I had almost gone thirty years without attending a cricket match. Really I had no idea of what to expect.
Like every game I expected there to be rituals I wouldn't understand at first, taboos I might commit, much like the drunken Kiwi supporter who was told to "shhh" at the All Blacks/Munster game. I didn't even know if they'd serve hotdogs at the Stadium (answer: yes they do, no cucumber sandwiches to be seen).
You've probably been wondering how a guy who enjoys and writes about sport can never have gone to a cricket match and not really even like it. Well first off I don't believe that you have to be a fan of all sports to be a sports fan. For example I love American football, hate NASCAR and am ambivalent about ice hockey. But every sport deserves a chance. I used to think baseball was a slow game that had a billion games every season, and while that's still true, I have found that I actually enjoy watching it.
And when I was a young man I followed cricket (to a small extent). I knew the names of the New Zealand team (in the pre-Black Caps era). I even used to practice bowling on the deck at my house. I know some of you are shocked. And to add to that shock, I was once named captain of a cricket team at school, though to be fair I was shocked at that.
We had a run of cricket games for PE at Intermediate and I still remember the day I was fielding and hesitated before throwing the ball to the wicketkeeper. A hesitation that gave up a possible run out. The teacher then repeatedly threw me the ball and made me throw it back to the wicketkeeper as "practice", so if you need a someone on your team who can do that, I'm your guy. Batting or bowling not so much.
Unfortunately, much like my throw, I was late in getting to the Black Caps game by an hour and so missed (like) five wickets. I was waiting for one of my guides outside and I heard the cheers for a couple, followed by a text from a friend already inside.
Upon entry and alcohol purchase (so far it's just like a rugby game) we make our way to Tom (dressed in a linen suit, panama hat and bow tie, THIS is cricket!) who has accidentally purchased tickets in the "family section". We move during a drinks break to the "adult section".
The crowd was no different from any other at an afternoon sports event, just a little more restless perhaps. It has occurred to me that a blow-out in cricket (such as that seen at this game) is far less enjoyable to watch than a blow-out in other sports. A team bowled out for a low score (and the Windies looked like they might bow out before 100) means a shortened run chase, and unless you have a terrible line-up, then it's going to be fairly dull (or spectacular but short) and without tension.
This may have been why at various times chants of "boring" went up, the Mexican wave occasionally circled (once doing a full four laps unstopped) and beach balls were batted around until being confiscated by security.
But to the field itself: I was surprised how small it seemed and at the same time how empty. Shirley, my second guide, told me to wait for the tests at the Basin Reserve, where the low white fence and tiny ground make the players feel even closer. But the large gaps between fielders did throw me. The few times I've watched cricket on TV it seems as though the ground is teeming with them.
As I studied the players I took the time to
bore inform my third guide Jed on the why the uniforms were anything but uniform. Please indulge me: first there are short and long sleeve versions of the basic shirt, then there are skin tight body suits (two different kinds), then there is the pullover, and finally the hats. Given the number of different combos you could have of these I'm unsure if any two people on the field were dressed the same (except maybe the umpires). Also radial arching of letters is fine and dandy, unless your name is long (like Chanderpaul) and it then ends up in a semi-circle.
I did enjoy the gamesmanship between the players. I have received many forwarded emails filled with supposed quotes from famous cricketers ("You still with that skank?" "No I stopped banging your wife years ago" etc) but I never thought that the interaction would really be that intense. I mean, cricket's a sport for gentlemen, right?
That's when I saw Dan Vettori, the man's got an actual fucking swagger, an arrogance that belies his boyish face and glasses. He strode down the pitch after a dismissal eyeing his defeated foe and with the hint of a malicious grin tapped the side of his head in an understated motion that said that he was vastly intelligent and the batsman was some sort of dim-witted imbecile. In slow motion on the big screen it was even better.
I am thankful that I took a number of guides. Without them I would've been at a loss. And perhaps that's what I've been missing; perhaps I was just in need of others to answer my various inane questions ("What the fuck is a power play?"), to make jokes with and to help me relate the experience to things I've already done.
I have a feeling that it would have been a greater experience to go to a fully packed game with scores in the 200s though. I know, duh. But the Stadium was almost half empty. One of Taylor's sixes flew straight into empty stands that normally would be filled with the after work crowd. Except many had been watching on the net and figured they'd save their money for the next game.
So has the experience left me wanting more? Yes, surprisingly. The Windies lacklustre batting I could've done without, but the Black Caps did entertain me. I understand that Jessie Ryder is a dividing figure amongst fans, but he is actually quite fun to watch; though I would still like to see him bat with a beer in one hand (spilling any is a "consume"). I also quickly caught on that the fans love to hate Kyle Mills. And the sixes were pretty cool (the low straight one hit the hoarding just below where we were sitting) but I kind of wanted to see the chase keep going.
So in many ways I want to see more because I don't think this game delivered. But have I actually learned to enjoy cricket? I think I have. I'm not at the level of Emma or some of the others who comment here, but I was able to correct a friend recently about when the next game was on. I felt very chuffed.