Play ball! Hope springs between lunch and tea

Cricket: Across the Atlantic, spring also means bats and balls are broken out. Any similarity with baseball after that is purely accidental.

April 08, 2000|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

CAMBRIDGE, England -- We're not at Camden Yards anymore, hon.

To get to yesterday's opening day of the English cricket season, turn right at the war memorial, right at the church steeple, follow a brick wall around a corner, and walk straight into the 19th century.

There, you find 22 players, dressed in white, a bunch of kids who study classics and history and play for Cambridge University, against old pros with a team representing the county of Lancashire.

You sit on a splintery wooden bench, joining about 200 others who are arrayed around a field that seems to be about the size of Towson.

You sip a warm beer hand-pumped from a tap, eat a cucumber sandwich and read a really interesting book.

You squint at the teeny, tiny scoreboard where the guy changes the numbers as if he's tossing a hat on to a rack.

You look forward to lunch and tea. It's in the program, after all.

You notice, there's absolutely no music blaring over a sound system.

You watch the sun, because seeing the sun at this time of year in England, especially opening day, is unusual. Why, someone is even applying a dab of sunblock to the face.

You have been warned, after all, by a biochemistry professor and treasurer of the Cambridge team named Kenneth Siddle that on the opening day of the English cricket season, "cameras roll out to record it snowed, it hailed and it was canceled."

Last year, it really snowed.

Despite the bright sun and blue sky, Diana Woodhall and her husband, Brian, aren't taking any chances.

Sitting on lawn chairs in front of their car parked at the edge of the field, they pass their 8-month-old granddaughter back and forth like a picnic basket, as they discuss preparations needed to withstand an opening day.

"Blankets, coats, thermal vests, we've got them all," Diana Woodhall says. "When you come to cricket, you have to expect everything from boiling heat to freezing cold."

Food?

`Tuna sandwiches," Brian Woodhall says. `We usually bring a bottle of wine. But not this time."

Over on the other side of the field, about 3 miles away, a retired school principal named Terry Plummer has a clipboard on his lap and takes lots of notes, charting what happens each time the bowler, cricket's pitcher, throws the ball.

There are at least 500 throws during an average cricket day.

"It's like a pastime," Plummer says of the game he has watched and played since he was a boy. "It's a game that reflects the English attributes of patience, diligence, quiet relaxation and lots of tradition. There are those who say that cricket is from a bygone age."

When a visitor asks him if he'd like to be sitting in the same spot 20 years from now at another opening day, Plummer says, "Oh, I do hope so."

"There is something about the beginning of a season," he says. "It's full of hope and opportunity."

Looking around the field, you notice that quite a few people aren't watching the game that will take three days to complete, and even then, there might not be a winner.

They're engrossed in a book that has a bright yellow dust cover and looks a little bit like a loaf of bread.

It's called "Wisden Cricketers' Almanack," a combination "Baseball Encyclopedia" and Bible, a compendium of numbers and prose that has been published every year since 1864 and is released just in time for opening day.

Cricket is to British sports writing what baseball is to American, smothered in myth and steeped in history.

There may be a game in front of you, but you can't help dipping into the 1,600-page book to discover "the village team from Stoke Canon, Devon, has disbanded after other teams refused to play them because of the quality of their teas."

There's an update on the state of Slovenia's only cricket field: "another 100 years of mole-killing, digging, filling and rolling and the outfield will look like Lord's" -- the sport's ancestral seat in London.

And, there's the usual plight of English cricket, as the country continues to suffer embarrassing losses to teams from its former colonial possessions.

`The script for English cricket now seems to be more like the Book of Job than anything else," writes editor Matthew Engel, "the Sabeans [sic] have stolen the oxen; the Chaldeans have stolen the camels; and the fire of God has burned up the sheep."

Sounds like an Orioles' fan.

Perhaps the most English part of this very English book is the section on the 20th century. Mixed in with the review of the century's great players, teams and matches, an article details `the wettest summers in living memory."

But on opening day, hope springs eternal.

It doesn't rain.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.