Around the end of March, cricket players emerge from hibernation. One can see them creeping out, these humble white-clad creatures, from the run-down sports halls where they spend their winter months. Nervously, they scan the skies. For predators? No, for black clouds. If it is raining then they loiter gloomily in their pavilions but if the p is fine they stumble out onto their pitches and begin their strange, competitive summer rituals.
I still miss it. I have been living in Poland for six years and cricket players are harder to find in Poland than Scientologists. The Krakow Cricket Club is a noble endeavour, which attempts to organise tournaments between expats in Poland’s second city, but my smallish hometown is not a participant and I have as much chance of convincing my friends to take up a cricket as I have of bringing them to teetotalism.
Sometimes I try explaining cricket to Poles. They are very nice about it. They smile and nod as I talk about bowling, batting and fielding but soon their eyes glaze over as if I am trying to detail the arcane theology of a distant faith. In a way, perhaps I am.
The longer I live here, the stranger that cricket seems to me. Who on Earth had enough time to enjoy a game that is determined over the best part of a week? How the hell did people take to playing a sport which demands that most players do absolutely nothing for most of a game? What spell did Britons put on their colonial subjects to ensure that they, but only they, would be cricket lovers? Such thoughts never occurred to me in England. Everything seems very normal when it is familiar.
Every year I notice the beginning of the cricket season. I look at who England are scheduled to be playing. I check where Joe Root’s batting average stands. I feel a little pang of sadness that I won’t be playing. But I take less and less interest in the actual cricket. I stopped keeping track of the English line-up about six opening batsmen ago. Cricket seems too far away to follow.
I’m not complaining. One could hardly move to Siberia and moan about the lack of fresh pineapples, or to Kuwait and whine about the dearth of breweries. Perhaps one reason I ignore the cricket is that I want to preserve the idealised image of the sport that I have: an image of lush cricket fields, and rust-nibbled pavilions, about which watchful players compete amid the sound of ball on bat and cries for LBW.
It is faintly absurd to have such an idealised image because I was not much of a cricket player. I had my moments, now and then. A five wicket haul against an older team is a happy memory. Sure, I think my less-than-medium pace seemed so unthreatening that the lads got overconfident but, still, it was five wickets.
Failure was more common than success. I was too scared of it. I was scared of being out, and batted awkwardly. I was scared of bowling wides and ended up bowling too straight. I was scared of dropping catches and invariably did as I overthought the angle and the pace of the ball. I made little changes to my batting stance or my run up in the hope that my performances would suddenly improve but my technique was not the problem as much as my attitude.
I was too stressed and analytical, in sport and in life, and minor adjustments only compounded that. So, I left cricket, as I would leave England, hoping that a change of circumstances would make a difference.