Samir Chopra June 23, 2008

The difference between a fan and a fan

The fan who plays the game realises something the non-playing fan often does not: it's just a game.

There is a fairly well-established stereotype of the Australian cricket fan out there: loud, beer-swilling, male, proudly, passionately patriotic (and did I say loud and beer-swilling?) I want to point to another stereotype of the Australian fan that I carry around in my head: the enthusiastic recreational player come to watch the highest form of the game.

Australia owes part of its cricketing strength at least, to the extensive, well-organised network of recreational cricket that is visible in its summers. And each summer, a large segment of this population turns up at the Test matches and one-day internationals, all keen to see players practice the highest form of the game. Their presence ensures Australian crowds often provide the most knowledgeable spectators at Test cricket. And it reminds us of how the game played in the middle is experienced very differently by those watching in the stands, and how at least one, facile, binary division of cricket fans is possible: those who play and those who don't.

One abiding memory of the Test cricket I watched at Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide is of the fan who while watching the game, revealed a knowledge of the game that only a player could possess. This knowledge is perhaps best revealed by a quiet patience, with player mistakes in particular, and a quick appreciation of cricketing skill, regardless of the nationality of the player.

This fan will not impatiently call for batsman to get a move on regardless of game situation, and will be tolerant of occasional mishaps, largely because he is aware of the difficulty of playing the game well, and knows that mistakes will happen. This fan will readily applaud a display of cricketing competence, no matter what the player's nationality; a good shot is a good shot, no matter who plays it.

The playing fan also pays particular, thoughtful, attention to the players out in the middle, analysing as best as he can, their bowling skills or the structure of a shot; for him, watching a cricket match affords yet another opportunity for study of a game that obsesses him. The player fan is also more accepting of the misfortunes of the game; the loss of a wicket late in the day is borne with fortitude. This fan has not as yet, swallowed completely, the picture of the game sold to him by its television version; he is able to come to the ground and gain access to the essentials, unobscured by several dozen replays and cued music.

The fan who plays the game realises something the non-playing fan often does not: it's just a game. Some people play it better than others; it's not perfect, and everyone gets it wrong once in a while; it's hard, so when someone does something right, its worth noting.

Most fundamentally, for the fan who plays the game, what happens out in the middle is not pure spectacle or performance (what Mihir Bose termed tamasha), with players to be primarily heckled, applauded or castigated. Instead the doings on the pitch represent striving, first and foremost. It is that striving that the playing fan recognises, in himself, as well as in those flinging themselves about on the field. And it is that recognition that changes his relationship to the game being played and makes him different from other fans.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here