I love sports. I’ve attended countless professional baseball, football, soccer, ice hockey, and basketball games. I also love traveling and have done lots of it. But as of three days ago, I had never attended a professional sporting event outside the United States.
I made my debut as an international sports fan this weekend. Joe is covering a cricket test match between South Africa and India and I went along. The match started on Thursday and will probably last through Monday. It poured with rain on Thursday so I delayed my debut until Friday.
(Note: I’ll spare you the explanation of what a test match is, why it lasts for five days, or any of the rules of cricket. If you’re a cricket fan you would laugh at my explanation, and if you don’t know about cricket I would probably just confuse you. But click here if you’d like to learn more.)
We pulled into SuperSport Park in Pretoria at 9:00 a.m. Joe headed to the sidelines to set up his equipment and I went to the box office and purchased a grandstand ticket for R50. Seven U.S. dollars to watch the two top cricket teams in the world.
I wandered around and took in the scene. The South African players warmed up and signed autographs (with almost no security) in a netted area inside the gate. Fans set up their chairs and picnic blankets on the grass. I found my seat and the match started at 10:00.
About seven years ago, I watched 10 minutes of cricket on TV at the Barbados airport and declared it dull. I had never watched it since. This weekend, while excited at the prospect of watching a live sport, my expectations were tempered at best.
Thirty minutes into the match I came to a surprising realization: I love cricket.
I loved the friendly atmosphere and the diversity of the fans. I marvelled at the bowlers’ crazy running wind-ups (cricket bowlers are like baseball pitchers), and at the endurance of all the players, who stand on the field for up to eight straight hours in the blistering sun (with two short breaks for lunch and “tea”) and then come back the next day to do it all again. And I loved the sport itself. It’s a quirky, more grueling version of baseball.
I also developed newfound respect for Joe and his colleagues, who crouch behind their cameras all day for five straight days. And unlike the players, the photographers don’t get to rest in the shade while their teammates bat.
I enjoyed myself so much that I went back for more the next day. I might have gone today too, if I weren’t so excited to stay home and blog about cricket. So now I’m sitting in the living room, writing this blog and watching cricket on Joe’s 13-inch television. It’s the first time I’ve watched TV since moving to South Africa.
My cricket fan experience was made infinitely more enjoyable by the people I met while I watched. My Friday cricket friends, Vaughan and Mark, taught me as much about cricket as one can realistically learn in an eight-hour span. Joe was astounded at the amount of knowledge I’d gained when I rejoined him at the end of the day. I have Mark and Vaughan to thank for the title of this post.
On Saturday I befriended Angela and Lorna. As a die-hard female sports fan, I enjoyed seeing the game through the eyes of two women. I had so much fun with Angela and Lorna that I’m going with them to a one-day cricket match next month.
I couldn’t have met four nicer people if I’d tried. Thanks to Mark, Vaughan, Angela, and Lorna for keeping me company, and for bringing cricket to life.
On my second day as a cricket fan, I witnessed history. Jacques Kallis, the star of South Africa’s team and one of the greatest cricket players of all time, scored his first double century, meaning he scored 200 runs in one innings. (This is not a typo. “Innings” is both singular and plural.) Double centuries are rare, like baseball no-hitters. Even Joe had never seen one before. (Read more about Kallis’ double century, as well as speculation about his reported hair transplant.)
Here are some more photos from my first cricket test match.
On Saturday there was a “Super Fan” competition, the winner of which gets a free trip to the Cricket World Cup in India next year. The guy in the watermelon helmet was one of the contestants. He and his friend are painted white because they like to sit in the “white seats” (right). These seats are painted white because they’re in the line of vision of the batsman, and the white provides a contrasting background to the red ball. (See, this is why I vowed not to try explaining cricket.)
This is called a chipstix — freshly fried potatoes on a stick with your choice of flavoring. You can also get a chipgriller — a deep-fried sausage on a stick with potatoes wrapped around it. I decided the chipstix was enough for me and I think I made the right call.
I feel euphoric about my new love for cricket. I think it’s because I missed being a fan. One of the hardest parts about moving to South Africa was giving up my Baltimore Ravens football tickets; now I have something to fill that hole. Jacques Kallis will never replace Ray Lews in my heart but he might be an acceptable substitute.
Update: Sachin Tendulkar, the star of the Indian team and also one of the greatest players of all time, just scored his 50th test-match century. He’s the first cricket player to achieve this milestone. More cricket history!