The cruelest game
It doesn't surprise me that cricket is being dropped from the sporting curricula of schools around New Zealand - the game is not a great advertisement for sport, if sport is supposed to be about participation, fun, exercise, and all the other worthy nouns that the Hillary Commission throws at us. Cricket may be the greatest game ever devised, but it can also be a very cruel game. Although ostensibly a team sport, it forces its players to front up alone to be tested by bat and ball, and it can inflict drastic punishments on players for minor errors.
Cricket is particularly cruel to batsmen. A rugby player can drop the ball or miss a tackle, and nine times out of ten have the opportunity to redeem him or herself later in the game. A batsman who makes one very minor mistake - who misjudges the line of a ball fractionally, or plays a pull instead of a hook, or steps a yard too far forward to play a shot, or swings his bat a little too slowly or too quickly - is likely to lose his or her wicket, and spend the rest of the day sitting in the pavilion.
As a teenager I regularly tasted cricket's cruelty. Being congenitally incapable of bowling a length delivery, very slow in the field, and unable to score quickly enough to bat down the order, I was selected as a specialist opening batsman for the Counties youth side. We'd play games that lasted a whole weekend - an eternity, for a teenager - and I'd more than often find myself walking to the crease at a quarter past nine on a Saturday morning, smelling the freshly mown grass around the wicket and apprehensively eyeing the massive fast bowler limbering up at the other end. More than once, I found myself dismissed - leg before wicket, or caught behind, or (horror of horrors) clean bowled - well before half past nine. Trudging back to the makeshift pavilion, trying desperately to avoid the baleful glare of the coach, I would look forward to a Saturday spent sitting on the sideline watching my team mates make runs and (worse) a Sunday spent fielding in unglamorous positions far away from the bat. And I knew that while I was chasing off-drives across the burning turf of Karaka Oval, pursued by the vengeful barks of the coach, my peers were getting stoned at the beach and chatting up gorgeous sixth form girls.
I say all this to explain my profound sympathy for Marcus Trescothick, the talented English opening batsman who has bailed out of his team's tour of Australia due to a 'stress-related condition'. Trescothick cut short a tour of Pakistan for the same reason last year. Read Mark Lawson's thoughtful piece on Trescothick in the Grauniad and weep.
Footnote: Since 'Sportingo' asked, here's a link to another cricket post.