January 12, 2016

The women in my cricket-watching life

Cricket fans may be predominantly male, but there are plenty of women about as well

Female fans from Pakistan turn out at the Delhi Test in 2005 © AFP

For some reason, there has been a great deal of talk recently about the role of women in cricket: players and journalists alike. I have no idea why this has been the case - perhaps some kind soul could enlighten me with the relevant links - but in any case, I'm going to throw my tuppence in the conversational pile by offering some fond reminiscences of a few women cricket fans with whom I've had the pleasure of talking cricket over the years.

Tale number one: In 1994 I worked as a user assistant in my graduate school's computer lab. There, one day, I was asked for help by a young graduate student in linguistics. As we talked, I noticed her distinctive accent, which I did not then recognise as an Afrikaner one. Unable to restrain my curiosity, I asked her where she was from. As she answered, "South Africa", I noticed, almost immediately, that in the pile of papers she was carrying around was a magazine, the partially visible cover of which appeared to show a bat. Once again, unable to restrain myself, I asked, "Is that a cricket magazine?" Her face beaming, she pulled it out of the pile and handed it over. It was.

At that point in time, South Africa's return to international cricket was still a matter of some disbelief to me. I had not ever expected them to be welcomed back to the fold. But that long, slow, road back, which had perhaps begun with Nelson Mandela's release from Robben Island, finally culminated in the South African team's tour of India in 1991. Now, appropriately enough, in the United States, that international meeting ground of the nations, here I was, talking to a South African cricket fan. The first one I had met in the flesh.

M was a serious fan. She knew her cricket and wasn't afraid to show her passion. Cricketing disasters and glories were greeted with loud and visible proclamations of either gloom or joy. She analysed Hansie Cronje's captaincy with a great deal of acuteness, and she had a fair bit to say about how the South African quicks needed supplementation with a high-class spinner if the team was to ever become a world-beater. And like me, she bemoaned the absence of cricket on television and radio in the US. I looked forward to our conversations in the computer lab, and of course, I looked forward to borrowing her cricket magazines, which were faithfully mailed to her by her equally cricket-mad brother back in South Africa.

Sadly, we lost contact after graduate school. I wonder where she is now, and whether she managed to secure an academic position. I'm pretty sure, though, that if she stayed on in the US, she would have obtained herself a subscription to a streaming service so she could follow the fortunes of her beloved Proteas. Many thanks, M; you made my time in that dingy lab much brighter.

Tale number two: When I left India in 1987, a cousin of mine, the daughter of an uncle - whom I've written about in these pages for his role as a mentor of my cricket fandom - was a five-year old. On subsequent returns to India on vacation, I found my little cousin was rapidly turning into a serious cricket fan. Perhaps, given her father's passion for the game, I should not have been surprised. I was only too happy to have her join her father and I for our preciously short cricket watching sessions on my trips back "home". We stayed in touch after she moved to the UK for graduate school, and soon enough, she joined the ranks of cricket bloggers, quickly acquiring an engaged readership in the process for her acute and perceptive posts. Later, as is all too often the case, her personal and professional commitments dragged her away from the blog, and now, with a little boy to take care of, she has even less time. But she hasn't stopped watching cricket - or talking about it - and I don't think that will ever change.

I watched the 2013 Champions Trophy on my laptop as I fed her while I spent five months at home with her as a stay-at-home dad that summer. Since then, she has watched a lot of cricket while sitting on my lap

Tale number three: Two years ago, at an academic conference held at Yale, a young Englishwoman walked up to me and introduced herself using an old graduate-school friend of mine as a reference. I had not been referred to her for my professional interests; this was no ordinary academic networking attempt. Rather, my graduate-school friend, an American, had remembered that I was a serious cricket fan, as was her young academic colleague, and had thought the two of us might have something to say to each other. My new friend, S, had played for Sussex seconds; the Ashes were underway; we were off and rolling. As the rest of the academic crowd swirled around us at coffee time, we retreated to a corner and wondered whether England could withstand Mitchell Johnson that summer. (They couldn't.)

Over the next two days at the conference, I sought her out at each break, happy to talk about my lame seam-up bowling, her batting, and our respective favourites over the years. I burned out of academic conferences a long time ago, and I was attending this one on sufferance - but these conversations lifted it into the ranks of my favourite attendances in my academic career. We are now Facebook friends, and I enjoy our cricket-related interactions there. Perhaps one day we'll find ourselves in a cricket-playing nation at the same time and go see a game together.

Tale number four: My wife and I have become friends with many of the parents whose children are my daughter's day-care companions. Among them is an Australian mother, originally from rural Victoria. Soon after my wife told C about her cricket-loving husband and his cricket writing, she asked for references to my books. (A great start, I'm sure you'll agree.) Because our drop-off times at the day-care center often coincide, C and I often find ourselves at the subway station together, waiting for the Uptown Q to take us to our respective destinations. I embark earlier, and almost invariably find a conversation about cricket interrupted when I do so.

C doesn't mess around when it comes to cricket. She speaks fondly of the many days spent watching Test cricket in the company of her cricket-loving brother, her travels to the Caribbean to watch the touring Australians, her desperate attempts to beat the clock and watch cricket as a new parent. And, get this, she has a set of stumps tattooed on her wrist. Like I said when I first made note of this on Facebook: Respect.

Tale number five: Appropriately enough, I should conclude with my daughter, all of three years old. We got off to a good start: I watched cricket on my phone while waiting for her pediatric evaluation to be completed after her birth in December 2012; I watched the 2013 Champions Trophy on my laptop as I fed her while I spent five months at home with her as a stay-at-home dad that summer. Since then, she has watched a lot of cricket while sitting on my lap. She can proudly and loudly (and if may so, rather cutely) proclaim: "I like cricket!" Who knows, perhaps she'll go on to play the game, and even become pretty damn good at it. Better than her father, who never amounted to much and has to content himself with just writing about it.

I've made many friends through cricket over the years; women are part of this demographic. May their tribe increase.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. @EyeonthePitch

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