The Cricket Renaissance. Some are still stuck in the closet, but the number of people coming out over the past couple of weeks has been steadily increasing. What was merely a trickle, a few stray souls, has now become a recognisable minority: Irish cricket fans.
Cricket can be seen in two ways, at least from the television coverage. It's either the best excuse ever invented to go boozing all day, or an even better excuse to go boozing for five consecutive days. It's strange the way cricket has failed to capture the hearts and minds of the Irish before now. To understand America, you have to understand baseball. To understand England, you have to understand cricket. And to understand Ireland you have to forget what happens one night in every seven.
Baseball is a euphemism for statistics. You think you're diving into a shallow end, but then the floor disappears and numbers and figures in obese columns fill the abyss. The only thing worse than not knowing where to start is not knowing where it might end. Cricket, however, is manageable. If a bowler has figures of 4-47, it means he picked up four wickets at the concession of 47 runs to the batsmen he bowled to. End of. The number of bouncers, Yorkers and short-of-a-length balls he's bowled don't enter the equation. At least not publicly anyway. Irish stats keeping consists of counting scores and wides. For big occasions like All-Ireland finals they count the number of frees too. You'd never get anything as exotic as a ‘strike rate’.
To appreciate the Irish opinion on sporting statistics you have to expect that a guy who scored one point in ten matches will have more to say about it than a fella regularly scoring seven and eight points will have to say about any of his collection of scores. We expect modesty and arrogance but never any justification. The opposite of logic. The opposite of logic applies to most things. Iarnród Éireann [Irish Rail] have operated the policy for years. The 15.55 train to Cork is just a number. And opposite logic stands the Irish indifference to cricket for so long. For starters England have been the laughing stock of the cricket world (until this summer) since Sean Boylan herded his first Meath team. Poking fun at the Brits has been an all consuming hobby for the Irish for aeons. The empress being bettered by all her colonies at something she invented. How many Republican comedians could have made a living out of that? And here's the thing, why haven't we made greater strides to try and better the English at cricket? If nothing we have the resources. GAA prairies have enough largesse to incorporate a wicket and an outfield. With the spate of clubhouse developments around the country, most cricket pavilions look like Burmese huts for the infirm compared to the Irish dwellings that provide trampolines in their gymnasiums and plasma televisions in their bars.
The tools of hurling are a bat made of wood and a ball made of leather. Various other ingredients combine to make the cricket versions of bat and ball visually different but little else and the principles remain largely the same; strike the ball in the scoring zone as often as possible to win. DJ Carey has conjured things with hurling's bat and ball that would convince you God is a DJ. With a cricket bat, where every part of the bat is used to strike shots, it's reasonable to assume he'd have had a Knighthood at 20, peerage at 30 and the right to call himself King at 40.
Batting is an elegant extension of ground hurling. Bowling might be as alien to a hand pass as poverty is to a publican, but I'd imagine there be a good few who could make a right stab at it (Hurlers at bowling that is, if a publican were to even suffer a loss you know there'd be a sub-committee of Fianna Fáil backbenchers set up to investigate the matter). But what really galls me is that GAA fans haven't made greater calls for the proliferation of cricket. You know the annual scramble for tickets would be easily averted by playing games the length of the working week. You know a lot of marriages would benefit from a husband's absence for that amount of time. And let's face it who could complain about five days at a test match in the height of the summer? If the weather's bad, there's no play and we can all go home. No need to stand on a terrace getting drenched and looking like the last great eejit of the western world with an opened out programme on your head. And if the weather's good, the possibilities are endless. Play starts at half ten and the bars open around noon. Fans dress up and drink up. There's a break for lunch that will come as a welcome relief to all those used to endless queuing in the Hogan Stand jacks (which still reek of piss and have no hot water), and then rushing back to your seat with your fly open and half a bag of Wine Gums lost to the grey pavement. You don't get fog horns bursting your ear drums and you don't get ignorant feckers waving ogre sized flags in your face every couple of minutes. You can follow the play as you choose and you stir up a hubbub of leery-eyed banter whenever you feel the urge.
Sill not swayed? Well here's the piece de resistance: TEA. Mass no longer grips the conscience of the nation. Guinness no longer has young fellas puking in the bushes because they can drink American ales and British beers and piss it all out instead. And despite the coffee invasion from Europe and beyond, tea still links Ireland to its past, and holds society together in the present. Have it with your dinner, have it with a joint; have it with your breakfast, have it with a biscuit. Half time in big GAA games can't possibly cater for the tea loving masses of this nation. Thermal flasks with plastic cups and crap tea bags? It's not the cricket way. When Ger Canning says the team's have retired for their half time cup of tea he's talking out of the far side of his arse. GAA fellas pour water over their heads, put the remainder in their mounts and spit it back out again. A tea break in cricket means tea and crumpets. Cricket respects you tea lovers. Cricket respects us Irish. Cricket has a place in Irish society. Let us rejoice for cricket respects the three great principles of Irish society: drink, tea and time away from the wife.