We were enjoying a day of corporate hospitality, thanks to Northumbrian Water. You get well looked-after. Like travelling 1st class, it isn’t something we do very often. England was tipped to win, and they did so comfortably, reaching the target of 201 with 8 wickets and 2 overs to spare. There was an air of satisfaction in the packed ground: England deserved to win. It was a job well done.
I should say at once that my wife is the one endowed with sporting intelligence, not me. I’m not an expert so I won’t (because I can’t) comment more on the match itself. If you’re a follower, then you’ll already have come to your conclusions about it anyway. If you’re not, it won’t matter. But cricket was not all that fascinated me on our day out.
I took my camera and got some nice action shots of the game. But the camera was just as interested in the crowd. When a four was hit or a wicket fell, the spontaneous reactions of spectators were no less absorbing than the main event. Sometimes the crowd was eagerly or anxiously engaged. At other times (for cricket has its longeurs), it sank back into a kind of gentle passivity. Sometimes the crowd took control of its own collective emotion by indulging in Mexican waves (which the camera also enjoyed). As everyone who attends sport regularly, the crowd has a life of its own and despite yourself, you get caught up in it. Which I suppose is part of the point of going along when you could just as easily sit at home and watch it on TV.
But this crowd consisted of thousands of individuals, each participating in their own way. Sports grounds are great places for people-watching. Looking down from the balcony, I noticed different kinds of behaviour among the people sitting directly below. Some were deadly serious about cricket, the cognoscenti who peered intently through field-glasses, entered scores on their sheets, worked out the analytics and earnestly discussed performance and precedents among themselves. Others looked as if they had been dragged along by an enthusiast spouse or sibling. You could tell who they were because their heads were buried in newspapers, novels or iPads, jerked back to attention when the roar of the crowd suggested something interesting was going on.
But these weren’t the majority. Most were there because they enjoyed cricket and came looking for a good day out. Many people love music and enjoy concerts even if they are not experts. Many enjoy going to church even if they are not spiritual athletes or experts in theology. There is something benign about a cricket match, just as there is about a good liturgy or concert. It gathers people together in an experience they can share and that’s bigger than they are. It adds to our social capital and our personal wellbeing. Maybe it brings some of us closer to God. Who knows?
Because I go to a sporting event so rarely, I feel a bit like an occasional churchgoer, sitting at the back, glad to be there, watching the faithful at their devotions, more than half-envying them their fervour and their faith, a bit bemused by what I am experiencing , grateful to those who can help me make sense of it. I think I could become a convert, like Agrippa the ‘almost-Christian’, or Augustine, wanting conversion but not yet. But retirement is on the horizon, and with it, the invitation to discover new interests, and long days waiting to be filled with wholesome activity.
I’ll keep you posted.