The staff cornered me this morning, saying that we were short of material for today. I was given a stark ultimatum – write or die! I thought it over and decided to go for the first option. Here is the result. Editor
Aspects of Sport
During my many years in commerce, I often felt like a fish out of water when my colleagues debated sporting matters, which appeared to be of consuming interest to everyone but me. On one occasion, the fellow who worked at the desk next to mine remarked that I never offered an opinion on soccer, rugby, golf, or anything other than cricket. I agreed, then mystified him with an assertion that I did not consider our summer game as a sport. What was it then, he asked. I replied that I saw it as an aesthetic experience, a contrast of colours, styles and elegance – a ballet of sorts, the element of competition being incidental. I also ventured the apparently heretical view that cricketers do not normally over-exert themselves, so couldn’t really be regarded as sportsmen, admirable though their occupation may be.
My colleague demanded an explanation of what he clearly felt was an outrageous notion. I responded to the effect that I saw sport as an activity in which the participants gave their all for a short time, and that I could not put cricket in that category. Confining myself to the men’s game because I had never seen the ladies play, I cited the example of a fast bowler, perhaps the player most widely regarded as being subjected to physical stress.
As there was no argument from my workmate on that point, I proceeded to examine what a ‘quickie’ does. He approaches the wicket by running at most about thirty yards, the first few of which he negotiates at a modest pace. Therefore, he runs flat out for maybe fifteen yards before releasing the ball. That done, he rights himself and strolls back to his mark, taking forty or fifty seconds to do so, after which he repeats the process. If he avoids bowling no-balls or wides – his own fault – he bowls six balls to complete an over before retiring to a fielding position, in which his services are needed only intermittently. During his over, he has run barely a hundred yards in four or five minutes, with leisurely ambles between deliveries.
Notwithstanding this somewhat relaxed schedule, we often hear commentators speaking of how desperately tired old Whatshisname must be, having toiled through twenty overs in a day. Oh, come on. Twenty times a hundred yards is little over a mile, and that spread over six hours, interspersed with generous breaks for lunch and tea, plus three official stoppages for drinks all round and goodness knows how many individual pauses for imbibing. One’s heart bleeds.
A batsman, in the extreme case of his being at the crease all day, will probably score rather over a hundred runs, usually about half of them in boundaries, so will have dashed between the wickets maybe fifty times. Let us be generous, allowing him twenty-five yards per run, and further accepting that in addition to his own efforts, he covers the same ground in responding to his partners’ shots. He has then racked up a distance fairly close to that galloped by the fast bowler, and he also has had numerous rests between his bouts of work. He may be fatigued psychologically but surely not physically. After all, he is supposed to be an athlete of sorts, is he not?
The fielding is shared among eleven players. While one or other of them may have a short sprint on occasion, he will usually have plenty of time to recover before any possible repeat is necessary. I do spare a thought for the wicket-keeper, who must be on the alert for every ball, and who is the target of too many verbal brickbats. Anyone who opts for this job must be either astoundingly valiant, or of questionable sanity.
I finished my appraisal of cricket with a reference to the attitude of its organisers, officials and players toward spectators, who having paid up are often treated with disdain. Assuming that a game starts on time – always questionable because of rain or bad light – many ruses will be employed by those on the field to slow or interrupt play. A batsman declines to face a ball because someone moves behind the bowler’s arm. A bowler aborts his run-up, having got it wrong. Sunlight falls on a window, dazzling a batsman – that’s good for three or four minutes’ delay. The ball will be inspected repeatedly, following complaints about its shape. And so it goes on, with the gladiators and umpires apparently intent on ensuring that actual play is kept to a minimum.
Perceiving that the rant had ended, my colleague said I had given him food for thought, adding that since he had finally got me going on this subject, perhaps I might have something to say about other sports. This was a tricky one. I had nothing of a general nature in mind, but his prompting led me to wonder whether I should touch upon a point I had long thought of raising. The trouble was that we were in sensitive territory.
After a few seconds of inner debate I plunged, saying that I considered my interlocutor a kind of sportsman. He asked why. I remarked that three times a week, he spent part of his lunch break playing squash with the office mathematician, a young woman of formidable physique, possessed of venomous powers, both forehand and backhand – I once saw her in action. Invariably, she won and the pair would return to the office at two o’clock, she flushed and cheerful, he exhausted and morose, eyes protruding like organ stops and tongue lapping his knees.
I pointed out that he truly exerted himself, thus qualifying as a sporting type in my book. What I did not say (I chickened out) was that for the rest of the afternoons following his battles with our number-cruncher, not only was he an uncongenial companion, but he exuded an odour like a fat-rendering establishment – having lived close to one in earlier years, I knew. I also bit my tongue with respect to his habit of turning up late each day, owing to his seemingly persistent failure to judge the time required for a three-mile jog to the office. Further, I was quite diplomatic in overlooking the fact that though he was vociferous in advocating vegetarianism, he was always the first to fall prey to whatever bug was going round, in addition to which he had his own crop of obscure ailments, which caused me to spend much of my time taking his incoming phone calls.
All things considered, I felt I had legitimate grounds for protest, but made allowances, as Mr Nextdesk was a marketing man and therefore not entirely responsible for his conduct.
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