It's not just cricket
I have the misfortune of having grown up in a former British colony that wasn't cricket mad. Unlike India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the West Indies or South Africa, the country of my upbringing was crazy about soccer (amongst other sports), but not cricket.
Oh, don't get me wrong. Cricket was played, but it was not a popular or widespread sport, and certainly not a game children played in the streets or backyards. In fact, I have no memory of ever seeing a cricket match either live or on television during my childhood.
What this means is that I have very little understanding of the finer points of cricket, and don’t play it at all well. I can't tell the difference between ‘long leg' and ‘short leg', and I have absolutely no idea where 'mid-on' is. After over a decade living in Australia, I do have an idea of how the game is played, but only a middling understanding of how it is scored or how a test proceeds. Strategy? Not a scratch. So much so that during the recent Ashes test in Adelaide, I had trouble keeping up with what was going on, while my colleagues could asses exactly how the day’s play had progressed and what the scores meant in an instant. I was left going, ‘What happened? What happened?’.
As the days get longer, the mercury climbs, and the cicadas warm up for their Hallelujah chorus, cricket takes centre stage in Australia and everyone from professors of literature to the packers at the supermarket warehouse becomes cricket mad and boffins of the game and Ashes arcana emerge overnight.
I realise, however, that I’m not alone in my ignorance. Many in Australia are unfamiliar with cricket’s finer points or simply dislike the game. Some just feel left out, or can’t comprehend the fuss. To an extent, my cricket handicap unites me with them, but it also resurrects the sense of being an outsider that so acutely accompanied my first years as a migrant to this country, and still lingers in many of my experiences of Australia. Where most who grew up in Australia would have played cricket at some time and some place as children, I didn’t have childhood experiences of the game.
In my father's school days and earlier, cricket was played in select boys' schools established by the colonial government. Of course, the British were re-creating their colonies in an image of their selves, down to the boys in white playing cricket on grassy fields, but this meant that the game found a footing in the country, however shallow.
Beyond Independence and the rejection of the culture of the Empire, the game barely survived in those institutions in which the British had left an enduring impression: some schools, the police, the universities, and various social and sporting clubs. There was even a national competition, but the state teams never approached the popularity or passion that my country reserved for soccer (or football, as we knew it). Soccer, despite also originating in Britain, could claim to be the world sport and so thrived.
In essence, this meant I had none of the classic Australian childhood experiences of backyard, school yard, or beach cricket, and none of the infatuation with Australia's cricket stars – and so none of the cultural capital that accompanies it all, and prepares one for Australia's summer obsession.
My inexperience with the game puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to explaining the finer points of cricket to my eldest son, who at six is developing an interest in the game. He's started ‘Milo have-a-go’ cricket workshops at the local cricket club. It’s a Cricket Victoria initiative in what I assume is an effort to encourage the participation of the next generation in their local clubs.
I can at least throw the ball (underarm) at him to bat, remind him which way the bat should face, and take my turn at batting when he has a go bowling. But I'm unable to explain 'lbw', or why the bowler has to yell 'Howzat!'. And I’m crap at catching the ball.
Where I’d thought it was okay for us to just have fun mucking about with the game the way I assumed most 6-year-olds and their dads did, I recently discovered that many Aussie dads are out there practicing over-arm bowling and batting in 'the nets' at nearby parks with their kids, and take their cricket quite seriously. While cricket doesn’t compare with the role of Little League baseball in US cultural lore and father-son dynamics, it does have its local significance in how boys are schooled in the ways of the Australian summer. When your father can’t catch or teach you to bowl, are you left out in playground games?
To an extent, my concern is whether my son will lack the necessary cricket skills, as I don't want him to miss out on learning the game and being included in the matches that will invariably spring up at school, or at the beach or park with friends and family as the summer progresses.
But I recognise there is more to it: some of these concerns stem from my anxieties about what it means to be a migrant in Australia and, by extension, being an outsider. It is also an anxiety about whether I can truly prepare my son to be at home in Australian culture – to not be an outsider through no choice or fault of his own.
So, in a way, I too have started ‘cricket school’. I go along on Saturday mornings with my son to his Milo cricket activity, throw and catch – or fumble – balls along with the other dads helping out, pay close attention when the instructor teaches something new, and try really hard to not look like a klutz.
But I still feel like I’m floundering. Perhaps I should just snap out of it and realise that at six, my son has many more years of summer cricket ahead, and thus a far greater chance of learning the game that will probably continue to elude me. Hopefully, when he’s 11, he can tell me all about it.
[Image from Wikipedia: English cricketing legend WG Grace, from early last Century]
This has also been cross-posted at Sarsaparilla, as a guest post. Thanks Sarsaparilla!