An ode to my eroding passion for cricket

Last updated 08:20 23/11/2011

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.

cricket1But 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.

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.

cricket2

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.

cricket3

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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35 comments
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moo   #1   08:34 am Nov 23 2011

I don't blame you for your fading interest in cricket - summer is coming and with it your chance for redemption. We're playing the Aussies soon - that'll be worth finding an online live stream for surely?

Always here should you wish to confess anything else.

Jez   #2   08:39 am Nov 23 2011

You can have the same experience within New Zealand simply by not having Sky TV. Since cancelling my subscription as a household cost saving measure, I find that my desire to follow any sports has disappeared. This suits my wife as she doesn't follow any sports as they don't often translate well into Japanese ("1 game ... for FIVE days?!?!"). My vege garden is flourishing however.

kiwi in cal   #3   09:09 am Nov 23 2011

dont even try. the longer you live here, the quicker the memories will recede. eventually you dont miss it. never fear, ample sports here to take its place.

Zifnab   #4   09:28 am Nov 23 2011

From having previously spent a 7 month spell in the States/Canada, my answer would be simple - try becoming a baseball or football fan, it'll make cricket, rugby or even tiddlywinks seem fantastic. The only commonly played sport in the US I could generate any enthusiasm for was basketball, which is indeed a wonderful game.

Nick R   #5   09:44 am Nov 23 2011

As an immigrant myself (from the UK to NZ) I can understand this. It's not just about cricket - more about how you have to change your cultural points of reference when you move countries.

Bear in mind that as you grow more distant from those points of reference, you also become less relevant to the people you have left behind. People in NZ may be polite, for example, when you talk about baseball or food in Boston, or whatever. But they won't care, and they will change the subject if you discuss it face to face. Trust me on this, it's what happens when I go back to England. I can't talk about anything in NZ without people just tuning out.

don   #6   09:48 am Nov 23 2011

James have you not discovered the US answer to cricket, watching paint dry, and other mind-numbingly boring so-called "sports" - baseball. yes, I agree with Zifbnab (#4)

Heres a clue - if the "world series" for a sport consists of one country, or the number of participating countries is less than the fingers on one hand (Aussie rules, log-rolling) then you can be confident that it aint really a spectator sport for anyone with half a brain.

I must say though, that I am tempted to contradict myself in the case of US football, or "gridiron"; A tad overcomplicated, but I like the aspect of all players being involved in the play.

paul   #7   09:49 am Nov 23 2011

dont feel guilty about leaving cricket behind. even here in NZ, cricket is becoming more of a minority sport. if it wasnt for national bank sponsorship, it would have disappeared from the airwaves completley. once upon a time cricket ,rugby and horse racing dominated NZ sport, and media coverage. now horse racing is pretty much ignored ,apart from a couple of marquee events. cricket has re-invented itself twice, to try and keep pace with our ever more busy lifestyle. will it survive? yes, but more and more a minority sport.

Scott C   #8   10:06 am Nov 23 2011

Interesting commentary. Many people mention cricket becomming a minority sport - and mostly that comes from it's resistance to commercialisation. Now before people get up in arms about this idea I'm not saying that cricket isn't commercialised but that it's resisted the commercialisation trend for much longer than most other sports. In general sports that don't change to meet the requirements of the media loose out in the long run. India and the IPC are probably at the cutting edge of reshaping cricket into a spectator sport (as cricket had typically frowned upon the spectator) but it's still coming to late to pull it back into line with sports like soccer and rugby.

kiwi in cal   #9   10:12 am Nov 23 2011

@ #4 Zibnaf, i'm not going to comment on your 'fantastic' tiddlywinks experience, or #6 Don, your expertise on watching paint dry...but i will say once you learn the nuances of baseball strategy you will discover how much of a thinking man's game this is.

'world series' just like 'super bowl world championship' is a typical americanism, but make no mistake. at the sports highest levels, the athleticism required to participate is hard to comprehend until you see it up close.

wholesale dismissal of a sport you know nothing about is pretty ridiculous.

if you get a chance, read george will's book Men at Work.

Z   #10   10:18 am Nov 23 2011

I agree with Paul #7 - cricket seems to be slowly fading away here - much like Guy Fawkes night. As far as Wellington is concerned, the Phoenix seem to be getting many people who might formerly have been cricket fans. At least with the Phoenix, there is a feeling of being involved with something that is young and fresh and has a future ahead of it. Cricket has been meandering along ever since Hadlee, Crowe etc retired.


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