• Tailenders make cricket great

    (Photo by Alessandro Bogliari)

    What other sport can you see played – at the most elite levels – by people who are basically not very good at it (puns aside)? This is the beauty of cricket.

    A lot of people claim to not understand cricket. The statement above will perhaps convince them it’s not worth trying to. After all, isn’t all elite sport these days about professionals excelling at the outer boundaries of human ability? 

    The beauty of bowlers

    In cricket you have tailenders. They are bowlers who are picked because they are great at bowling. But the beauty of cricket is that everyone on the team must have a bat as well. Not just the batsmen. Everyone. That is cricket’s brilliance.

    In watching the tailenders bat, it brings even a national Test Match side – the pinnacle of the game – in touch with the ordinary spectator. When we see Jimmy Anderson, the greatest England bowler, cowering before the Indian pace attack, we feel his pain. 

    This is sport as empathy. Where the precision brilliance of Centre Court at Wimbledon, or Twickenham, or the Crucible, or Wembley, leaves us as mere spectators beyond the glass ceiling of sporting excellence, a tailender at Lord’s brings the village game to the greatest stage. 

    The great leveller

    Cricket is unique in preserving some of the magic of amateurism, so lost in other sports. Due to the quirk of a rule that allows for amateur abilities to be put to the test in the biggest matches, the spirit of simply playing a game is rekindled. 

    Why, one might ask, don’t they just tweak the rules so that each team can field 11 batsmen, and simply have larger teams with a bigger subs bench for the fielding side? Yes, it would result in a more elite batting display, with more excellence on show etc etc. 

    But the other major complaint about cricket is that it takes too long. Test Matches with 11 out-and-out batsmen in each side wouldn’t last five days, they’d last ten! Unless, of course, England are batting (minus Joe Root). 

    While we’re on the subject of cricket, let’s hear it for The Amateur Sportsman

  • Get off my land

    (Photo by Lisa McIntyre)

    I love Rupert the Bear. There, I’ve put it out there. Anyway, I was reading my son one of the ancient Rupert the Bear Annuals the other day – those dusty old Daily Express hardbacks full of Rupert stories from the 1930s onwards, when a picture stopped me in my tracks. 

    Obviously, a lot about Rupert the Bear is dated. There’s plenty that could be culturally dissected today. In this case, it was the innocent sight of a cartoon image of Rupert and his friend, Bill Badger, being shown a sign on the edge of a wood by a gamekeeper. 

    The sign read: “Private property: no picnicking”

    The pair had been doing just that – picnicking in a wood. The gamekeeper gave them the benefit of the doubt, since Rupert said so imploringly that they hadn’t seen the sign. All was well. Only it wasn’t really, was it? Two children (well, a kid bear and a kid badger) were being kicked out of a wood for picnicking. 

    The narrative flies in England. Now I live in Sweden, and viewed from here, it doesn’t fly at all. Swedes inherit the right to roam from birth. All land outside a person’s private garden is fair game. Picnicking in a wood is just a given. Telling kids they can’t do it would be tantamount to treason. 

    Trespassing is the right thing to do

    It made me think about my own English upbringing. My family were walkers. We walked everywhere. I had it drummed into me, one footstep at a time. At the same time, my parents made it abundantly clear to me that while trespassing was legally wrong, it was not morally so. 

    I was always reminded that – like the poacher – as long as you’re not caught, it’s OK. It has meant that all my English life has been imbued with a tone of us and them – the common people and the landowners – and an uneasy co-existence. I always trespass as a point of principle, but I’m always on guard against the gentry. 

    I guess that’s why The Levellers came from England, not Sweden. There’s only one way of life, and that’s your own, your own, your own!

    Talking of rights, is it your right to migrate?

  • The amateur sportsman

    Microphone on a stand with headphones in a recording studio
    (Photo by Jonathan Farber)

    Des Lynam, John Motson, Brian ‘Johnners’ Johnston, Henry Blofeld… Illustrious names of football and cricket, the two great English sports, and yet they all have a singular thing in common – they were broadcasters first and foremost, and essentially amateur enthusiasts of the game. 

    So what?

    I’ve always wondered why I love these personalities so much. They guided me through the games of their era with wit and excitement, doing what we wanted them to do, yet they have gradually been crowded out by a new breed of broadcaster – the professional sportsperson. 

    Obviously, the line is occasionally a bit blurred. Jonathan ‘Aggers’ Agnew played for Leicestershire and won three Test caps for England, but he has been far more successful as the voice of Test Match Special.

    And many pros have proved to be wonderful personalities of radio and screen, from the acerbic (Geoffrey Boycott, Alan Hansen) to the agreeable (Gary Lineker, Phil Tufnell).

    But the vast majority of pros-turned-broadcasters remain sportspeople who happen to have a microphone or a camera pointed at them. Anyone who has been forced to listen to interviews with players knows how excruciating that can be.

    Let’s hear from the man himself…

    I always fast forward player interviews. Why? They’re just not interesting. They say what you expect them to say, laden with cliches, and most of those who graduate to telly or radio by dint of their sporting prowess continue in the same vein.

    Which brings me to my theory. I suspect why I like the amateur enthusiast broadcaster so much is that I relate to them. When Lynam or Johnners talked of the game, I related to their perspective. 

    When a superstar pro talks about the game, they will always see it from a vantage I cannot really imagine, that of the insider. They may be engaging, if I’m lucky, but only really as a pundit.

    As my presenter and guide to the day’s play, I would always choose a person who simply loves the game, and also happens to be an exceptionally talented broadcaster.

    It might not be sport to most people, but in Finland fun is all about jumping through holes in the ice (brrrr!)

  • Imagine your vote counted

    Person voting at a ballot box
    They all count (Photo by Element5 Digital)

    I voted last week. Local elections. Just local people with local issues. Nothing exciting for the outside world. But something unexpected and previously unknown happened… The candidate I voted for won. 

    Guess what, my vote counts

    My candidate didn’t just win – she won by a landslide. In that moment, it dawned on me. All my life, I had walked into polling stations with reverence. I knew how lucky I was to be able to vote. But I never actually thought my vote counted. 

    I have always voted in rural England, a place where politics barely exists. I realised in that moment that to vote in rural England is a bit like voting in Egypt. Yes, you can have a vote. Choose whomever you like. It makes no difference. 

    The Tory will always win

    Because the Tory will always win, I realised that even at the age of 40, I still hold that slightly disgruntled, apathetically accepting peasant’s attitude that someone else will always serve.

    I can get all the education I like. I can be as well-informed about the world as possible. But I will never enact decisions. The Tories do that for me. Them, and occasionally Labour. I’m merely a passenger. 

    What will you do with your power? 

    When the candidate I chose – The Green Party’s Diana Toynbee – won with 531 votes, taking 52.9% of the vote, I had a new sensation. I felt like the Muslim Brotherhood in post-revolution Egypt. Wow. We won? Now what do we do? 

    The act of responsibility, of actually being given the opportunity to make decisions, is a heady one, even by the proxy of representative democracy. When it happened, I realised how much potential is wasted when people like me spend most of their lives assuming they are voiceless. 

    Democracy is a great idea

    I could paraphrase Gandhi here. In England, democracy would be a great idea. If we could move on from the notion that the Tories simply run things – outside a few urban Labour areas – we might stop grumbling about them. 

    More importantly, we might learn the lesson the Muslim Brothers briefly learnt in Egypt. That running things is hard. Much harder than living in eternal, angry, impotent opposition to power. 

    Talking of votes, fancy another one on Brexit?