Longoffs and Chinamen
First Published In SunFlyer

"Cricket - a game which the English, not being a spiritual people, invented to give themselves some conception of eternity." Lord Mancroft


This has been going on for a long time. Too long. More than 700 years, in fact. The aristocracy were amongst the first to do it. The Wardrobe Account of the British Royal Household documents 100 shillings and six pounds having been spent on it and "other sports" for young Prince Edward in the year 1300. Ah, the peasant dreams that could have been realised with what little Prince Edward so callously doled out for "creag".

By December 1478 the plague had spread to St Olmer, in what is today south-eastern France, and went by the name of "criquet". As far as we can tell from recorded history, it took them another two hundred years to start playing matches. "Criquet" time has always been slow, it seems. The punters on the other hand, lost no time in seizing the opportunity for a quick pence or two. By the late seventeenth century, the popular press got wind of this new obsession and reported, not so much on the matches, as on the odds and the occasionally ensuing riots.

As if the game itself is not tedious enough, William Goldwin wrote a 95 line poem on it, entitled Certamen Pilae, or On A Match At Ball, in 1706. Apparently, in early spring "a chosen cohort of youths, armed with curved bats, ...descends rejoicing to the field". Nothing, with the possible exception of the season, has changed. The blighters still descend and rejoice, and this year they descended from all the four corners of the earth.

Understand that I hold no grudge against teams from other countries. They are foreigners and should be forgiven their absurd ways. Besides, they spend lovely international currency on our hospitable shores. I am a peace loving, economically aware individual who only wants to live and let live. It's the disrupted TV schedule that makes me spit gobs of cricketball-red blood.

James Love, the bankrupt son of an architect, followed hot on the heels of William Goldwin with and epic of 316 lines, entitled Cricket: an Heroic Poem. illlustrated with the Critical Observations of Scriblerus Maximus. Quite so, old chap. In this poem he takes issue with the sluggish pace of the game of "puny billiards". Yes. Well. I have now spent several lifetimes watching cricket. Clearly, I still don't get it. The game is so mind numbingly boring it should carry a health warning. (The scoring on the other hand, requires Calculus.)

Every other game I know, including Monopoly and billiards, can be played from start to finish in an afternoon. Cricket takes five days. I'm with Robin Williams on this one. He had the following to say about the game: "We've got football, baseball, basketball. You've got cricket - baseball on valium."

Cricket players are supposed to be sportsmen in top physical condition. Yet, one sees them walking far more often than one sees them running. If they all just moved a little bit faster we could get the whole thing sewn up, complete with six seams, inside the hour.

Instead we are forced to listen to insipid little commentator-men speculating on the level of dew on the pitch, while Jaques Kallis and others of his ilk stroll back to Harare in preparation for bowling to a batsman in Johannesburg.

One look at the umpire confirms the frenetic pace of the game. For the benefit of the uninformed, the umpire will be the slightly geriatric gentleman in the Panama hat and with a cardigan slung casually over his arm. I am led to believe that the cardigan is likely to belong not to him, but to a bowler who will wear it to keep warm between overs. That's how long it takes between overs.

The problem, indubitably, lies with me. I have the attention span of a gnat and I do not find ball speeds in excess of 140 km/h heroic. BMW's achieve greater speeds between robots. Admittedly, not many people give in to the temptation of batting a speeding BMW.

In the interest of comparing peaches with nectarines (as opposed to say, water buffalos), we will thus turn to tennis. The Williams girls will serve you a tennis ball at 200km/h any day of the week. On the receiving end of the cricket ball stands a man padded, suited and helmeted fit to survive in outer space. On the receiving end of a Williams sister stands a leggy girl dressed in frilly panties. You tell me, which is more heroic?

This was the mindset with which I sat down to watch the opening ceremony of the World Cup on Saturday, 8 February. Within minutes I was transfixed. Wide eyed and unblinking, I watched as the spectacular animal costumes floated by to the strains of South African music legends like Jonny Clegg, Leleti Kumalo and father of African Jazz, Hugh Masekela. The pulse of Africa caroused through my veins - the energy, the pulsating rhythms, the sparkling eyes that forget about everyday agonies in the moment of a wide, African smile. Nobody does joy the way Africa does. What a show! It made me proud to be South African.

 It even made me turn on the telly the next day in yet another attempt to "love the game". I lasted the first four overs, where the only score notched up was off two wide balls. It was all I could stand.

While I may not see much of the actual play during this World Cup, I will bleat no more if my TV schedule is disrupted, and I will make no further scathing comments about the game and its supporters. Anything that inspires South Africa to showcase herself to the world with such grace and finesse has my full support.