Things that I think and do
We’re now in that time of year where the roads are clogged with caravans, any period of sun longer than two days is worthy of national news, it suddenly becomes acceptable for old men to eschew shirts in public places and Pimm’s is kept in business by the sun-loving masses.
Even better, summer also brings the cricket season and this particular summer brings the Ashes series. My usual passing interest in cricket transforms itself into keeping an avid eye on the BBC text commentary and tuning in whenever possible to Test Match Special, that exuberant bastion of cricketing culture.
It is certainly an archetypally British game. I remember my dad telling me about his German pen-pal at school who was gobsmacked at the idea that a game could take five whole days and still end as a draw. Only the English could invent a game where most of one team sit in the pavilion with tea watching the action and only four or five people are active at any one point.
My biennial enthusiasm coincided this year with my summer school job through July and August. The school provided “culture lessons” for several Chinese students (a chance for them to gape in confusion at various British institutions) and I elected to try and teach them cricket.
I’m not sure if many of you have tried to explain the rules of cricket to a non-initiate (read “pleb”), but I’m here to tell you that even to an intelligent English person it can get horribly confusing. Trying to explain to twelve Chinese adolescents the finer points of fine leg side and leg spin borders on the impossible.
I started off by looking for helpful YouTube videos on cricket, of which for some reason there is a severe dearth. One of the best that I found seemed perfect until it tried to actually describe the game, at which point it became the worst explanation anyone has ever created – albeit a wonderfully soft and gentle one. I’m quite convinced that it’s some kind of joke video – the narrator seems to be practising a tongue-twister while describing how the game works.
“Each man that’s in in the side that’s in goes out. And when he’s out he comes back in, and the next man goes in until he’s out. When they are all out, the side that is out comes in, and the side that’s been in go out and try to get the side that’s in, out.“
Anyway, in the end I used the first minute or so of that to introduce the game. After this point the problem was that while I understand the ins and outs of cricket and to me it’s a remarkably simple game at its core, trying to condense the rules into manageable chunks for Chinese brains is nigh on impossible.
I started off by showing them a bat, a ball and some stumps and asking them what they thought the players did with these. After a few painful minutes of silence we established that they hit the bat with the ball away from the stumps – which is the most basic tenet of the game of cricket. So far so good.
Things then moved on rapidly through the positions on the cricket field, which to their credit the younglings worked out quite quickly given some gentle prompting. To make things easy, I omitted some of the less obvious terms – vocabulary such as “fielder”, “bowler” and “stumps” was achievable, whereas I doubt little Billy from China would be able to accurately point out the position of silly mid-off.
Once I was satisfied that the group had understood the basic rules of the game – someone throws a ball at the stumps and the batsman hits it and tries to score runs – we went outside and got them to have a go themselves, with various degrees of success. They didn’t really get to grips with the whole running business; this was probably more to do with teenage laziness than anything else though.
Whatever their other natural attributes may be, Chinese kids also can’t catch a cricket ball, preferring instead to watch it through the air as it lands just in front of them. Clearly not candidates for any school cricket team – or indeed any other sport that involves balls (giggling optional).
In hindsight I rather doubt that even with a room of attentive and curious English kids I’d have been able to adequately explain cricket in less than an hour. How can you describe a game in which the batting team can decide they’ve had enough and ask the other team to have a go? How long would it take to detail each of the ways a batsman can be out? What possible way can you explain that as soon as it rains or gets a bit dark the game has to be stopped?
Next time I’m required to teach cricket I’m going to demand at least two weeks and we will not be leaving the classroom until they can adequately explain the lbw rule to me.