Only words

The Asia Cup is happening, but I haven’t watch a single ball bowled. In fact, over the last two years, I have watched a grand total of zero hours of live cricket. It might even stretch further back from that. I think I might have cancelled my Willow subscription (for the second time) in late 2015, or thereabouts. Sure, I have listened to live cricket here and there, but I haven’t watched any on TV or on a stream in a very long time. I just haven’t had the notion to pony up for Willow, and ESPN doesn’t show as much as it used to, and even if I resubscribed for Willow I wouldn’t be able to watch much as I currently don’t have internet in my place (right now I am leaching off the wi-fi of the bakery next door).

And that’s weird, right? It’s weird to follow a sport and simply never watch it. Who else does that but US based cricket fans? Can you imagine a diehard NFL or NBA fan who loved the game and followed it closely but never watched a down or a free-throw?

Despite the weirdness of it, I get along just fine. Via articles on Cricinfo, and ball by balls, and the various blogs that I read, and the social media feeds of cricketers and teams and the ICC and reporters and fans. I feel connected to the game, like I am a part of it, like I know what’s going, even though I never, ever, watch it live. And I think that’s because cricket is the most literary of all sports. You can describe the action using language so accurately that you don’t need the actual images to know what it is going on:

Hasan Ali to Sharma, SIX runs, front-foot pull and it soars into the crowd behind square leg! Rohit is insane with this shot. For half a second it seems like he’s hurried, that the ball gets big on him, that maybe he’s even top-edged it. But it’s only as the ball keeps climbing in the air do you realise the timing he’s got on the ball.

I mean. We can all picture that pretty closely, can’t we? Sure you miss the atmosphere provided by television or radio, but as far as what is actually happening on the field, you have a solidly good idea in your head as to what it looks like. Cricket is simply one of those games that doesn’t need images or sounds, which is rather remarkable when you think about it. Some sports require both — like soccer, of instance — and some only require sound (baseball being the prime example) — but cricket is the only sport I can think of that requires neither. Just words.

As a fan of words, of language, I think that’s pretty damn cool.

But, I will admit, I miss watching the game. I miss the green and the movement and the pace of the game when broadcast on TV. I miss watching fast bowlers steam in, I miss a perfectly placed shot, I miss the images of crowds on the other side of the world. But when I have an active Willow subscription, I must also admit that I don’t watch it as much as I always assume I will. I always have great aspirations to watch tons and tons of cricket. Stay up late with tea and Twitter and watch matches around the globe. But I rarely do. I will watch a bit of the English summer when I can, and then a few matches in December in Australia and New Zealand, but then life gets in the way, I get tired, and I end up reading or watching Battlestar Galactica for the umpteenth time.

But. Despite that. I think when I finally do get the wi-fi up and running here, I will re-subscribe (for the third time) to Willow. I will watch what I can and not feel guilty if I don’t watch as much as I’d like. I mean, South Africa, India and Sri Lanka will be in Australia this fall/winter, and the latter two will also be in New Zealand.

Boxing Day Test at the MCG on Christmas Day, anyone? Yeah, I thought so. See ya on Twitter, where we will write as we watch, giving words to the action for those who can’t see.


After reading Neeran’s comment below, it got me thinking: is this a new thing for cricket? The fact that it only needs words? And I mean new as in the last 25 years? Or was it born of necessity not that long ago? Born of all the ex-pats from cricket loving countries all over the world relying on early ball-by-ball commentaries to follow the game?

It’s a bit of a chicken-or-egg situation. Does cricket work in text only because people were forced to do it and do it very well? Or were people able to do it well because the game doesn’t really require images and sound?

Maybe I am over-thinking it.

But we can all agree that Cricinfo changed cricket forever, for good or for bad, and Cricinfo exists solely because some grad students in Minnesota wanted to follow the matches, and were forced to do so via simple text. And so while the game has always, throughout its history, attracted great writers and inspired great writing, maybe the dawn of the internet and the mass migrations of people and the requirements of ball-by-ball commentary simply made it more literary, and less in need of anything other than words?

And to think. All of the great cricket writers around today, be they bloggers or journalists or both, were their writing chops improved, sometimes greatly improved, by reading all those text commentaries on Cricinfo? I think the answer is a resounding yes.

It’s a funny old game, as they say, and once you start peeling the onion, you really get to see all the countless layers. It’s not just a game. It’s not just a bat and a ball. It’s also technology and time and space and homesick college kids and a million people sitting in their cubes, watching the ball-by-ball scroll on by, changing how we follow the game forever.

One Reply to “Only words”

  1. Lovely… Took me back to my days in Minneapolis at the U (1991-1998), when all the cricket I had was “words”! There was no Willow TV, nothing on ESPN. So we scrapped around to find some volunteers who would provide us with “words” — cricket commentary on IRC and then on CricInfo. You’re right, the text commentary is enough to keep us hooked onto a live game, or to relive an old one, as long as the writer’s good at it. Mind you, in those early years, very few of the “commentators” were good with words, or they’d be too busy to give us all the colour of the game. But they were all volunteers, what more could we ask of them?

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