Fandom April 23, 2012

Are you a cricket fan or a cricket lover?

There are two species on the couch, and never the twain shall meet

Last week, Andy Zaltzman confessed he didn’t care about the IPL and asked if he should seek psychiatric help. I don’t think he’d get it on the NHS. Maybe there are shady cricket psychotherapists in the back streets of Kolkata, who for a small fee will strap their patients to an easy chair, force them to watch highlights of Pune Warriors versus the Royal Challengers and zap them with a dose of raw volts if they grab for the remote.

But Andy’s marbles are all present and correct. “Englishman Not All That Bothered About The IPL Shock” is not a scoop to stir Rupert Murdoch from his post-cocoa afternoon nap, nor is it a confession that would have the Spanish Inquisition high-fiving each other and heading down to the Rack and Thumbscrew for a few celebratory jars.

It’s a big universe out there and there’s room in it for all sorts. No Englishman, Dutchman, Somalian pirate or aquatic lifeform from a distant galaxy is compelled to find the IPL appetising, just as I am not forced to relish tinned sardines, although the presence of such a putrid comestible on our supermarket shelves is frankly a blight on humankind’s reputation.

Andy says that English cricket fans don’t watch the IPL because they don’t care about any of the teams. And he’s right. If a cricket fan is what you are, if you need to care who wins the thing before you feel like applying your bottom to the sofa cushion, then why should you give two hoots about the exploits of KKR or Chennai or the Double RRs, unless you, your granny or your granny’s parakeet were born or raised there?

But I have a theory. Stay with me. I think there are cricket fans or cricket lovers: those who care who wins and those who don’t. I admit my theory has some Jesse Ryder-sized holes in it. It doesn’t include people who start neutral but take against Kolkata because those gold helmets really don’t go with those purple slacks. It doesn’t account for gamblers who’ll lose their apartment, their pet goldfish and their kneecaps if Mumbai don’t chase down 175 in 18 overs, people waiting for The Professionals to start, infants who lack the fine motor skills to change the channel, in-patients confined to their beds, and cats.

But still, it’s my theory and I like it. You can be a cricket fan or a cricket lover, but you can’t be both at the same time. A cricket lover appreciates the game on its own terms. Neville Cardus was a cricket lover. So was John Arlott. CLR James wrote that cricket is a dramatic art, related to the theatre, the ballet and the opera. It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s more than just another squabble over which city, county or country is best.

If we watch cricket just to cheer for a badge or a flag, we sell it short and we give ammunition to those who say that no mere sport watched by common people can be art. West Side Story isn’t just for former members of 1950s New York street gangs (although I think we can agree that the Jets were lucky to get away with a draw.) And the IPL is not just for those who care which franchise wins it. It’s cricket, so the cricket lover watches it.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England