Jim Carter, London Cricket and Hallowed Ground at Lord’s
Years ago, while I was a U.S. exchange student at the University of Oxford’s Exeter College, I sat down with an English student buddy of mine over a drink and made him a deal. I could and would explain baseball to him in one hour — if he could do the same with cricket.
Two hours later, when the booze was gone, he understood the basics of balls and strikes, and I was no closer to grasping cricket. That’s the modern American dilemma with a game played by countless people all around the world, while remaining entirely off the U.S. radar. Through no fault of anyone, the game does not transfer well to any red, white and blue sensibilities.
To celebrate this unique part of British culture, Jim Carter of Downton Abbey fame guided a media contingent for a behind the scenes tour of Lord’s Cricket Grounds in London. Hallowed ground to a lifelong cricket supporter like Carter, Lord’s invited the dignified TV star to unveil the game to London Guest of Honor winner Adaeze Uyanwah.
I’m not going to burn time here trying to explain the game. Anyone can trot over to multiple online resources to learn its rules. Even that understanding might not help the average Yank see the game’s appeal. On the “amber waves of grain” side of the Atlantic, cricket is played mainly by expats of countries devoted to the game, such as Great Britain, India, The West Indies, etc. That’s a cruel trick of history as Carter and Lord’s tour guides pointed out the game was once immensely popular in America. In fact, the first international match ever played was reportedly between the USA and Canada.
But, after the Civil War, American culture looked more toward sports that would unite the country again. Cricket seemed too elite and too European, so it quickly yielded the pitch to baseball.
In the 21st century, the nature of the game makes it seem an unlikely candidate to reclaim U.S. appeal. While there are plenty of smug pseudo-fans pretending to like soccer, they only really get vocal during the World Cup. Afterward, that slow foreign game recedes back into the cupboard in favor of quicker, more action-centric sports like football, basketball, baseball, hockey and NASCAR. Good luck trying to sell a contest that can take several days to decide its winner to a U.S. TV audience with a Twitter-centric attention span.
Still, Carter did a yeoman’s job of pitching the idea: “It’s a game in which you can sit with a friend and watch a good bowler or a good batsman for a moment, then turn to your friend for a chat, and then turn back to the match again.”
“It’s a social game that allows you to enjoy an afternoon with a cup of tea or a few drinks with good friends. In fact, it might be the only game where the players themselves stop playing for drinks with good friends.”
When he describes it that way, it doesn’t so bad.
As with many of the London Guest of Honor destinations, you can enjoy a similar tour of Lord’s yourself. To test your level of cricket curiosity, you can checkout the gallery below.