English cricket June 11, 2012

What happened to the joy of cricket?

PDT Mathieson
The West Indies might have had criticism about their performance on tour, but they have warmed the hearts of those who have watched them

The phrase 'mind the windows, Tino' rung out around Edgbaston as the West Indies No. 11 strode to the middle on Sunday. In a session, Tino Best made history and nearly made more. The handsome pose he struck after a stroke (contact was irrelevant), the helmetless dash towards the team balcony on reaching 50, and the barked instructions at the senior batsman, Denesh Ramdin, showcased the joy of West Indies cricket at its best. It infected the English crowd and caused them to groan when he skied the ball to Strauss, who was the man least likely to be sporting enough to drop the catch.

The West Indies might have had criticism about their performance on tour, but they have warmed the hearts of those who have watched them. Darren Sammy is one of the most likeable and liked guys in international cricket. His broad, if slightly sheepish, smile on reaching his century at Trent Bridge was shared by everyone who saw it. Everyone was appreciative of a decent attempt at what is a wildly difficult job as captain of a flailing team, done with a good mood and a frequent grin. This is the joy of cricket.

Cricket is a well-loved sport. It is full of joy. Our treasured memories of the game are so relatable that we can share experiences with others anywhere in the world. The question is, have England lost this joy?

They are probably the best team in the world, and easily the most professional. In 2004, Freddie Flintoff made that famous quip about Best's stroke play, but such light moments on the field seem rare these days. Talking about their good, intense battle, Marlon Samuels said he doesn't like Onions, not even in his food. Onions' reply? That of a serious professional: cliché ridden and hardly uncontentious.

Off the field, England often maintain this attitude, with the obvious exception of Swann and occasionally Anderson. They appear from the outside to get satisfaction out of cricket, but not joy.

Best, on the other hand, lit up Edgbaston on a day where bad light stopped play twice. Majestic (and self-aware) with the bat and fiery and irresistible with the ball, the chant of 'Tiiiiiiinooooooo' rang out instead of an ode to local boy Ian Bell.

West Indies win plenty of fans with their passion, and the character with which they play the game. On a day where play was going their way, they had a great time where England seemed indifferent, if not downtrodden. There was no 'mind the windows, Tino' moment, except for when the windows were actually in danger.

Cricket is entertainment. As you would tell the lead in a West-End musical, "The audience has a good time if they think you're having a good time." Lighten up, England.