I’ve always loved cricket. My memory is filled with sun-drenched days, the click of ball on willow-ash, the gasp of the bowler as he launches a googly and the silly mid-on makes an amazing catch just short of the bound...Sorry. I can’t go on with this. Unlike John Hume, I never as a youngster played cricket. Rounders, yes, but not cricket. ‘The English’ G B Shaw said, ‘are not very spiritual people, so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity’. Too true. Myself, I’ve never watched a cricket game for longer than five minutes, and that was only because in the early 1960s the West Indies team came to England and started bowling at the heads of the England batsmen.
Maybe that’s the link to the sudden outburst of pride in the Ireland cricket team: they beat the English. It’s deep in our gut, the satisfaction that gives. We’d prefer it were soccer and 12 June 1988, with Ray Houghton putting the ball in the English net and doing a little victory dance as all of Ireland went mad. But we’ll settle for cricket. Come to that we’d settle for tiddlywinks, draughts, darts or keepy-ups.
English people say they find this fixation of ours hard to grasp. Why do Ireland, Scotland and Wales gloat and caper and make comic faces when they beat England? Why can’t we be gracious in our occasional victories? If England were to win, they’d call for three rousing cheers and a chorus of ‘For they are jolly good fellows’ for the defeated team, not stick their tongue out and make lewd gestures.
I’ve heard that bewilderment expressed by all sorts of English people: dentists, builders, shop-keepers, teachers, factory-workers. But there is one category of English person who never asks for an explanation. S/he knows why the Celtic countries start shaking with orgasmic delight when they put one over on England, and the reason they know is that they’ve studied history.
I rest my case.