Sport and cricket as a metaphor for life?

What is sport? What is the purpose of sport?

If you search for a simple definition of sport online, you will find something like this as the internet’s consensus thinking: “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another for entertainment.”

The Oxford definition is slightly but subtly different: “an activity involving physical exertion and skill especially (particularly in modern use) one regulated by set rules or customs in which an individual or team competes against another or others”.

The Cambridge English dictionary defines sport as: “a game, competition or activity leading physical effort and skill that is played or done according to rules for enjoyment”.

Finally Merriam-Webster offers this: “physical activity (as running or an athletic game) engaged in for pleasure or exercise”

Four definitions broadly similar with some subtle differences.

Physical exertion, effort or activity is mentioned by all four definitions and whereas my personal involvement in sport rarely extends beyond it being an activity. At no point could anybody accuse me of exertion. But physicality in some form is part of sport.

Skill is explicitly mentioned by three of four. For the general Oxbridge scholar and also the wider grubby Internet, skill is part of the definition of sport.

Thankfully Merriam-Webster comes to my rescue and allows me to still offer the illusion that I am or have been participating in sport on those long Saturday afternoons of summers past. Mind you, my children viewed it differently.

Eldest child: “where you going dad?
Myself: “Saturday afternoon, sport!”
Eldest child: “oh, okay. I thought you were just going to play cricket.”
Younger daughter: (barely able to make conversation due to laughter): “good one dad!”

Well even that makes no matter Merriam-Webster allows me to engage in sport for pleasure even at the expense of ridicule by my children. Interestingly the idea of pleasure or enjoyment is only mentioned by two of the definitions. In each case presumably, but not explicitly, for the person engaged in the sport. Only one definition mentions entertainment, thereby touching on how one might define entertainment. For instance, one of those interminable Boycott innings, hour upon hour of grim self-denial, whilst indubitably a source of pleasure to Sir Geoff, failed to press the same buttons for the spectators.

But at least there were spectators. Let me just briefly take a wander down memory lane to those halcyon days in the Bells Yew Green 4th XI. Even in our heyday we rarely attracted significant numbers of spectators. A typical Saturday afternoon might maybe six or seven masochists. Usually two would be the parents of our latest fast bowling adolescent debutant. Sometimes not even his parents were that interested. Of the remaining five, one would be roped in to score, another might bring out these check that the tea was indeed arriving before our innings came to an end. Two were handing out pictures of Benny the fox terrier who had absconded a week earlier. The last spectator having realised that he was watching the wrong team, quickly departed.

Returning to our definitions, especially the bit about physical activity, it begins to look bleak for say darts, snooker, chess even. Whilst these pastimes are or can be competitive, I think one would struggle to suggest that the five pace walk to the oche constituted exertion. The same applies to the occasional shift from one buttock to the other, barely enough to raise the heart rate in a game of chess.

Okay, this is all a bit of a roundabout way of getting to the point of what I want to say. I have been watching the Ashes. From behind the sofa obviously, such is the inequality of ability between the two sides. And at the risk of being simply an armchair spectator and pontificating accordingly, I can’t help but feel that the England team is going to be royally stuffed. This pains me, not through any misplaced cricket-as-a-proxy-for-war jingoistic nonsense but simply because it devalues the game. Nobody enjoys watching a whitewash (well, apart from Australians obviously). The 2005 Ashes was the greatest series ever played because it was competitive to the very end. It was fabulously entertaining. It introduced a whole generation of new youngsters to cricket. And that wasn’t simply in England but also in Australia (although they probably needed less introducing to the game than the average English child brought up in schools which have no playing fields or facilities and where cricket is seen as an old man’s pastime. Well, by my kids anyway.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it falls to the Australians to field weaker sides and thereby make more of a game of it all. I think we need somehow to put together a better team. No don’t ask me how – I really am not the person to be putting forward ideas there.

But just a final point. Saturday afternoon cricket at my level (a roundabout amoeba, slightly above bacterium) is a genial, and enjoyable experience. Yes of course you will always get the occasional hothead fast bowler who takes pleasure in maiming the kids in our team. But, these prats aside, it’s a wonderful afternoon. I have hardly ever heard sledging of opponents (maybe we just couldn’t cut come up with any that were funny). But I do wish it did not feature in the international game. I have always felt that sledging is mistakenly seen as an aggressive act, one of hostility. I see it differently. I see sledging by bowlers as being an expression of frustration. It is in essence a way of the bowler saying “I’m not good enough to get you out without trying to distract you.”

Do we really want to play cricket like this? Do we want to watch cricket like this? Steve Waugh used to talk about mental disintegration. His cynical on field enquiries about the health and well-being of Graham Thorpe’s wife and children at the demise of his marriage was repulsive by any standard. To my mind, that is cheating just as much as taking bottle caps to the ball. Still can’t work out why David Warner is still a test cricketer. Same goes for Stephen Smith. They’ve let themselves down. And what really irks me is that if they had been punished appropriately in my view (life ban) they would have deprived me of seeing two fabulous batsmen and their careers. Instead we still have this ridiculous brushing under the carpet, this reluctance to tackle it head-on. And understand this. Australian cricketers are by no means the only offenders. I seem to remember from the dark recesses of time other countries players in similar situations. And I include England. Let’s be clear that.

Cricket is a glorious, fabulous throwback to another time. I wish we produced a better team. I wished we gave the Australians a more competitive series. And, let’s not forget that the definition of sport involves entertainment. It’s a game -remember?

Proper football

I would like to say that I played rugby at school. Technically speaking I did in the sense that, during games, we sometimes as a class played rugby and it was not unknown for me to be on the same pitch. And there all similarity ends. When positions were being decided I invariably volunteered to play wing. Not because I was especially fast or particularly elusive but simply in order to avoid any likelihood of having to handle the ball.

Most play developed in this fashion. After what seemed like minutes of Neanderthal grunt, the ball would unexpectedly emerge at the back of the scrum. Assuming the number eight failed to gather it cleanly, he would typically be engulfed by the opponents. More stalemate – rucks, mauls and God knows what else. Sometimes the opponents got the ball. On rare occasions the scrum-half managed to retrieve it and, faced with the opposition pack approaching at speed, he would hurl it in the general direction of the fly half. At that point either the flyhalf caught the ball and it would be declared a forward (and therefore illegal) pass or, infinitely more likely, he would drop it. More mauling mayhem and the crumpled body of the flyhalf would be revealed, entombed in mud.

Basically, the chances of the ball being handled cleanly, passed accurately and conveyed in a fluid manner as far as the wing were essentially one divided by Avogadro’s number. In other words, zero. Most games went by without incident (and by incident I mean any contact with the ball at all). Sometimes entire terms.

But very very occasionally, about as frequently as solar eclipses, the ball would make its way to me if, for instance I had been foolish enough to follow play by jogging along the touchline.

Desperate situations call for desperate responses. Finding myself in such an invidious position, I had a simple solution. Take once sharp step to the right and hoof the ball in the general direction of the posts. Oh, and simultaneously fall over.

The use of the boot had two facets deserving commendation. Firstly, if the ball landed anywhere upfield at all I looked like a tactical genius, a rugby visionary if you will. Secondly, it enabled you to land a misplaced boot directly into the testicles of the opposing flankers. “Sorry. Accident.” one might shout over the screaming vomiting figure on the ground struggling to breathe.

If you are lucky, you would be sent off, and therefore able to drain all hot water having a shower.

Some 30 years after I had last played rugby, my son found himself on the rugby field at his school (Judd). Many of the young lads there had already played rugby at their prep schools. But my son had gone to… a state school. His exercise exploits had been largely kickabout football in the playground rather than rugby football played on the acresof lush green sward afforded them by the private school system.

“Any advice, dad?” He asked me on the day of his first rugby game. I had much advice but little time. Complexities of the game, nuances of play could wait for another day. Keep it simple I thought.

“Yes” I said. “Stay clear of anybody with a number below 8”.

Stupid and selfish

Okay listen up as they say in America. It’s time for a few home truths about Covid, vaccination, boosters and so on. If you are one of the majority of people who has been fully vaccinated against Covid and who have had or are intending to have the booster, you need read no further. The chances are high that you will be okay when omicron sweeps through Britain in the middle of January. You may get some illness, you may even be fairly unwell but the chances are high that you will live to tell the tale.

Omicron, from what we know at present, is much more infectious even than the Delta version, currently Top of the Pops in the UK (but not for long). Recent calculations from the London School Of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggests a strong infection wave in about three weeks time. Omicron will become the new chart topper.

But it’s less dangerous I hear you say. Well yes, on the face of it that seems to be true and herein lies the heart of the problem. Although, in the less vulnerable age groups it appears to be less lethal, that doesn’t seem to be the case in old or more vulnerable groups. The little blighter seems to be just about as bad.

So what can we do?. Well it’s boring but our main weapons against omicron are scrupulous hygiene and facemasks. Incidentally you are better off getting the N95 type facemask which not only protects others from you but also protects you from others. You will notice that this is the type mostly worn by health service workers.

Facemasks aside, the principal weapon is of course vaccination which is effective in the vast majority of cases. How do we know this? Simple. Look at the hospital wards. And look around you. Around you, most people are vaccinated. In the hospital wards, on respirators, most people are not vaccinated.

So you get it, right? You understand that vaccination will save your life. Good.

Sadly, there are some people who still believe that mass vaccination, in some way, is to be avoided. They believe that they have an unalienable right to refuse vaccination. The reasons are many. There are some who don’t like the government’s and believe vaccination to be an instrument of their subjugation. Well I’m not too crazy about the present administration either but I am at least able to put my reservations to one side in favour of the greater good. Others object on the grounds that vaccination infringes their civil liberties or human rights or whatever. Well, so does death. When it comes to infringing your human rights, death has got this one nailed.

Then, and I can’t really believe that I’m wasting words answering this, there are some who believe the vaccine is full of tiny robots which will turn you into a zombie or something worse – Conservative cabinet minister perhaps? If you believe this, you really need to step back from those science fiction comics.

So let’s look at the consequences of refusing to be vaccinated. First of all, how about you? Refusing to be vaccinated or, worse still, being too dense even to book an appointment, makes you far more likely to be hospitalised if you catch omicron. And let’s not forget it’s doing its very best to catch you.

Maybe you have a fear of needles? Not a great fan of sharp jabs myself. But nor am I a fan of respirator tubes being thrust down my throat in a desperate attempt to save my life. So if you’re afraid of a little prick what does that make you?

Refusing to have the vaccine just simply makes you stupid.

And if that was all it was, you shrug your shoulders. But the real problem is not for you but others. As a general rule, viruses cannot exist in vaccinated people. However if there are sufficient unvaccinated people, this provides a reservoir of infection which can spread the virus effectively. So, by refusing to be vaccinated you are not only risking your own life, you are risking that of others, particularly the elderly and vulnerable. Because of your actions, other people may die. I can’t spell it out any clearer than that. As I said, refusing to have the vaccine makes you stupid. It also makes you selfish. Your actions harm other people. Think of that nurse who manages to save your life before becoming infected by you, passing it on to her mum and dad.

So not only are you stupid, you are also selfish. If you are vaccinated, you are part of the solution. If you are not, you are part of the problem.