.
It’s a difficult thing to explain to outsiders, but there’s something familiar, something homely, about County Cricket. Maybe that’s because we see the same teams, year in year out – I remember Durham arriving, and older readers may recall similar things with Glamorgan (OK, it was 1922, but you get my drift) but the counties themselves remain constant. That’s always nice, to be able to root yourself in to something that has been going on for hundreds of years hence. You’re born into cricket, too. Nobody becomes a Sussex fan because they’re doing well – though they are, and I begrudgingly applaud that.
The saying is that a cricket match is like a book. I can’t disagree with that. The opening pages of Yorkshire’s game may be disappointing (akin to finding oneself 0-2 down at half-time in football) but the chance of a happy ending is only slightly lessened by it. I was thinking of how to compare cricket to football using that analogy, and I think I’ve got the right one down.
Cricket is like a book, then, with each page turned revealing something new, adding more depth, but each page only makes any sense when taken as part of the whole. When was the last time you heard someone say “Did you see that four Michael Carberry got yesterday?” – doesn’t happen; I remember only two examples in the sport – the Dilshan scoop, and Pietersen’s switch-hit – neither came county cricket, of course. All that matters, really, is the numbers at the end of the match. Cricket is slower, too. If you miss an hour or two, it won’t have moved beyond all recognition (or rarely, certainly) since you were away. You can probably tune back in, think something akin to ‘Oh, Shahzah’s gone’ and then carry on as if nothing was awry.
Football (as Twenty20) is more like a photograph album. It exists for specific moments, each one caught in full colour and vivid. Every goal, save, pass, tackle is a flashbulb moment. Football is a game of seconds and a goal matters so much; so if you see a YouTube video of goals, it won’t matter if they were scored in victories, draws or defeats, if they were pretty enough, they were remembered. If you miss forty five minutes of football, you’ve missed 50% of what you’re getting that day. It gives a more instant gratification in that respect.
This isn’t simply a bitter northern man saying ‘Cricket is better than football, you soft southern fools’; its just me saying that county cricket, particularly the wending, genial four-day incarnation of the game, has an important place around the centre of the English summer, and how, (for fork’s sake) even though Yorkshire’s collapse completed on 96, I wouldn’t give it up for the world.