Balls to social distancing!

It strikes me that cricket, that oddest of sports, beyond its own complex set of rules, also quite naturally adheres to the new regulations of social distancing. Indeed, ‘the long walk home’ after dismissal at the crease, is, in the weird score of British manliness, celebrated as the loneliest of a man’s experiences. I suppose that in these times holds for women too.

So in these impeding weeks of likely boredom, I say, why not let people continue to play cricket? And televise it as something we can continue to watch. That’s if you watched it in the first place. I say this conscious of the obvious contradiction that watching cricket, to many, is boredom itself.

But it need not be. For cricket, as my wife lucidly outlined to me after watching her first Five Day International (all in the interests of trying to make sense of it), is really just the colonies’ belated revenge on the acts of Empire. Take a look at a seven-foot-tall Jamaican fast bowler launching what are essentially rocks at a pale Englishman’s head, and you have a visual essay on wrongs being accounted for in the most direct and primeval way. Or a tricky Indian or Sri Lankan spinner confounding the Sahib, with inscrutable twists and turns in front of the wickets. You see the duplicity, false treaties, deceptions and broken promises of the past again in full view, only this time reversed. Or the convict stock of Australia holding their erstwhile overlords to ransom in the form of humiliating follow-ons, and victories ‘by an innings and more’. Horay for the once disposed! They rise again!

So cricket, as I learned, is a socio-political theatre of much wider import that scattered men occasionally moving on a field. It’s the politics of gulfs between people incarnate. It’s the slow-moving poetry of history re-writing itself.

Interestingly, although my beloved had comprehensively understood cricket by the end of her five days in front of the TV, she had missed one of its foundational stanzas – the changing of ends after each over. This, naturally, because that exercise is hidden by the ad breaks on the television coverage. And so another example of the regular misleading through omission associated with this industry. But that’s another story.

So cricket is social distancing in a game. Social distancing as a game, in the true spirit of English reserve. The only instance of people getting too close is when a bowler slides past the non-striking-end umpire, in the run-up to his delivery. But I reckon this could easily be solved, and many of crickets’ controversies excised at the same time, by replacing the umpire with a robot. A camera on a stick is all that’s needed to show whether an appeal for LBW is valid or not. And here we’re not relying on the fading eyesight of a weary and distracted octogenarian, swaying in the heat. And of course, we will have to go back to traditional responses after the fall of a hard-won wicket, a scattered applause perhaps – not this current passion of wild embracing and kissing. That will simply not do anymore. But without all that emotion, I suppose cricket can continue – as it did in the past. The hugging is not necessary. As they say, it’s just not cricket.

Beyond the implied intimacy of its ritualised and mannered aggression, cricket is, physically, social distancing par excellence. But also, somehow, an arena for competition. So it follows it must be the game of the moment.