December 11, 2013

Why do we choose cricket?

When you stop to analyse Test cricketers, you can start to see the reason they took up various roles within the game

Over recent weeks, sitting in front of aspiring young cricketers, I have found myself asking them the question, "Why did you choose cricket?"

Some weren't so sure, yet for those who gave a clear reason, it was like watching a candle glow brighter as they spoke. The joy in their clarity was not only revealing to me, it was inspiring to them.

One said, "I love the moment when it's just me out there. That moment when it's one on one, the bowler running in at me with everyone else watching the two of us go at it. And sometimes it's not even that. I don't see the bowler, just the ball. I am in my own world, yet I am not alone. It's an amazing feeling."

This young man was obviously a batsman. He had articulated in words what I had been searching for all my life, as to why I had become a batsman.

Naturally I was influenced early by my dad, who was a batsman, good enough to play first-class cricket. And of course by my brother Jeff, who was special enough to smash Marshall, Garner, Walsh and Davis all around Sabina Park in one of the great Test hundreds I have seen. I looked up to those two and wanted to emulate them. Why?

Being the youngest I wanted to be noticed, especially by my older brother. I grew up seeking his attention. The best way to get it was to bat as well as him, if not better. Simple as that. So I chose batting as my life's path. Or did it choose me?

And like the young man who so eloquently described his choice, I grew to realise that batting was a special role that fit my personality and character. I wanted the attention and batting gave me that stage.

Why do so many others choose cricket, or specifically batting, bowling or wicketkeeping? How is the allrounder born in a cricketer?

Here is another answer from one of those young men questioned recently. "I find bowling suits me because I can impose myself physically. From a mental point of view I enjoy the fact that it is me, and no one else, who initiates the play. I like to see the reactions from the batsman and then the fielders, to my skill. It starts with me. And when I am in full flow I feel I can control a game."

Then the small keeper said, "I am in the game every ball. I have the best seat in the house as the bowler runs in, as the batsman taps his bat. I am the bowler's key man, the keeper of his work. I love that description: the keeper. I keep the game going with my presence and energy. It suits me physically to keep moving, mentally to keep thinking, and it fulfils me emotionally to be involved all the time. And when I bat I can have that moment of feeling the spotlight, but it's not a priority. I am the drummer in the band."

Cricket is a unique sporting symbol of life; many characters searching for their role in life through a sport that tests one's resilience and resolve, man against man, country against country, day after day

When we stop to analyse the greats of our day, or even the masses who enjoy cricket, you can start to see the reason why we take up various roles within the game.

As I look around the Ashes in full flow, I see the fruits of many years since when these young men first took up their respective roles and started playing cricket with freedom and expression.

Here is a selection of those who stand out:

Alastair Cook: Born to open the batting, to see off the new ball first, to bat long into an innings. Patient, consistent, dependable, honest and steadfast; these are the characteristics that epitomise Cook and what his role requires under pressure.

David Warner: Proactive, aggressive, punchy, driven. This is a style that is needed also. Two openers begin the innings, so a balanced combination of Cook and Warner would easily portray what an opening partnership is all about. Hayden and Langer were the last truly great pair to display this ideal combination.

Kevin Pietersen: A tall, free-flowing ego, an enigma with the ability to steal the show when in the mood; a man wanting to be noticed after a long period of being ignored while he learnt the game. He has matched his drive and mission in life to stand above others with his strapping, flamboyant flair for the occasion. Alas, in taking such a stance he makes glaring mistakes while going about carving out his sublime skill. As the game unfolds, the anticipation rises, the more the stage is set, so batting in the middle order is ideal for him.

Michael Clarke: Athletically balanced and fleet of foot, an intriguing and perky mind, an all-round game against all bowlers, he can change gear to match the occasion, and force his personality onto every match he plays. He is the master and commander of the stage he is on. Or in cricket terms he is the best batsman on the planet.

Ian Bell: A technician, a machine-like run-scorer. Consistent, controlled, economical of movement and emotion. Bell could, frankly, bat anywhere.

Brad Haddin: A fine, upstanding all-round person; not surprisingly, a fine, outstanding allrounder. He epitomises being the drummer and the back-up vocals, a team man and the glue in the team.

Mitchell Johnson: Physical, imposes himself through powerful energy and will. With a clear mind, he is free to express his pace and pleasure for the game. He starts the pain.

Peter Siddle: Likes to be second fiddle. He is modest, unassuming and dependable. His line and length are mesmerically accurate. He will drive geniuses like Pietersen to distraction.

James Anderson: The James Bond of bowling. He looks smooth in all he does, yet has that killer instinct to surprise the unsuspecting. There is the silent-assassin look about Anderson when he is focused on rhythm and swing.

Graeme Swann: Quirky and happy. This demeanour is vital for a spinner, who must toil for long periods, keeping a sense of humour and keeping life real. He knows if he is true to himself he will have his day. Spinners often need to accept a back-seat role, waiting for the right conditions and occasion. Swann is a natural who fits this crucial role the best.

So why did these ten men choose cricket? Or did cricket choose them? Some will say they watched the Ashes when they were young, they felt the inspiration to dream that one day it could and would be their destiny. Some picked up the inspiration to just be a part of a game that fitted their resilience. Some just happened to make it through the maze and appeared. Yet they all fit nicely into the game. They belong.

Cricket is a unique sporting symbol of life; many characters searching for their role in life through a sport that tests one's resilience and resolve, man against man, country against country, day after day. Many sports provide this in different ways, over shorter durations, yet I just wonder if Test cricket isn't the game that really tests the entire gambit, truly reveals a man's life.

Long may it continue.

Martin Crowe, one of the leading batsmen of the late '80s, played 77 Tests for New Zealand