It was Sunday afternoon, and I found myself drinking tea and eating scones with a bunch of men dressed all in white. Had I still been in Mississippi this might have been a cause for concern, but as it was, my buddy Mike had invited me out to view a cricket match, and tea is what they do at half time (at quarter and three quarter time they all have drinks together on the field).
"You see, it's a gentleman's sport," Mike told me.
And I thought, well, this is certainly different than the way two sports teams in the United States would behave. Tea and crumpets, might be replaced with beer and pretzels, and as for the teams being able to dine together, that might be a far stretch (we don't just suspend hate during half-time). I mean these teams (and granted it was Sunday village cricket and a little more relaxed and convivial then say Saturday cricket . . . or so I've been told) even umpired for each other without arguing over close calls (which do generally go to the umpires team).
Mike plays for the Polytechnic and they were playing the Academicals, or at least that is what a few of the Polytechnic thought their opponents were named, but it seemed debatable. I comprised the only spectator and sat there slowly sipping my beers as they did things like bowl at wickets (more than just an Ewok), lose stumps, and bat spinners. Actually, cricket is one of the great ways to get in good with the British. Here is the scenario: You are in a pub by yourself drinking lonely on a pint. You are American. Cricket is your way in, simply look at the gentleman next to you and begin the conversation with, "This cricket thing, what gives?" For the next two hours you will be regaled with rules, diagrams, and cricket pitches made out of condiments. Granted at the end you will probably understand the game less than when you started (it really takes a few lessons), but its an instant conversation.
Don't let them fool you, though, half time tea and sandwiches and convivial quarter time drinks aren't what make it a gentleman's sport. It runs a little deeper than that.
When I arrived, the Polytechnic was fielding. So, there being no spectator seating, I sat on the ground next to the Academicals (a highly unlikely name for this motley looking crew) who were batting. I was barely into my first beer when a few guys from outside the fence of the field began yelling some stuff at the field. I missed the beginning, but I think it had to do with a few racist comments directed at the black gentleman playing for the Academicals. The next things I know I'm sitting in the middle of an exchange that is taking advantage of all the most colorful turns of phrases that the English language has to offer.
"You want a $#!^%$ bat wrapped around your *&%&^* head, you little (*&^((* hole."
"&^$%*& you. Your mother (*&^(&^ my (*&(*&( last night."
"Oh yeah, I'll bloody knock your ^%$$% off your ^%$$%# %$#^%. You %$#@ ^%$#% and ^$%#$ your %$# with ^%$$. Bollocks."
As these exchanges became more and more heated, with one of the street side yellers threatening to go and get his weapon from his flat. He did this by signifying a gatt with his hand (using the international sign so wonderfully developed by Master P or someone). I of course thought to myself, "if you were really the gangster you thought you were it'd be on you" and "way to idolize urban black music you stupid racist." Due to the fence, not much could happen, it was about a quarter mile down to the gate and back to the yobs. While, the Academicals pondered whether they should abandon the game for some well needed "practice" (I assume this referred to their batting), I pondered how gentlemanly an all out street brawl would be.
"I'll $%#^$# you the %^^$ #^%$ up, you $%^$#."
"Are you daft there are twenty-two of us over here with bats?"
And this is what makes it a gentleman's sport. While in the midst of verbal hand grenades which encompassed oral combinations that even I hadn't heard before, the true nature of a gentleman had been exposed. You see there are only eleven people on each team, thus the assumption was that the other team would gladly join in on behalf of their opponents. And he was right. If the Academicals had run out into the street the Polytechnic would have been right behind them.
Cricket is about camaraderie as much as it is about competition, and the hoodlums on the street would have had the crap beaten out of them by a band of comrades who would then go and finish the game. You see in modern usage the word gentleman refers to person with "self-respect and intellectual refinement which manifest themselves in unrestrained yet delicate manners." A street fight followed by tea seems to sum up "unrestrained and delicate to me." The word also references the ability to treat others in a "respectful manner." I can think of no way better way to show one's opponent respect than by taking up arms with him in order to fight a goodly battle. You see it's not about refinement its about respect, and they had it for each other. The also had some damn fine halftime scones.
Oh yeah, Mike got a wicket . . . whatever that may be.