There are very few things I enjoy more than drinking in the sun with friends during summer. With the countryside being the stage for my formative drinking years, cricket inevitably wormed its way in there. I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t understand the sport, the rules, the idiosyncrasies and why they seem to constantly rub the ball on their crotch. To me, cricket has always been the backdrop for some of my best summer drinking days. The start of the match means that day drinking becomes acceptable and the end (of a T20, not Test) match signals a move from Pimm’s, Budweiser or gin and lemonade to more stronger drinks, like tequila or vodka.
With this in mind, it’s surprising that it was not through drinking and socialising in the sun past times that I stumbled across Sussex Cricket. Rather, an impromptu Zoom quiz where “What is the oldest of 18 first-class county clubs within the domestic cricket structure of England and Wales?” was asked, with Sussex County Cricket Club being the answer. I was surprised, “Sussex has a cricket club?” I asked myself. This confusion paired with my desire to be a competent journalist writing for all sections, led to me suddenly being incredibly excited and passionate about writing about cricket, using Sussex County Club as my focus.
If you’re a tad confused at this rigorous zeal, I was showing towards cricket don’t worry, you’re not alone. Considering my sporting prowess lies in athletics that was dropped after I left school and my last involvement in team sports being the forced GCSE netball squad that was more brutal than it was given credit for – quite a few people weren’t 100% convinced I knew what I was doing. Aside from attending cricket for the ambience, the only other live sport events I have attended is one football game where my dad won the tickets. The only time I’ve watched sport is when my mum had the Olympics on whilst she was ironing and my friend dragged me along to a televised rugby match last year, where both of us had ulterior motives.
So, when Sussex County Cricket Club appeared on my radar there was some shock, nonetheless by me. With this in mind, after emailing the club asking if they would be interested in me doing a few pieces for them (to which they kindly agreed) I went for a tour of the club in order to get a feel for the place.
First and foremost, they’re all lovely. Granted I didn’t actually meet any of the players that day because it was their day off, but the grounds crew, tour guide and everyone we came into contact with carried a sense of openness, calm and just general decency about them. My limited experience of team sports includes the stereotypes of ‘rugby boys’, ‘football lads’ and ‘lacrosse players’, along with their relevant entourage. Having never really heard of the ‘cricket crew’ stereotype I understand now why – so far, they all seem quite genuine and lovely. Now, I’m sure that is subject to change as I meet the players and more members of the cricket team; however, first impressions were very good.
As I walked around the club I was shocked by the juxtaposition of professional sport and village mentality. With Sussex being a member’s club, as it has been since inception in 1839, it fosters a community ethos that is manifested through the club. Although the club was on a grander scale than that of my countryside equivalent, it was the marrying of modern infrastructure like staggered plastic seating and floodlights, held in contrast to the traditional pavilion and benched grounds that bought a sense of nostalgia. No matter how big or small a cricket club is, the chances are they have a pavilion. The Long room is a staple in clubs up and down the country, a relic of the Victorian-esque etiquette that was not only attached yet intertwined with the game. Another factor that highlight the evidence of this are the breaks.
From my understanding (thanks to my very patient tour guide Sam) there are two breaks that occur within Test cricket, sandwiched in-between the three two-hour sessions of a standard day. Those consist of 40 minutes for lunch and then 20 minutes for tea. Tea. Have you ever heard of something more quintessentially British than a tea break in professional sport? I thought not. Although I was told that the professionality of sport was seeping into the game rituals, with nutrition and dietetics being strongly considered, I was also assured that the traditionality of the game had not been entirely lost. Test cricket is what I would count as traditional cricket and is potentially dying out. Aside from the nice white sporting uniforms they were I wasn’t sure why there was such an outcry from fans and sportsman alike for it to continue. However, after hearing how roast dinners are served at lunchtime with tea and cakes being served in the 20-minute break, I now empathise with their struggle.
With Sussex being considered to be the birthplace of cricket, along with Kent, it would be easy and understandable for them to lean into a prestigious and slightly up-themselves mindset. However, they remain humble and approachable (evidenced by the fact they welcomed a 19-year-old student writer onto their grounds). Now, this may have not occurred due to the lack of money that cricket seems to have, in contrast with its affluent competitors like football or even rugby. Yet, I would take a kinder approach. The village mentality fostered may have been contributed to due to the financial state of the game; however, the sportsmanship of cricket, team ethos and being a member led club, are arguably stronger factors to be taken into consideration.
Throughout the short tour with the aforementioned very patient tour guide Sam, I was fed numerous snippets of information about cricket, the game, the culture and the history. Something that did surprise me was one key component of the game.
Did you know that balls are one of the costliest expenditures a club has to make for cricket? With a professional cricket ball apparently costing upwards of £80, it made the several unrecovered balls that laid strewn across the top of the pavilion roof an attractive steal to a university student. Considering that the ball gets hit (quite forcefully) and bowled at incredulous speeds, the need for a sturdy punching bag is quite important. The standard cricket ball is made from layers of twine that have been wound around a cork core, encased in a leather shell.
Towards the end of the tour we saw a ground of groundsmen dash out and pop a cover over a small area of the pitch (the name of which I shall eventually learn). Later I found out that it was because they wanted to ensure it stayed dry for the imminent rain. I’m sure I’ll write another article about cricket’s obsession with rain and the quite odd pieces of machinery they have to rectify the pitch if water falls. I was quite amused when I heard of an alleged radar in the ground keepers hut, to alert them to any potential rainfall.
Still having not watched a match, it’s hard to say whether I prefer cricket to other sports. However, from what I’ve learnt so far, I think I will. The community ethos, traditional rituals and numerous idiosyncrasies of the sport, all combine to construct quite a unique and mysterious (yet not for long) sport.