x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Cricket fans – and taxi drivers – driven to distraction

My taxi driver kept bellowing out their puny score as '71', which indicated his anger had blinded him from the fact that England had exceeded 71 and gone all the way to 72.

Cricket fans wait for taxis after a day’s play in the Pakistan versus England Test match.
Cricket fans wait for taxis after a day’s play in the Pakistan versus England Test match.

Taxi rides do have meaning sometimes.

I plopped into one around 4.30pm last Saturday and relearned one of the great odd human truths.

Outside Zayed Cricket Stadium at that elevated moment, you would not have expected to learn again the peculiar value of sporting contempt.

No, in your taxi hunt, you would have expected to find a driver a long way toward giddy, a cluster of drivers having stopped by to witness Pakistan's astonishing defence of just 145 against the planet's No 1 Test team, England.

How could you know a cluster of drivers had seen this? You could turn around, scan the parking area and see umpteen taxis, doors closed, seats empty, drivers gone, quotas postponed briefly.

As many Pakistan fans inside still exulted over the wondrous unlikelihood of it all, the parking area started revving up again, which means at least one group must pry its car from the sand.

Happiness dominated except in pockets, and the pockets included the driver I found.

Boy, was he mad.

He was so mad his vehemence kept finding crescendos as we rode along. He was so mad at England's hapless, helpless, hopeless batsmen that he kept bellowing out their puny score as "71", which indicated one thing. It indicated his anger had blinded him from the fact that England had exceeded 71 and gone all the way to 72.

He was so mad even though he was neither English nor an England fan. No, he was so mad because of one of the weird little human tendencies that may or may not govern species on other planets: as happens with rivalries all over this world, he had gone to watch a match but also to pull against a side, and that side had won.

After hours - hours! - of hopeful viewing, his day had ben utterly, irredeemably ruined.

"Seventy-one!" he blared at a roundabout.

From childhood, sport is about loving, but it quickly becomes also about loathing, and after a while it can be hard to tell which drives people more. Just a hunch, but there may have been the odd Liverpool fan who enjoyed the odd Manchester United defeat against somebody else about whom the Liverpool fan did not care a dot.

Cricket boasts a whole phalanx of these resentments, going in every direction, from nation to nation to other nation and back to aforementioned nation.

The NFL teams Washington and Dallas long since disliked each other such that it long since became a dead cliche to state as one's favourite teams "Washington, and whoever is playing Dallas".

Beyond even rivalries, if we happen to know someone obnoxious - a friend, an extended-family member or, wait, no, especially an extended-family member - whose team nears a title, hoping against that team can become the purpose of a season.

For almost any major televised match in our zany species, the total of fans rooting against somebody probably outnumbers that of those rooting for somebody, with the unusual demographic exception of the 2011 Cricket World Cup final.

Just now, New England and the New York Giants prepare to play in the Super Bowl. They do so in the shadow of their Super Bowl meeting four Februarys ago, when New England arrived as the first 18-0 team in NFL history, only to undergo a stirring 17-14 upset and finish as the first disappointed 18-1 team in NFL history.

People who have never spent one millisecond as a Giants fan loved that game. They loved the suspense. They loved the Giants' storied drive down the field for a winning touchdown with 35 seconds left.

But they also loved seeing comeuppance doled to the Patriots' misanthropic coach caught cheating earlier that season, whereupon Bill Belichick upheld their bias by acting like a creep at game's end.

Certainly you hear some people belittle or condemn the contempt expressed in stadiums, calling it childish, irrational, unloving.

Certainly that view has merit. But you also can view from another direction, which is that if fandom is the modern tribalism, the stadium has proved the best and safest place overall, along the ugly arc of history, for such inter-tribal venting.

When running across that venting, though - say, in a taxi - it's best to refrain from laughing even if the moment seems unforgettably hilarious. Laughing would be rude.

No, you must let that person cope steadily with a reality over which he had zero control. You must let him unwind by shouting out the numeral 71, even if technically in error.