When it comes to cricket, I don’t have a specific team or country that I follow. It has been this way since I started following the game, over 13 years ago.
I have tried in the past. In 2011 or so I thought I would become a Pakistan fan, since they never really fail to entertain. And while that is still true, the entertainment side, the fandom never really stuck. And before that I decided that Sussex would be my county team, but no go there too. And along the way, at some point, I think I tried to pick an IPL team but that proved to be a non-starter from the get-go.
Now, the concept of choosing teams is foreign to most fans. Though it is quite common among people who come to a sport late in life. I have watched friends and sportswriters anguish over which Premier League team to support once they started following soccer. And I have noticed the same behavior from people outside the USA once they start keeping up on the NBA. All of this has become more and more common thanks in large part to technology. Fandom, for good or for bad, is becoming less and less about where one lives. The internet is your community, and Twitter the pub.
It’s not the case as often, but the above is also becoming more prevalent for international sports. Cricket, for sure, because most countries do not play international cricket, but also soccer. I know a lot of American soccer fans whose favorite international side is not the USA, but rather Belgium, or Nigeria.
All fandom is of course a choice, just sometimes it is a less conscious one, or one that is thrust upon you by an oppressive dad or simply based on where you grew up. Or the choice happens before you are even old enough to know what’s happening. People are fans of teams for no other reason than that’s how it’s always been for them. I know Packer fans who can’t remember a time when they weren’t a Packer fan. Their dad is a fan, and their dad before them. I have always found this generational fandom fascinating, and something I must admit I am a little jealous of, and something I have to come to accept that I will never have. At least not from an elder. I do hope, someday, to pass on my obsession with the Minnesota Twins or Arsenal Football Club to a little person who happens to share my DNA.
Speaking of Arsenal, I didn’t choose them, even though I became a fan in my 20s. It just sort of … happened. I remember watching Thierry Henry play for France in like 2002 or 2003 and while it wasn’t a bolt of lightning once I read about his club team at the time, it was a pretty steady roll downhill from that first exposure to crying after the 2006 Champions League final. There are people who can choose a team and instantly become super fans. And there are people who are fans of multiple teams. And there are people who switch allegiance midstream while they are full grown adults. None of those things make any sense to me whatsoever, especially that last one. (There was a DJ at the radio station I work at, a British ex-pat and a life long Manchester United fan, who switched his fandom to LIVERPOOL a few years back. What in the world? People are mad.)
It’s just always been a slow burn toward fandom for me. You kind of are following a team and then all of a sudden you find yourself a little down after a loss, and using the first person plural when you talk about them. It takes a while, but then it hits you like a ton of bricks.
But it just never happened for me for cricket. And after a while, I started to wear it like a badge of honor. I kind of liked that I didn’t support a team or a country (closest I came to the latter is the fact that I really disliked Australia). I felt like not being a fan of a specific team helped me write about the game better. And it allowed me to just enjoy the cricket, without all of that edge-of-your-seat nonsense that makes sport equal parts great and awful. Plus, cricket, I thought, more than any other sport, lended itself to fans without a country, such as myself. I mean, this is a game where the opposing team’s fans applaud their opponent’s achievements. You just don’t see that elsewhere in sports.
Over the last, let’s say, year or so, however, I have started to ask myself: am I an England fan? Do I support England over all others now?
I have always watched a lot of English cricket, but that was mostly because of the friendly time zones. I also watch a lot of Australian cricket for the same reason for that matter and, well, see above. But then after the World Cup last year I realized that I was inordinately happy England had won. This was a new feeling for me. However, I realized at the same time that I also felt pretty terrible for New Zealand, so I thought nothing more of it.
And then I started catching myself reading more and more about English cricket. And I realized that I could understand the grumblings over the team selection better than before and other outside-the-lines intricacies that I normally only pay passing attention to. This summer I found myself actively cheering for England against squads I normally really like: the West Indies, Pakistan. And then, for one second, I looked at the England kits on sale on a cricket equipment site.
I am not sure how I feel about any of this.
Part of me is like: accept it, it’s too late, you’ve dug your grave. And part of me is like England? Really? There’s so much wrong with English cricket in so many different ways, do you really want to hook your wagon to them? And part of me is, correctly, embarrassed. I mean, do I openly start cheering for England on social media now after more than a decade of being a vocal neutral? And who the hell starts cheering for a new team in their 40s anyway?
All of this is to say in answer to the question posed in the title: I don’t know yet, but it certainly feels like it. I must admit it feels almost inevitable that it will happen. And then I get excited about the prospect. But then I get worried that my relationship with the game will change, and change forever. A relationship I have cultivated for long time, a relationship I like.
And that’s what it comes down to: I am torn between two very different kinds of fandom, but all I can do is see what happens, because all fandoms are best when they are allowed to evolve organically. That’s what I keep reminding myself. Whatever happens, it’ll be fine, it’s just cricket.
But England? Really? England? Oof.