x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A rapid learning curve in the arts of cricket

I can watch South Africa just about finish off England and can deduce that South Africa has just about finished off England, but I still feel lost on the intricacies of how and why.

MUMBAI, INDIA - APRIL 02: MS Dhoni (R) of India celebrates with Yuvraj Singh after hitting a six to win by six wickets as Kumar Sangakkara (L) captain of Sri Lanka looks on during the 2011 ICC World Cup Final between India and Sri Lanka at Wankhede Stadium on April 2, 2011 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
MUMBAI, INDIA - APRIL 02: MS Dhoni (R) of India celebrates with Yuvraj Singh after hitting a six to win by six wickets as Kumar Sangakkara (L) captain of Sri Lanka looks on during the 2011 ICC World Cup Final between India and Sri Lanka at Wankhede Stadium on April 2, 2011 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

As a child listening to a scratchy AM radio in the night, I once heard a baseball broadcaster lament the difficulty of explaining the heavily nuanced game to a foreign visitor. This startled me, for my world was tiny then.

Arriving here two years ago with cricket knowledge approximating that of an Indian or Pakistani or Sri Lankan or Bangladeshi five-year-old, I'm still struck by the long, uphill curve for learning a game possibly even richer in nuance.

I can watch South Africa just about finish off England and can deduce that South Africa has just about finished off England, but I still feel lost on the intricacies of how and why. I probably need a year in India with a map and a tutor with a ruler apt for rapping my knuckles.

I can savour Pundits from Pakistan, Rahul Bhattacharya's sublime book on the 2004 India-Pakistan tour, but I still crave an interpreter for the match descriptions, gorgeous though they are.

I need a compass for such lines as, "Ganguly was under the cosh," or, "Then, [Afridi] charged down and smeared [Balaji] to midwicket and followed it with a glide to third man to reach his fifty, from fifty-three balls," or, "Zaheer responded with two leg-side wides. And then he summoned a turning slower ball, a properly turning one, which defeated Razzaq's step-away glide, and pegged back off stump."

At least I do comprehend the "fifty" and the "fifty-three," and when he writes, "Pakistan, in the eleventh over, were running hot at eight an over," I get that, too, and feel so proud.

Arriving here in Abu Dhabi, having followed the 2007 World Cup as if listening to foreign language, I did know of "sledging" and enough about the "Duckworth-Lewis method" to comprehend that it is no shame not to comprehend the Duckworth-Lewis method. I had some understanding of the phrase "match fixing." I knew "century" had a meaning nobody ever explained to me as a child.

I pretty much had deciphered the trying two-sport difference in "innings."

Still, I once dubiously impersonated a bowler by bowling underarm, to this day an embarrassment born of a complex glitch in the psyche.

But with the UAE as global hub, I have progressed maybe even to seven-year-old level. I still don't understand why the "season" never seems to start or end, or how somebody can win a World Cup in a calendar year yet have fans grumble over form later in that same calendar year.

In Mumbai for the 2011 World Cup final, I could grasp that Indians seemed to like cricket, a feat of detection, and I could grasp the otherworldly strength of MS Dhoni, the India captain, whose coolness-in-the-cauldron surged way up my list of impressive sporting feats even if I could not analyse how he thrived.

From my cherished friends Osman and Anisa, I have learnt about "doosra," and what fine humanitarianism, enlightening someone on "doosra."

The world, so much bigger than during childhood radio, has room for these two intricate games, relatives of one another, sharing some terminology, one dominant across swathes of Earth, the other somewhat more isolated.

Sometimes we have to help each other, as when a New York-bound English friend wished to see the Yankees.

They would play a three-game series against the same opponent, so he asked if maybe he shouldn't choose the third "match," as that would decide the series.

Americans have roared hearing that story, but I understood his question, enabling me to explain that in baseball, they start over every day, 162 times per season, no carryover except when rain butts in. I seldom have felt more useful.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

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