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November 26th, 2010
08:06 AM ET

The Gentleman's Game

This week, we celebrate/bewail the return of The Ashes, the Anglo-Aussie cricket extravaganza that delights and distresses people in apparently equal measure. Within the News Stream Dream Team, cricket is one of a small number of topics that prove particularly divisive. (Nicolas Cage and outer space are among the others.)

It’s not divisive in terms of who we support. It’s divisive in terms of its very existence.

Let me count myself out of the debate. Why? I’ll give you two reasons:

  • I am Scottish
  • Even by Scotland’s exceptionally low standards, my cricket prowess and enthusiasm are lamentable

I should note that Scotland has had at least one cricketing ‘success’, a man named Mike Denness who captained England on 19 occasions. I use the word ‘success’ hesitantly, if only because ‘Friend-of-the-Show’ Jimmy Wales features the following anecdote on the mighty Wikipedia:

Once while in Australia, Denness received an envelope that had been sent with the address "Mike Denness, cricketer". The letter inside read, "Should this reach you, the post office clearly thinks more of your ability than I do."

Ouch.

The Good

Let’s start with cricket’s positives, provided by show scribe Jonathan Stayton and producer Ally Barnard.

Jonathan told us he likes cricket because of its simplicity. Unfortunately, he went on to offer a 180-word report on its simplicity, which even by my own flowery standards is excessive.

Therefore, in News Stream style, we decided to put Jonathan’s epic explanation in a word cloud. (For those who are unfamiliar, this shows us which words were used most often and attempts to make sense of them visually). Here is the (not-in-any-way-manipulated) result:

They are the actual words. Honest.

Jonathan also offered the following plus points:

  • There are few games where such a degree of skill is needed, and where a solitary mistake is punished so decisively
  • Almost until the last minute, more often than not, any outcome remains a possibility
  • It's a real "gentleman's game". Everyone gets smashed together after the match, or – if you're not playing – before, during and after

Gentlemanly indeed.

Ally’s passion for the bat-and-ball behemoth has rather grander origins. She was introduced to the sport by a chap called Angus Fraser, who played in 46 Test matches for England (even though he too sounds like a Scot). Here is her case for the defense:

  • There’s no loutish behavior at cricket matches – but England’s ‘Barmy Army’ (trumpets and all) are the most entertaining fans in the world
  • It has some geek appeal – complete with math and science. Unlike football, cricket requires a strategic mind. It’s a ‘brainy’ sport
  • No other sport can combine such a leisurely pace at some points – and such a sense of urgency at others

The Bad

This 'sense of urgency' is sadly lost on some of us. We will every cricket match to end – even though we know deep down there’s probably about a month and a half left to go.

If there is one group less inclined to give cricket the benefit of the doubt than the Scots, it’s the Americans. We have two such individuals  in our midst and the contributor to this blog will remain nameless. Here are the comments that preceded that request:

  • Cricket... You mean the wimpy version of baseball that's named after a bug?
  • Let's see, you made it easy by using a flat bat instead of a round one. And then you made it rrrreeeeeeeeaaaaalllllyyyyy long to compensate?
  • Any sport with a tea break deserves to be mocked. The end.

Sadly, for those of us who want to tell cricket to, er, stick it, we’re out of luck. There are still four tests – and, oh yes, one and a half months – of the Ashes still to go. We’ll bring you all the details – from the ever-enthusiastic World Sport team – as the series progresses.