What [being a migrant] 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 assess exactly how the day’s play had progressed and what the scores meant in an instant. I was left going, ‘What happened? What happened?’.
Of course, as he points out, there are lots of Australians who don’t give a damn about cricket, actively hate it even. Sadly many of them are friends of mine. At dinner last night as I was trying to talk with another cricket-loving friend about Shane Warne’s retirement, the rest of the table stuck their fingers in their ears and starting humming. It is to sigh.
But, yes, during an Australian summer cricket is everywhere. It’s the main headline on the sports page and quite often the front page too. You see it played on television (free-to-air and cable), on the various cricket grounds around the country, in parks, on beaches and in backyards. It’s played at all levels: from muck around family games where the stumps are an esky, through school competitions, grade and state levels, all the way up to international test series.
For me, even more than cicadas, the voices of Alan McGilvray, James Maxwell, Geoff Lawson and the rest of the ABC’s radio commentary team past and present has long been the sound of summer. Cricket discussions with my family, my (non-insane) friends, cab drivers, wait staff, people in queues for the bus are as much a part of summer as mangoes and passionfruit.
What will our side be without Shane Warne? Is Langer going to retire too? What about Hayden and Gilchrist? Is this the end of Australian cricket supremacy? How long before Murali takes Warne’s world record?
Lawrence worries that his cricket ignorance will affect his son’s progress in the game:
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 â€“ to not be an outsider through no choice or fault of his own.
My father is the son of migrants from a non-cricket playing country (Poland/Ukraine) who knew nothing about the game and cared less. But he grew up loving and playing cricket and passed that love onto me and my sister. (As did my fourth or fifth generation Australian mother.) I grew up listening to, watching, talking about and (very) occasionally playing cricket in the backyard.
In my teens, inspired by the Bodyline mini-series, I started to read about the history of cricket. The first book I read was a very poorly written biography of Donald Bradman. The first book I enjoyed was Sid Barnes’ autobiography, which confirmed my admiration of Bradman the batsman and dislike for Bradman the man. I also discovered Keith Miller and fell in love.
The history of cricket is the history of English colonialism; they brought cricket with them wherever they went. In some place it died out: For my birthday this year Scott bought me two gorgeous American prints from the 1870s. One of them shows international cricket being played in New England. The other shows a game of baseball looking remarkably like a game of cricket.
In some places it did not: A quarter of the world’s population lives in cricket-playing nations. Just read C. L. R. James’ Beyond a Boundary on cricket in the West Indies and Ramachandra Guha’s Corner of a Foreign Field on cricket in India and Pakistan. They are not only extraordinary books on cricket, they are amongst the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read, bringing the complexity of the game and its history alive. They are about race, class, caste, gender, nationhood, politics and colonialism, because it’s impossible to write a good book about cricket without touching on those issues.
The books of Gideon Haigh are also remarkable and have taught me a great deal about the history of cricket in my own country. And thus a great deal about Australia. You don’t have to like, or give a rat’s arse about cricket to be Australian. But knowing a little of the game’s history teaches you a little more about Australia’s. For example, our first team to tour England was Aboriginal, and yet the official Australian team has had almost no representatives of Aboriginal ancestory.
I didn’t start loving cricket because of its happy history of illuminating colonial relationships, but reading its history has made an already rich and complicated sport irresistably fascinating to me. There are few sports with as long and rich a history. And I can’t help but want to share that fascination with other people, Australian or not.
I hope that Mark Lawrence is curious enough to read some of those books. It is truly not necessary to know the difference between “long leg” and “short leg” to enjoy them (or cricket for that matter). Though if he does want to know there’s a rather helpful *cough* *cough* guide right here.