In 2007 I broke by leg while slipping on black ice outside a boarding cottage I was responsible for at The Church Farm School in Exton, Pennsylvania. I was laid up for months with a compound fracture to my right tibia/fibia, crutching around my parents’ home, on medical leave from my duties, and with a full paycheck until my contract ended late in the summer. I wasn’t going back to that job. I had nothing but time to stare at my laptop with my legs propped up on a recliner.
So I decided to take a deep dive into a sports curiosity that had haunted me since childhood. Cricket: How is it played? I remember I had seen pictures of the game, its players decked out in white, in a photographic encyclopedia of sports, which gave a cursory introduction to hundreds of sports worldwide. I imagined it as some weird hodgepodge of baseball, croquet, and maybe jai alai.
With the power of the internet now at my disposal, and live sport streaming becoming a reality, I set out to finally crack this mystery. I needed to see the sport in action, not just read about it. Coincidentally there was a Cricket World Cup taking place just at that time in the Caribbean so time zones pretty much matched up (little did I know time zone interoperability would soon become the bane of my burgeoning cricket fandom). A service called Willow had a World Cup streaming package which I spontaneously purchased.
So I settled down for an opening round match between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. I didn’t know what I was in for. I barely could follow what was happening. But one Sri Lankan bowler caught by eye immediately. Lasith Malinga, was hurtling himself towards the wicket with an awkward sidearm arm action and a yellow permed mane of hair unlike anything I had ever seen in sport. I was hooked from that point onward. Because of my relative immobility, unemployment, and time to burn, I had developed the patience to last the 6 plus hour long match. (And this was the shorter format of the game!) I watched dozens of matches that World Cup.
That 2007 World Cup ended in farcical scenes of umpires declaring bad light to shut down play, despite there being floodlights at the stadium. Australia won. Sri Lanka, my adopted team for the tournament was denied their second World Cup. But I loved it all, even the absurd inflexibility of not having a rain day. I loved the politics of it all.
Turns out that the Caribbean had a less than elegant record during that World Cup for other reasons as well. The Pakistan head coach Bob Woolmer, died under mysterious circumstances in his hotel room after a shock loss to Ireland and early first round exit from the tournament. Foul play has always been the suspicion, though none could be proven. Match fixing was possibly in the cards as well.
This sport had it all! I quickly started reading and learning everything I could about the sport, despite not being from its colonial culture or having ever played it (except for being bowled first ball in the quad while on exchange at The College of Ripon and York, St. John about seven years prior). I started with The Wisden Dictionary of Cricket, reading it cover to cover. Then came the real literature of the sport, which it turns out also has a rich history. The Picador Book of Cricket, was an excellent anthology, as was Wisden Anthology 1978-2006. This helped inculcate me with the major historical moments of the game. Then came the yearly Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. And of course never ending articles at cricInfo.com (now espncricinfo).
15 years on and I am still obsessed with this sport. I still don’t know a great deal of the finer nuance, but the pandemic has given me the time to get closer to that as well. Here in Japan, I re-subscribed to Willow, watching long replays the next morning as matches progress through my East Asia Standard Time night. I even traded in my Hokkaido job alert email service and replaced it with a Wisden Cricket Monthly online subscription. The gains I receive from following cricket far surpass any potential employment information.
Becoming a fan of a sport but having no national affiliation feels a bit disembodied. I find myself almost always rooting for the underdog. And that underdog could change as a match progresses. It’s a calming experience watching any cricket match. It’s a far cry from the “Jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge” intensity that Philadelphia sports fans (which I am one) are accustomed to. Cricket for me is a great read-along form of entertainment. I can easily watch an afternoon Test session with a book in hand and a clean conscience. It’s as violation free zone.
I restarted my Twitter account exclusively for following cricket. I play fantasy cricket with the IPL. The other day I watched with rapt attention the 4-day Women’s test match between Australia and India which ended in a draw. I did that with no side-eye. I was super into it. I can’t be helped. My wife thinks I’m crazy. I tell her to listen for the “Howzat!!!” while I use the bathroom. She thinks of it as the sport that randomly screams after long periods of calm. I’ll make a fan out of her yet.
And the bizarre twist is that cricket is coming full circle for me. That place where I broke my leg, the Church Farm School, in Exton Pennsylvania, now hosts Minor League Cricket in the auxiliary park next door. Cricket in America is finally making some slow progress.
So to sum it um. If you want to dive deep into some obscure pastime you probably have no business getting involved in, just do the following:
1) Horribly break your leg on a innocuous sidewalk covered in black ice at your place of work (be sure said workplace has a huge endowment and ability to pay out disability/rehab)
2) Take the money and run, prop yourself on a recliner for several months, with a laptop and nothing but undisturbed time.
3) Move to a country in the world least aware or exposed to the topic you build a passion about. (i.e Japan)
There you go! It couldn’t be more simple!