I like cricket.
There, that wasn't so hard now, was it? Well, perhaps it was, as I think I've just seen my street cred fleeing down Perran Road in flames. Because, at the moment, it ain't cool to admit that, this very afternoon, had it not been for the weather, I'd have been standing around a park in white flannels, idly speculating on clouds floating by. The World Cup, the premier tournament in cricket, held only every few years, is currently on, but you wouldn't really know it. The youth of Britain have not swapped their Manchester Utd shirts for England cricket tops. And the World Cup song has sunk without a trace -- though waiting until the first round had finished was a bit of a mistake, since there was a good chance all home interest would have ended. And, lo, England are out, which makes Scotland's dismal performance much easier to bear. Besides, the Scottish shirts were far spiffier.
This is not a new interest; I played back at school, in the North of Scotland league, which as far as I know is the most Northerly in the world. It has to said, the climate there is not exactly conducive to the game, but it's one of the big advantages of cricket that you only play it when it's...well, SUNNY is perhaps going too far (I've played on afternoons when any self-respecting polar bear would be tucked up in bed with a cup of cocoa), but DRY at least.
Yet you can compare and contrast cricket with baseball, which is a similar sport in temperament -- brief periods of frantic activity, interspersed with plenty of not-much-happening moments, ideal for commercial breaks. After a strike nearly killed it off from popular regard a couple of years back, it has undergone an amazing resurgence and is, I'd say, back jostling with gridiron for the #1 position in public appreciation. [Basketball has slumped thanks to its strike, and the retirement of Michael Jordan] Meanwhile, cricket is...er... not even in the first division, by the time you look at football, rugby, golf and tennis. This is despite its current attempt to become hip and fashionable by giving teams cool names (Kent have become the "Kent Spitfires") and flogging merchandise, doomed to failure since football already has that kind of thing all sewn up.
What any successful sport needs is personalities: cricket USED to be popular, back in the days when Ian Botham was single-handedly trouncing the Aussies, and baseball benefited hugely last year from an enormously exciting chase for the home run record, whicb had stood since the 60's, between two contrasting but complementary characters. Nowadays, we don't HAVE characters -- well, not in ENGLISH cricket... Which is the other part of the problem. At the moment, we're crap. Tennis was equally in the doldrums a few years ago, until by some genetic fluke, Tim Henman turned up, and some genealogical researcher discovered Greg Rusedski had once watched an episode of 'Absolutely Fabulous'. Hey, presto: we're world class, even if, outside these two, there is an aching, screaming void down to about world-ranked #175.
Perhaps cricket needs to play to its strengths. Unfortunately, as far as I can see, the main one has already been mentioned: when it rains, you push off down the pub. While this seems an eminently sensible pursuit to me, as sales pitches go, it's a bit limited. Maybe we should just chalk up another to the list of "pastimes we gave the world, but at which we're no longer any good", and take up baseball instead. Or perhaps take a leaf from the American book, and hold a "World Series", and let hardly anyone else compete in it. Anyone know if Canada are good at cricket?