|Kane Stuart Williamson|
Variety is the spice of life – sometimes puha needs to take a backseat to a spoonful of Senf. This week my German mate talks about her love of the great game and following cricket in a country where it doesn’t even rate a mention.
Cricket isn't that big in Germany. I'm sure there are people who have all kinds of fancy numbers at the ready and could tell you exactly how not "that big" cricket really is, but even without those numbers I can safely say that it thankfully still ranks above dry swimming and sitting shot put, but far behind our Volkssport football, cycling, swimming or the ever so popular winter sports. Most active cricketers in this country are either British soldiers stationed here or originally hail from the subcontinent, with cricket automatically being part of their lives despite the onmipresence of football and co.
So with me being neither a British soldier nor of subcontinental origin, how did I end up watching cricket? First of all, I've been a huge rugby (union and league) and Aussie Rules football fan, and cricket is (as far as the Southern Hemisphere is concerned) what's being played when the rugby and footy seasons are over, and I guess I was curious and wanted to check it out for myself. And secondly, and probably more importantly, I refused to accept that I couldn't read, understand and interpret the cricket scores in the Guardian (my English-language newspaper of choice), so I pretty much forced myself to watch some cricket and learn the rules on the way.
But this also means that I don't have any special stories to tell about how my grandfather took me to the cricket for the first time or how we all used to come together to sit around the radio, listening to England having Ashes series defeat after Ashes series defeat handed to them, or how it felt when I picked up a bat for the first time or bowled my maiden over of really ugly offspin in the park. There's no allegiance, no nostalgia, no tradition, no "back in the day" component to my following of the game. I stumbled upon it for rather stupid reasons, via other sports and because I wanted to learn more about it, and in the end I came to love it so much more than I could ever have imagined.
Coming from a non-cricketing country means that I can watch the game without any patriotic feelings neither clouding nor brightening up my view, and support a team, for example, because I admire a certain player, not because loyalty tells me to. At the same time this also opens the door for a catalogue of annoying questions à la "Why do you like the Black Caps?", "Why do you not like Swanny?", "If you support England in the Ashes, how come you like Ponting so much?" - because we all know, nobody who isn't actually Kiwi would voluntarily support the Black Caps in all their average glory, let alone publicly admit to it; Swann is the greatest and funniest bloke on earth and also the genius behind a bowling style we now call offspin; and supporting England has to include hating on a legend of our game.
Of course, not everyone in the Test cricket playing nations is a die-hard cricket fan, but overall the access to trivial things such as live broadcasts, newspapers, books, merchandise and live events is so much easier and so much more comfortable - if you're into cricket you will find like-minded people as well as the tools to feed and live out your passion for leather and willow.
It might be a bit of a luxury to be able to just watch cricket for the game's sake, but at the same time I can't help but be envious of those who live in the "right" countries, who can watch cricket on regular TVs (Pay TV nonetheless) and don't have to sit crammed in front of a computer day after day, hoping that Giles Clarke hasn't followed through with his Crusade Against Streaming™ just yet. Those who can watch it live at the most beautiful grounds without having to sell their mothers for it and sacrificing several goats at the altar of the rain gods, who don't have to pay a small fortune for magazine subscriptions that arrive two weeks late anyway, and who in school, at university or at work, among their friends and families, have people whom they can talk shop with.
Following cricket (as well as rugby union and league and Australian Rules football) and keeping up with news, developments and current live games everyhwere can turn a time-consuming hobby into an unpaid full-time job. When you find yourself driving up to your allegedly international airport (I've been told planes do fly to destinations outside of Germany from here, but who knows) to get at least the Guardian or the Times in order to have some kind of a fix for your obsession in print, it may well be time to step away from Twitter and StatsGuru and everything in between and get a life.
Despite the time, emotions and even genuine tears I put into following cricket from abroad, I still feel like an outcast among our (online) cricket community at times. When I look around, there are people chatting away about going to Lord's, having been to Newlands or looking forward to going to the G next Southern summer, telling each other anecdotes about that time they fell down the stairs at Trent Bridge, that time they ran into Player X or that time Player Z was rude to their granny - and while being a fan shouldn't be a competition, people quite easily turn it into one, and can get quite condescending towards someone who can't chip in with similar stories.
They can even make you feel like you're not a "real fan" because of geographical challenges. Which raises the question - what is a "real fan" anyway? Is it about dedication or proximity, devotion or live attendance? Me and my shoddy streams and my dependance on mediocre, and at times shockingly ill-informed, coverage on Cricinfo and BBC Radio, we can't quite compete with the majority of cricket fans if hailing from the same country as a more or less successful Test side is the major criterion, no matter how well versed in the sport I believe myself to be.
Of course I'd love to attend as many games as possible (or just one game, for starters), of course I'd love to be able to meet up with cricket aficionados everywhere and feel part of the family and of course I'd love to not be stared at like a creature from outer space just for liking cricket and arranging my social life around it - but at the same time I am proud of my efforts, proud of my knowledge, proud of being so enamoured with this great game. And when nobody's looking, I ask myself whether those of us who live abroad, who accidentally came across cricket and who don't have access to anything might not actually be the biggest fans out there after all.
My supporting of cricket went from an experiment to a hobby to an almost tragic passion, albeit with a few obstacles. But it's worth it, every damn second of it, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
If you’re a fan of honesty and candid cricket comment follow @lemayol on Twitter and have a read of her blog – future love paradise. One tip: Kane Williamson is something of a cricketing deity in parts of Germany....
I’d love your feedback – post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi – it might give me grounds to ask nicely for a repeat performance.