May is a key month in the English calendar. It marks the beginning of summer and, more importantly, when the national team, England, play their first game. This summer they are playing matches against Sri Lanka and India, which should be a great contest.
Cricket is part of the English Constitution and the purpose of this blog post is to explain why it is seen as a Gentleman’s Game and to give ammunition to the reader for any dinner party conversation where this subject may appear.
The English nobility originally created the game of cricket in the 17th century and now it is a global multi-billon dollar phenomenon and the second most followed sport in the world, after football. It is played in every continent, and to illustrate this, one my claims to fame is that I played international cricket for Peru in Argentina; learning the cricket vocabulary in Spanish was challenging to say the least!
Cricket holds an important place in an English Gentleman’s heart. The scene of a cricket match being played on a hot and green English summer’s afternoon, either as a player or spectator with a glass of Pimms (or both!), will rank very highly the memory.
For me, cricket is my favourite sport. It is part of my childhood and represents what it means to be English, but it is also a common language with other people in other countries. It embodies many of the positive attributes that exist in sport: strategy, athleticism, stamina, nerves of steel, and is both an individual and team game – a batsman can bat for more than one day and some bowlers can reach speeds up to 90mph in a single throw.
Cricket is a complete mystery for both those who play and those who don’t play. It is completely normal to be frustrated by its complex rules and traditions, which have no logic – games can last up to 5 days only for the result to be a draw! Many debates about the game have gone on long into an evening and will most probably never be resolved, just like the other high-brow topics of religion and politics. Perhaps this is one of the reasons it was created and why past and current Gentlemen love it.
The nobility’s vision was a game invented ‘by Gentleman, for Gentleman’. In the 17th century, they did not believe that any sport existed that embodied what it meant ‘to be a Gentleman’ and, therefore, they created a game to be played in ‘a gentlemanly manner’. It was as much about one’s appearance and taking part as a result. Just look at the rules, which aren’t the most in line with your typical sport: players must wear only white clothing (including long trousers), there are breaks during a day’s play for lunch and tea (the best part of the game for me!) and players’ actions are not questioned, for example, if a batsman is deemed to be out, he must leave the pitch under his own willing.
Cricket was also shared by the nobility with other classes, but all under these Gentleman’s rules. The image above is of an English duke about to catch a ball hit to him by a peasant in the 18th century. Not only was it seen as a way to educate the lower classes about how to be a Gentleman, but also some historians say that this sharing of interests helped stablise the English society when, at the same time over the English Channel the French lower classes were revolting against the French nobility during the French Revolution of 1789.
In today’s game, cricket is played by the ‘International Gentleman’, a result that the 17th century creators would be proud of. It has been one of the positive exports from Britain during the British Empire and is now a major sport in Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, the West Indies and Southern Africa. You just have to look at the cultural diversity, both race and gender, to see its appeal and how it reflects sport in its purist sense: a common language and passion for people to come together from different backgrounds.
For those who are more familiar with the game, they will no doubt say that some ‘non-Gentleman’ actions have infiltrated the game, such as the Art of Sledging (throwing insults at each other) and match fixing. This is true as it has evolved with society, however, some of the original ideals are still alive and well.
To a visitor to the UK, I would highly recommend experiencing a cricket match at the Home of Cricket: Lords.
This is a cricket ground in north London and is the mecca for all cricket fans. There, a visitor will have a Gentleman’s experience: watching a game all day, politely clapping, talking about these weird and wonderful rules, and all with a glass of Pimms and under a sun filled sky. There are few better places to be; I might even see you there.