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Summer of Englishness: Cricket Test Match

Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 15:54 UK time, Thursday, 25 August 2011

Before starting my piece about the England-India cricket test match here's a short preamble.

You know, I've got a friend. A very decent person. Extremely nice character.

She lives in Woodford.

Once she was invited to the Royal Society of Physics by her friend, who was going to deliver an inaugural lecture.

The invitation promised a wonderful dinner (grilled foie gras, poached quince, honey-marinated moules and balsamic jelly, roasted Orkney scallops, and amaretti biscuits). It also announced the title of the lecture, which was something like: "Fluid-dynamically coupled solid propellant combustion instability".

My friend got there on time and without further ado, a chairman invited everyone to the hall for the lecture.

'Ladies and Gentlemen!' - the lecturer started very promisingly, but then went on to say something like: "The cool flame combustion of polypropylene at 350 degrees C leads to the formation of toxic compounds. Under the conditions described, the LD50 is close to 0.95 g...". The only words my friend understood were "the cool flame".

The next paragraph, though it comprised some familiar words, the meaning of it once again escaped the mind of my friend.

"Thus, local disruptions in combustion when cold gas is mixed in, occur in the presence of intense turbulence..."

She looked at the audience around her. Everyone was listening with a great interest.

So she forced herself to concentrate to the level of meditation.

"Results that are qualitatively similar to those obtained for soot formation experiments".

She nearly learned the whole phrase by heart, but it didn't make any sense.

For the next hour she was listening to words, which separately were familiar to her, but together were beyond her comprehension.

The lecture ended and they were escorted to the dinner hall. She looked at the menu and couldn't make any sense of these otherwise so familiar words: "Crushed Périgord truffles and parmesan broth, Baklava of king quail, rhubarb marmalade, frisée and pistachio dressing"...

I must admit that the language of cricket makes exactly the same sense to me as the language of combustion physics to my friend.

Why is cricket the most English of all English games?

This week for the first time in my life, I attended a cricket test match between England and India.

I must say that with some effort, by the end of the day I had started to understand what 'overs', 'runs' and 'innings' mean, and how the points were scored.

Moreover I had enough time to conclude that cricket is the utmost English game.

I'm going to prove it here - a cricket game may be boring on the surface, but is full of subtle excitements underneath.

The English are very good at inventing.

What's interesting though, is that most games invented by the English are usually mediated and involve some sort of tools: in cricket it's a bat and a ball.

There is also an element of distancing yourself from the subject.

It's difficult to imagine two Englishmen playing a "who blinks first" type of game, each staring blankly at each other.

Cricket is not a game of big emotions or exaltations, it's a patient and reserved game, which replaces the sheer violence of stoning and lashing with cultivated and civilised bowling and batting.

Even small things like protecting an insignificant and vulnerable wicket with your own body are full of a hidden meaning.

Etiquette and formality are other concepts that round up Englishness and they are fully present in cricket.

Cricket is highly regulated and formalised game.

The set up, as well as the rules are quite complicated and are not easily grasped by an outsider.

There must be a certain devotion to grasp not even the art of bowling or batting, but the rules of that trade.

Deciding when you grant the team one run, when four runs, when - six - there's a certain graduation like in the honours list: today you are appointed a Knight, but you are just an ostler, who looks after the Knight's horse...

It's a team game (and team effort, as we remember, means quite a lot for the English) but the roles are strictly assigned and divided.

At one point you could be in the centre of the whole game as a batsman or a bowler, at another you are as insignificant as 'silly mid on' or 'long leg' in the field.

But 'the social mobility' is taken care of: players interchange their roles as the game unfolds.

Fairness and "fair play" are likewise key notions for Englishness, and cricket embodies them not just in the fair share of opportunity to be a batsman and a wicket-keeper, but also by interchanging roles between two teams.

You had a chance to batter us, now it's our turn.

I know for instance many Uzbek games, which are asymmetrical: the winning team or a player must punish or humiliate the loser.

Cricket doesn't allow it, it gives equal chances to both teams - a real fair play.

I must say a couple of words about the rule of law.

The decisions of the umpires are final and not appealable.

They just raise their hand along with an eyebrow and, like in a gladiator fight, one team dies, another marches on...

And last but not least: nice, enjoyable settings and a certain dress code - once again quite English characteristics.

Thus we arrive having completed a full circle back to the first piece in this series of blogs to the audit dinner in 'black tie'.

In that enjoyable setting akin to a picnic there's a moment of pragmatism.

Though to finish on a foreign note and make it even more pragmatic I heard an anecdote about those cricketing gentlemen, dressed white in the middle of the green field.

Once upon a time there was a severe drought somewhere in our part of the world and a learned man, who travelled a lot said to his people: "When I was in England a dozen English gentlemen used to gather in the middle of the green field in brilliant white clothes with a stick and a ball. As soon as they start to throw the ball at that stick the rain would fall. Why we don't do the same?"

Thus, they say, was the beginning of cricket's world-wide expansion.

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