An ode to my eroding passion for cricket

19:20, Nov 22 2011

If I were to create a visual metaphor for my relationship with cricket since I've moved to America, it would probably look like two old friends sitting across the table from each other, smiling wanly, making small talk and trying to take an interest.

Sure, I'm extremely happy still for its achievements, like when New Zealand beat South Africa in the quarterfinal of the last World Cup, and I mourn its losses, like the sudden death of revered cricket scribe Peter Roebuck.

But we're too different now. There's just no trace of it in my new life. I've kept in touch from afar, still sluggishly keeping ESPN's Cricinfo website in my regular Internet rotation. But it is becoming duty, and starting to feel as though it is only out of respect to a former love.

I wonder if this might be one long-distance relationship that won't last.

I was an obsessive cricket fan as a kid. The first thing I can remember most wanting to be is a famous cricket player.

I can remember two searing upsets as a young boy: not being allowed to go on holiday with a friend of mine because I had to take swimming lessons, and getting dropped from the top Standard Four cricket team.

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I don't need to rhapsodise about cricket's place in the New Zealand summer for you. There's no greater game for the casual whiling away of whole days, complete with strange banter, good friends, potato chips, and beer.

We're not a good national cricket team, but that doesn't really matter. I almost like it more how patchy and unpredictable we are. It means we appreciate the highs more.

LP loathes cricket. She doesn't really like sports to begin with, but cricket gets her goat especially. The sport itself doesn't translate at all in America. It provokes a sort of mirth among those who have heard of it, even in passing. Americans seem to hold it in a similar regard as they do Quidditch.

When New Zealand played Sri Lanka in Florida in 2010, Greg Cote from the Miami Herald wrote about the game: "Rule of thumb, if your sport is named after a grasshopper-like bug, give it a new name."

Estimates of the cricket-playing population of America range between 15,000 and 30,000 people. The vast majority of these players are immigrants, or the children of immigrants. Per capita, it would be the same as New Zealand having a playing pool of between 192 and 384 people.

The first international matches were played here between the USA and Canada in the 1850s, but cricket in this country didn't survive the 19th century. Cricket has been the subject of several indignities through relatively high-profile flops, in an attempt to relight long-dormant interests. The New Zealand versus Sri Lanka game in Florida left the United States of America Cricket Association (USACA) allegedly many hundred thousand dollars in debt. Pro Cricket USA was an eight-team professional league that was launched in 2004 and lasted a year. TV rights fell through, and no more than a few hundred spectators attended games held in large baseball stadiums. Major League Cricket and an American Premier League cricket competition have been hyped in recent years, but neither has materialised.   

For me, though, this distance between cricket and myself now is an example of how culture and identity erodes and changes in new settings.

I was having a drink with a friend the other night and the topic of immigration came up. "Well, at least culturally, you don't have to give anything up," he said. And he was right. I'm from a Western culture that translates more or less directly into America.

But as I assess my own lack of interest in what happens in the Australia versus New Zealand tests this week, I can see that I have given up some things. I've given up less crucial but still important parts of a shared cultural language and set of interests and connections.

I remember following ball-by-ball writeups of this year's New Zealand versus South Africa quarterfinal at work online, growing thrilled and trying to explain to people just how significant this was. No one cared.

Often you don't even notice these cultural attachments slide, or what they meant to you.

I became friends with a co-worker last year, Shweta, from India. After our first shift working with each other, she asked me where I was from. New Zealand, I responded.

The question soon came, "So, do you like cricket?"

It was a bonding moment. After a few months away at that point, it felt good to sit and talk about the game. She told me how handsome she thought Daniel Vettori was. We laughed about how badly India was beating New Zealand at the time.

It wasn't cutting-edge talk, by any stretch. But I was exercising a part of my brain that I'd forgotten about, and when we had these talks cricket would stop being something I read about on the Internet, alone. It was a real thing again.

Sometimes I'll find a Commonwealth expat, or someone from the subcontinent, and we'll chat a spell about cricket. Like these conversations with Shweta, it feels good.

But mostly, it has been a relationship defined by atrophy.

I can't help feeling that there's no way around this. How can anyone keep these specialised interests alive, so far away from where they have any relevancy? 

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