Friday was a great day. We found a place to live. I reconnected with an old coworker. We went to a fantastic music show at an open-air bar downtown. My favorite part, though, was our introduction to cricket.
I got excited when we first arrived in Joburg when I discovered England and South Africa were in the midst of an international test cricket series. The next match was scheduled for January 14th. Of course, that’s when the match starts. It just ended on the 17th, when South Africa was swept away by the English. After securing our new digs on Friday morning the 15th, Cici and I headed to Wanderers Stadium in Sandton to get our first taste of the pulsating action of a live cricket match.
The first thing that struck me was the stadium. Here, and at a lot of large traditional cricketing grounds, they seem to build seats up rather than out, making for unique terraced seating and interesting stadium architecture. Of course, the best feature of the cricket ground is the lawn: cheap seats where you can spread out, bring a picnic (or an entire blow-up pool), and work on your tan while you watch the break-neck pace of bowling and batting unfold before you.
Having watched cricket very sparingly over the past ten years, I spent the first 15 minutes trying to remember the rules and explaining them poorly to Cici. We were even briefly featured on the big screen in the stadium, probably because of how confused we looked. The next 15 minutes were spent searching for sunscreen, which we found and purchased minutes before we were offered handfuls of complimentary sunscreen packets from a match sponsor. Finally we could settle in on the grass armed with homemade sandwiches, a couple apples, and a complimentary South African flag.
Cricket is difficult to watch. It’s very hard to see the small red leather ball. There are few instances of action and I found myself reacting to crowd cheers and then having to watch what happened on the big screen to see what the fuss was about. Some observations:
-The biggest moments in a cricket match is when a wicket is made (like an out in baseball). It is celebrated like a goal would be in soccer or a touchdown in football.
-These guys can make some crazy catches with their bare hands.
-It is extremely important that after the ball is bowled (pitched), roughly half of the fielding team throws it to each other (much like throwing it around the horn in baseball), and at least three of those involved must rub the ball vigorously against their outer thigh, presumably to break in the leather, or perhaps to rub off the sunscreen so the ball isn’t too slippery for the bowler to handle.
-Lots of shirtless old guys with tremendous beer bellies in the stands.
-These are long matches. They go on for roughly 7 hours a day for 4-5 days straight. We saw fielders doing exotic stretches, taking drinks of water, and even running to the crowd to sign a few autographs between bowls. There isn’t a halftime, there is a lunch break.
Cici and I managed to stay 3 hours, about the length of an average MLB game. Despite my sarcasm above, we really did enjoy watching a mostly foreign sport in beautiful weather. Going to a cricket match really is about enjoying yourself. Plopping down with a brew, some form of barbecued meat, and having a nice relaxing afternoon outdoors with splashes of athletic excitement thrown in. We had a great day lounging on the grass, and have the sunburn to prove it.