Whenever Karyn and I pass by an oval containing a number of people dressed in white, I often jokingly use the term ‘Flannelled Fools’ to describe the scene. It is usually in the middle of summer, and apart from a bit of activity in the middle, most seem to be just standing around in the blazing sun doing very little. Of course, I am talking about the game of cricket, and the term ‘Flannelled Fools’ was first used by Rudyard Kipling in his 1902 poem ‘The Islanders’. He was describing the attire and, in his mind, the stupidity of the game and players.
The English invented the sport and took it to the World when colonization was the go. It was only the Americans who resisted, as the prospect of having to play cricket was possibly enough to bring on the war of independence. They replaced it with that other absolutely riveting game of baseball. The only advantage being that it is over sooner and a winner can be declared. At the highest level, cricket can go on for as much as five days and still not produce a result.
In Australia, in summer, cricket is king and the captain of the National team stands next to the Prime Minister in importance in the nation. I was brought up on the game, and it’s in my blood. Along with many others around the World, I am afraid that I’m a “cricket tragic”.
So, when Karyn and I were planning our trip, I would tell anyone who would listen, that one highlight for me was to be a day at the cricket in London. Half of the listeners would glaze over on the basis that they consider cricket to be as exciting as watching paint dry. The other half would salivate at the prospect of going to Lords, the home of cricket, for the opening day of the second Ashes test.
As it turns out, the first test had been a nail biter and it went down to the wire on the last day. The final result was only made possible by the wonders of electronic technology. It was that close, and the Aussies performed much better than expected. They still lost.
We were staying with our friends, and former sailing buddies, Kiko and Mie. One of their sons had managed to score the much sought after tickets. They were as scarce as rocking horse poo. It is important to announce at this stage that only two tickets were necessary as both Karyn and Mie preferred to spend the day walking over broken glass. Actually they went to a garden display, but you get my drift.
Kiko planned our journey by train and taxi with military precision. It was vitally important not to miss the first ball bowled. We arrived in our seats just as the Queen was reviewing the combatants from both teams. It was a very special occasion.
With half and hour to spare before play commenced, I had time to take in the atmosphere. Seated beside me were two guys from Adelaide and on the other side of Kiko, there was a young fellow from Perth and another from Bundaberg. We were surrounded by Aussies and I felt immediately at home. Kiko tried to rekindle his Kiwi heritage, but not sure it worked. Besides, claiming to be a Kiwi to a bunch of Aussies is never a winning move.
By the way, England is suffering its hottest weather in thirty years. It was going to be a scorcher and we were sitting in the sun. So, about ten minutes before play was to commence, a couple of the Aussies bolted and returned with two very cold beers. They apologised for not getting us one. I looked at Kiko and he nodded. As I dashed out to the back of the stand and the bar, I had Noel Coward’s famous song of “Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out in the Midday Sun” running through my head. Maybe I was being a bit stupid, but I thought I would make it back in time.
There was just one hiccup. The beer lines were only producing froth and the ensuing delay was the clincher. On return, I came to a sudden halt at the bottom of the stairs. Entry was closed for the start of the first over. Here I was, having come half way around the World to watch the first ball of the Test match and I missed it. All I saw was the backside of the person in front and it wasn’t a good look.
The situation improved after that as the first part of the day went definitely in favour of the colonials. We were on top with three wickets before lunch and their best batsmen were back in the Pavilion. It was looking good with a real possibility of getting revenge for the first loss. But, as happens in this game, the tables were soon turned and the Poms struggled back into the match. It was only at the end of the day that a few more wickets fell to leave it pretty much on an equal footing.
This is more than I can say for much of the crowd. While Kiko and I had only consumed that one fateful beer and a lovely glass of wine with lunch, I cannot say the same for much of the rest. When proceedings became a little dull on the field, I decided to investigate the outer parts of this wonderful arena. There appeared to be just as many outside the grand stand swilling beer and champagne as there were inside actually watching the game. The thing is, while they were a little unsteady on their feet, they all remained very civilized. That is the nature of the game and the people who attend. It is what makes cricket-cricket.
The only exception and actual fool of the day was a very well to do gentleman who we had the misfortune to come across on our way home in the train. He sat opposite me and proceeded to shovel a McDonalds Big Mac, together with associated chips and Pepsi Max into his mouth as fast as possible. Most of it either ended up plastered across his face or on the floor. He was not dressed in flannels but wore a very expensive suit. Thankfully, he had his feet on the coat he had removed and this was catching the coleslaw. Once completed, he threw the packaging in the corner and proceeded to pick his nose with great gusto while texting on the phone. Multi skilled. I had to turn away or be sick.
It was all too much for one passenger, who intervened when our very inebriated toff decided to depart the train at the next station. He was going to leave the mess behind. It was suggested that he might clean up. Well, it was like he had been asked to fly to the moon in a tiger moth. He reminded everyone within hearing that he was actually a very important person and besides, it was only paper. Actually it was paper and chips and coleslaw and HIS TREASURED PASS TO THE CRICKET FOR POSSIBLY THE NEXT FOUR DAYS. I wanted him to wake up the next morning and find it missing. Yes, justice at last.
Unfortunately he was reminded of this fact and it was soon retrieved, leaving the remainder behind. The situation deteriorated further until a lovely young lady intervened, picked up the mess, smiled at the non flannelled fool and said, “See that wasn’t too hard was it?”
Once out of the train, he started to complain to the conductor about being harassed and then gave the finger to the passengers in our carriage. At least it was taking a rest from his nose. Surely things couldn’t get any worse than this?
Well actually they did. For Australian cricket lovers anyway. Our team fell into a big hole and the game was over in four days. That’s two down with three more to go. Still a chance I suppose but I’m afraid it’s not looking good.
Perhaps I should consider a come back?