Friday, 26 June 2015

Column 20, 2015 – Playing with a smile

Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 123, Friday June 26, 2015.
[Full text below]

Giving up every summer Saturday to play cricket is a big ask.

Not just for you, but for your wife and kids. Or husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, mum and dad: whoever it is you share your life with.

There are myriad reasons to do it, untold ways in which cricket enriches our lives, characters and friendships, many of which this column has touched on in the past.

But the most important thing is to enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, there really isn’t much point.

And it’s not just us on village greens. The visiting Kiwis have reminded everyone, not least England, the importance of enjoying the game.

Brendon McCullum, short of runs this tour by his own lofty standards, has not stopped smiling. His charges, too, go about their business as if they’re actually enjoying being well paid to travel the world playing cricket. Fancy.

When McCullum got the captaincy two years ago, his countrymen regarded their national cricket team as “overpaid, under-delivering prima donnas,” he says, “and a lot of that was fair. One of the things we decided we had to change was the public perception of us as people.”

Coach Mike Hesson played his part, encouraging the team to “play like the kids who fell in love with the game in the first place.”

It shows.

Win or lose, the fun they’re having is infectious, and the joy of it permeates their cricket. They have reminded us all of the value of playing with a smile.

But the game is not always joyful. Saturday was probably the least fun I’ve ever had on a cricket field.

We were generally sloppy in the field, but the worst of it was 10 dropped catches. TEN! Two of us had hat-tricks of drops. I was one of them. They got easier too: the first was difficult, the second regulation, the third so straightforward I remain at a loss to explain how it ended up on the floor. It was gloomy and drizzly; we were off twice for rain; the ball was an oval bar of soap; the straight boundary was unprotectably short; we only had 10 men – we had plenty of excuses. Bottom line: we were dreadful, we got thrashed.

It’s difficult to enjoy a game like that.

Particularly difficult, after that abject nonsense in the field, to remain chipper having got out cheaply, then sat there watching all your teammates get out cheaply.

Difficult, but important.

About the only thing you can do when you’ve been that bad is shake the opposition by the hand one by one, look them in the eye, smile, and tell them well played.

Then go home, mope a little bit, but not too much. We owe it to our loved ones and the sacrifices they make to put a brave face on this nightmare of ineptitude, struggle through it, and turn up next week with full ear-to-ear grins ready to pretend it never happened.

- ends 492 words -

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