Explaining a Test draw to Americans
Watching cricket in the US used to be a lonely endeavour. Waking up at odd hours of the night for matches being played halfway across the world, in the subcontinent, or staying up late into the wee hours of the morning for the days to end in the Antipodes, staring intently at the flanneled flickering figures on the screen was a joyful but lonely existence. Twitter and other social media platforms changed that. Now you can enjoy the cricket, analyze, dissect, bitch and moan as a community. There are the usual one-eyed fanboys, jinxers, reverse jinxers, trolls, jokers, wind-up merchants, nervous wrecks who can never shake the feeling their team is going to tank, the uber believers that think their side will win no matter what, and everything in between.
Then, there is the other subset of online cricket watchers that, having just been witness to a nail-biting draw, would in their infinite wisdom, tweet the following: “Now, try explaining this to an American!”. Or something to that effect
Now, why is that?
These fans are so full of themselves for being ardent followers of a sport that can end in a draw even after five days of play that they have to talk down to Americans, yet at the same time seek validation from them. At the very moment their favourite sport that they are so proud of provides the wrinkle that is not common in modern sport, instead of celebrating it, they are parading their insecurities. It isn’t just the lay fans either; some popular cricket sites tweet out such nonsense.
Is it because there is an inherent assumption that Americans won’t get the idea of a draw? You know, a tie is an acceptable result in the NFL. Chess is a known game in this part of the world too. (There are a number of American grandmasters, look it up). A draw is not such an alien concept.
As someone that has lived in the US for the past 17 years and is now a citizen of this country, I find it offensive that such a blanket statement be made about a collective’s disability to understand nuance. Sure, not a lot of Americans may care enough to know about the intricacies of Test cricket, but they already have their sports plate full with some of the most successful and most followed sports leagues in the world. But to extend that to say that they cannot possibly comprehend a sporting nuance? Come on.
When I went for my first haircut in a small town in the middle-of-nowhere in the US, the hairdresser – when she found out I was from India – asked whether there were snakes and mountains in India. She wasn’t aware of life not too far beyond her own state. A few years later, a man walked up to me at a bar in that same town and seeing me wearing a San Francisco Giants baseball cap, asked whether I was from California. But when he realized I was from India, he actually tried to make conversation in Hindi, just to see how well his Hindi classes were working for him. Both the hairdresser and the guy at the bar were Americans, born and raised here, and at two different ends of a spectrum. It would be wrong to paint all Americans as know-nothings or as the most worldly aware human beings.
My father-in-law, John, had never followed cricket before I became part of his family. Now, he keeps up with the cricket news and scores on his phone, and watches live cricket on his TV. One of my favourite moments is he sending me messages during the last day of the first Test between England and West Indies earlier this year in Antigua. Faced with the prospect of a loss at the beginning of Day 5, West Indies scratched and clawed their way to a face-saving draw, on the backs of Jason Holder and Denesh Ramdin. John was checking with me every 5-10 minutes on the state of the game, and I relished sending him replies about the West Indian fightback. He got home just in time to see the final few overs of the Test and West Indies proudly walking away with a well-earned draw. I didn’t have to explain this American the nuances of the draw. He knew it. He understood it and cherished it. He could see why a draw felt like a win for one team and a loss for the other. And he wouldn’t be the lone American that gets it either.
To the insecure cricket fan: If you really want to “explain” cricket to an American, why not explain the idea of artificially arriving at a result using the Duckworth-Lewis method? In America, the baseball games are played for as long is needed to decide a winner. Using a statistical method to decide a winner undercuts the very essence of a sporting contest, in which you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Or why not try explaining how the laws of the game allow the captains to call off a Test an hour early? It’s not like the fans that are paying through their noses are given a partial refund either.
The next time a thriller of a draw occurs, please pause for a moment before you unleash on Twitter your worries about explaining it to the Americans. You will be talking down to people such as the late Mike Marqusee, the writer of some of the finest cricket books. You will be talking down to Peter Della Penna, who caught the cricket bug when he was a college student and is now a cricket journalist. You will be talking down to Jamie Harrison, who has worked on grassroots cricket in the US, having been introduced to the sport only a few years ago. You will be talking down to Mike Young, who was a baseball coach and has now served as Australia’s fielding coach for many years, and also in the IPL. You will be talking down to my father-in-law. So, instead of broadcasting your patronizing thoughts that belittle Americans, just bask in the wonder of the sport that provided such a fabulous result.
Subash Jayaraman is an Engineer by training and a cricket writer & podcaster by choice. He hosts a popular cricket podcast Couch Talk on thecricketcouch.com and tweets as @thecricketcouch.