Sunday, 19 April 2009

The inevitable nasty game

So, the cricket season is finally upon us with much creaking of joints and burning of uncovered heads.

Even in the leagues of third-team cricket, sooner or later the unpleasant game rears its ugly head. For some reason the nastiness that is often apparent in lower-league cricket seems much worse that at higher levels, and people who are in all likelihood pleasant enough off the pitch can turn into, for want of a better word, complete bell-ends on it.

Unpleasantness can stem from several sources: a long-standing club rivalry; accusations or suspicions of cheating (potentially widespread as teams umpire over their own batsmen); deliberate go-slow tactics or blocking, tantamount to negative or tactical play (especially evident when clubs field two teams in the same division); excessive or intimidating appealing and sledging; or simply sheer spite and meanness of spirit.

Some teams revel in their unchallenged ability to marry all of the above elements and wear it as a badge of pride. Fisticuffs have been known to result during and following games.

It may surprise those who have never been on a cricket pitch that the worst antagonists are rarely chippy and mouthy youngsters, but fat middle-aged men.

These types seem to derive enormous satisfaction from such verbal confrontations, in what can only be some kind of cricketing equivalent of small-man syndrome.

In Test Cricket – where careers, fortunes and the highest glories in the game are at stake – mental disintegration is an accepted part of the sport, and however unpleasant it's understandable.

On a small, bumpy pitch in the lower leagues the only explanation can be that the exponents of sledging simply enjoy being unpleasant to their opposite numbers, who often include children as young as 14.

It's a tiresome development in lower-league cricket that's designed to sap the will, concentration and mental strength from opponents and it overshadows the cricket being played.

All too often the post-match talk is not of a stunning catch, classical innings or fiery bowling spell, but of the cheating umpire, negative tactics and loud-mouthed twat on the opposing team.

Sadly it's hard to see a change in the way cricket is played in the 21st century, perhaps it was ever thus, but as a feature of the game it sucks so much enjoyment out of simply playing cricket.

And that is its only function and purpose, to crush weaker teams and humble powerful rivals, deployed by those for whom winning is the only thing that matters.

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