Wednesday 13 June 2012

Excitement without tension

Maybe the cliché is true and cricket does actually give a compelling window into the minds of those playing; or maybe it’s just because it takes so long, but as England's series against West Indies showed, the relationship between players and those watching them is oddly meaningful.

Neither Tino Best nor Graham Onions know who I am but their return to Test cricket was genuinely pleasing. Likewise I don’t know Marlon Samuels, but his charisma and class were bright spots in a dank month. Even Dinesh Ramdin, a fairly anonymous sort, delivered an unforgettable moment. The series proved how, even where teams are mismatched, the fortunes of individual players can create real entertainment.

As production technology allows analysis to become ever more technical it’s easy to overlook the emotional story at the heart of every contest. It’s what makes Ed Cowan’s book so refreshing. He describes the stress, embarrassment, anger and dejection that go with playing the sport. How "patches of failure leave you with an empty state of doubt.”

It’s worth reflecting on when thinking about Ramdin’s A4 scribbling. It was his first Test series in two years. Having played professional cricket since he was 18, his Test runs are the barometer by which most people, and to an extent even the man himself, will judge his life. That scrawled response to Viv Richards' barbs was testament to how important his hundred was. Not for the team performance, nor for a financial gain it may help secure, but for something more fragile, his self-worth. It cannot be easy for West Indian cricketers playing out their existence in the shadow of a gargantuan past. It makes the ICC’s fine all the more staggering. Of all things bringing the game into disrepute, a player’s desperate pride should be the least of its worries.

Samuels is another who has faced criticism. His murky history has included bookmakers, chucking and years of squandered talent. Having remembered his debut series against Australia 12 years ago, and the promise it held, it was fantastic to see him succeed this summer. His runs were enjoyable not just for their style and their match importance but also because they were his redemption. That he also spoke a dialect humans, and not PR executives, could relate to made him all the more magnificent.

Samuels’s series-long asversary, James Anderson, was rested for the final Test. It meant Onions returned to the side for the first time since his career was almost ended by a back injury. After the first day he tweeted: “Today has been a special special day, I’ve had the most unbelievable support over the last 2 years to get me to put the 3 lions on again..” It was a testament to the personal that underpins the professional. Having reached the pinnacle of his career in 2009, he suddenly faced the possibility of losing his livelihood altogether. Watching the fruition of months of rehab made a dead Test matter more.

And then there was Tino. For two years he has pined on twitter, pleading anyone who would listen (and plenty who would not) for another chance with West Indies. His jubilant, delirious comeback was something we could all celebrate.

It’s these individual stories that get contextualised through competition. While closely-fought contests are obviously the most enjoyable, sometimes it’s nourishing just to share in someone else’s personal fulfilment.

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