09 January 2007

And Now For Some Real Pommy Bashing

So read the headline in this morning's Sydney Morning Herald, referring to last night's comprehensive dismantling of anything that might have been left of England's cricketing pride. As it happens, I was there to witness the affair, my first cricket match ever, though purists would argue that Twenty20, the variety being played, really isn't cricket at all.

The name refers to the fact that the game consists of only 20 overs, 10 to each side (for befuddled Americans, an "over" is kind of like an inning in baseball, only shorter, and in this particular branch of the game, 10 overs adds up to an "innings." In a normal Test Match each side would have two innings, consisting of 10 wickets (sort of like "outs") each, which typically last five days, at about 8 to 10 hours a day of play, at the end of which there may or may not be a winner.

England played so badly in the recent Ashes series that getting trounced didn't even take the full 25 days (five Test Matches, one in each major Australian city), only 23 if I remember correctly, and though I had hoped to get to see one match in the last series here at the Sydney Cricket Ground, no well-connected friend emerged with a spare ticket for the completely sold out event. So, it was Twenty20 for me, which lasted about three hours and concentrated largely on whacking the ball out of the park, much like an American baseball home run derby, whereas serious cricket is composed of heinously complex strategies taking in several varieties of bowling (pitching, for you Americans, although you have to bounce the ball before it gets to the batter, and what you are really trying to do, even more than stopping the batter from hitting it, is to knock over the wicket behind him, which means he is out), fielding, and even more arcane stuff regarding playing for a draw by stretching things out until a promising rain cloud or approaching nightfall puts an end to play.

Every time I try contemplating the full extent of cricket's nuances and subtleties, I end up concluding that whoever made up the rules was a truly demented individual, and/or one of those mad Englishmen who spent too long out in the proverbial midday sun. After a couple of years of observing the sport, I can probably say that I understand about 60% of the basics, which put me slightly ahead of the girl from Sheffield who sat next to me last night, also attending her first cricket match. About all we knew for sure was that England was getting absolutely hammered, but nothing new there. England managed for the first time in about 18 years, to scrape a narrow win in the previous Ashes, and hubris predictably set in. That combined with the Aussies' fury as losing a trophy they considered their permanent property, led to massive vengeance being wreaked.

But it was all astoundingly good natured. Australian and English fans sat side by side (football fans are kept segregated by lines of truncheon-toting policemen), drank unbelievable amounts of beer (no alcohol whatsoever allowed in the stands at English football matches), and barracked for and against their chosen sides in uproarious and occasionally obscene chants and shouts with never so much a cross word being exchanged, at least within my earshot. It would have been nice to see more of a contest, but it was still an altogether nice and engrossing way to spend a summer night out in Sydney.

Oh, P.S., for those of you puzzled by the word "Pommy," it's the all-purpose Australian epithet, typically preceded by "whingeing," used to describe Englishmen. I've also heard it coupled with "bleedin'," as in the "Don't tell me you're another bleedin' Pom!" directed at me when I let slip that I was from London. Oh, and there are also "10 pound Poms," originally applied to those working-class Englishmen who emigrated to Oz in steerage class for the princely sum of, well, 10 pounds, but now generally extended to any Pom or Pom-like individual who, consensus would have it, might be best advised to go back where he or his ancestors came from.

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