As a young woman, the realization that in order to prosper in the workforce I needed to be able to talk about cricket came as a huge relief.
If you knew the extent of my lack of interest in the sport of cricket spectating, you might find this puzzling. It’s hard to pinpoint the cause of this militant lack of interest. It might be a female thing; it might be a reaction to my father’s seasonal lack of availability, or to his one-eyed barracking. My father was your archetypal one-sided sports fanatic. It was quite late in my childhood that I fully understood the role of the other team on the ground. Until then, listening to my father’s exclamations during the endless TV broadcasts, I thought the members of his team were the only actual players, battling blind umpires, unfavourable weather, or worse, the occasional unforced error, in an effort to claim their rightful title of match winner.
In any case, this early disaffection with the game of cricket was only reinforced as a University student, where endless discussion of cricket scores was lumped together in my mind with endless discussions about cars as uncouth “engineer’s talk”.
Fast forward a few years, and the burning ambition to be able to pay for food and rent found me working for a manufacturing company in a largely engineer dominated IT department. As the cricket season commenced I reflexively turned off whenever the inevitable discussions started. But I couldn’t help noticing that I was spending a lot of time talking to myself, and this was highlighted during a period of relative inactivity for my group, when half the day was spent arguing about cricket (and the other half perfecting the giant paper ball). It became painfully obvious at a farewell for one of our group, where the others bonded with management over a cricket discussion while I found myself a lonely outsider, that something needed to be done.
So I decided to bite the bullet and follow the cricket. I shamelessly enlisted the aid of a co-worker who had both demonstrated some knowledge of cricket and shown some interest in my company (no doubt confirming in the mind of many engineers reading this piece the dastardly use of feminine wiles by their female colleagues.) Over a coffee break I confessed the reluctance of my resignation to spending endless weekend hours watching cricket on the tele, half-expecting him to recoil in horror. It took me a while to realize the significance of his counter-confession that some weekends he himself had to miss the cricket and that on those occasions he just checked the score intermittently, but was still able to hold his own at work on Monday. Imagine my relief and delight when I realized it wasn’t strictly necessary to know about the cricket. All I needed to be able to do was to talk about it.
Riffing together we came up with the phrase “at one stage there…” as in “at one stage there Australia was 3 for 103” or “at one stage there Warne was 54 not out”. All that was needed was to check the scoreboard once during the cricket broadcast!
The day before the next lunchtime gathering I searched the newspaper for the cricket news. I arrived at work the next day with a few facts printed on the palm of my hand. After everybody had eaten enough to satisfy hunger, and the conversation turned to cricket, I surreptitiously glanced at my hand and announced “At one stage there Australia was 2 for 75.” This was greeted by a number of wise comments, and I was part of the group. Emboldened by this success, I further announced “At one stage there Steve Waugh was 75 not out.” This was met by a puzzled silence and I found myself on the outside once again. Later my ally explained to me that the correct pronunciation of Waugh is “Waw”. Never having really listened to a cricket broadcast, I had somehow come up with the idea that it was pronounced “woe”. Since at that time Steve (or Mark?) Waugh was captain of the Australian cricket team, this was a major blunder.
My second big effort was Christmas drinks at the pub, where I arrived unprepared but was thrilled to hear the cricket news being announced on TV, and immediately memorized the first piece of information. Later I proudly announced my hastily memorized factoid, and once again it was well received. Then somebody asked me “Who won?” Unfortunately I had been so engrossed in memorizing that I had omitted to note this apparently important detail, and my face fell. An employee with all the social grace of, well, a young engineer working in IT, piped up “You can’t be very interested in the cricket if you don’t know who won.” The members of my immediate group, who by this time were in on the joke, were in stitches. I decided to own up rather than look a total moron, and by that time everybody had drunk enough to take it well.
Boxing Day 2008, and a couple I haven’t met yet are the hosts for the post-Christmas neighbours gathering. The husband greets us at the door with “I was just watching the cricket”. I have a moment’s panic; since I’ve been working at a small non-cricket oriented company the start of the cricket season has passed unnoticed. But through those earlier years of intensive training in cricket conversation I manage to avoid the crimes of appearing uninterested or asking who’s winning. I settle on asking the score, and the moment passes safely.
Thankful for this reminder, and with job interviews pending, I search the web and find the ABC.Net cricket page. There I discover an invaluable innovation, the Live Game Log. The first log entry is a summary of the state of play at the commencement of the day, and the follow-up entries are brief over by over summaries logged in real time. All the information needed to contribute to a cricket conversation available at your fingertips. At one stage there Kallis was not out for 26.