Saturday 7 December 2019

Cricket is just the ticket to soothe the nerves

When Sarah Carey wearies of hyperactive radio, she finds the cricket on BBC Radio 4 soothing to the nerves

Former Australian cricketer Richie Benaud in the Channel 4 commentary box at Lords
Former Australian cricketer Richie Benaud in the Channel 4 commentary box at Lords
Sarah Carey

I'm sure the following could be classed as a form of corporate treachery, but so what? I love listening to cricket on BBC Radio 4. I've never played cricket. I don't understand the rules. The peculiar scoring lingo is a mystery. I take no sides, and, since the matches appear to go on for days, I rarely find out who wins. So there's no suspense, and no emotional investment.

In fact, I carry a long-term grudge against the mainstreaming of sport, and deeply resent the current culture whereby everyone - even women - is expected to converse knowledgeably on everything from rugby to soccer to golf and horse racing. As if it mattered.

When did sport seep out from Sunday afternoons in September, into a relentless series of important matches and competitions, in a ridiculous variety of codes, that men watch rather than play? Sport! Don't get me started.

And yet, there I am, pottering about doing my jobs, turning on Radio 4 on long-wave, to find there's no Woman's Hour - but, instead, a test match at Lord's, and feeling quite cheerful about it all. How did this happen?

Well, if I'm turning on Radio 4 it's because I've tired of regular radio, with shouty presenters whose principal goal is to generate some minor kerfuffle to add to the news cycle.

The irony that I'm a radio presenter myself is not lost on me. But there are days when the repetitive arguments, in which no one reveals anything or learns anything, are wearying.

Sports commentary all over the world is even worse. It is, by necessity, intense and dramatic; requiring instant analysis and the Taking Of Sides. The most popular analysts are the ones who say the meanest things. It's not good for one's nerves.

But cricket is different. Matches go on so long that something exciting happens about once an hour, and there's a lot of filling-in talk to be done. So they find these chaps who sound like characters from Downton Abbey. And, because nothing much is happening, they give up talking about the match and drift off into other subjects. There's the weather; reminiscing about old matches; and making amusing comments about people in the crowd. At the test match in Dubai recently, they were fascinated by the number of helicopters about - apparently a regular form of transport for Dubai's rich citizens.

Back at Lord's, I once heard them wondering about a bus that had gone by and if it still went to Victoria Station. I could just hear Lady Bracknell screeching; "In a handbag! In Victoria Station!" And even though I'm at the sink, clad in leggings, I feel like I'm at an elegant garden party between the wars, where everyone is being awfully charming, and life really can be spiffing and amusing and civilised and all that.

My favourite commentator is the wonderful Henry Blofeld, who really does sound as if he's straight out of an EM Forster novel.

His father was at Eton with Ian Fleming, so the story that he named his James Bond villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, after him, must be true.

I would love to meet Henry at a party. Who cares what's happening in the match? Henry's chatting about the disaster, years ago, when he forgot to bring a spare corkscrew to a match, and there they all were in the commentary box, unable to open their wine! How we laughed!

Of course, I know what this is. It's simple escapism. Perhaps because I work in the industry I can't listen to an item of news without asking myself what I think about it; what I'd say, or establishing which side I'm on.

Since I've no stake in the cricket - and don't understand it, anyway - I'm liberated from the requirement to draw any conclusions about any of it.

Or, as the wise Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius once counselled, "You are not compelled to form any opinion about this matter before you, nor to disturb your peace of mind at all."

Perhaps this is the fundamental draw of the game. It requires no verdict from me - and, for me, that is the ultimate freedom.

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