Sunday: Stiff, but happy, after the annual cricket game between Blackball and the Christchurch Larrikins, a team cobbled together once a year by Dave, who owns a holiday house here.
It made me realise yet again, how far away we have moved from the true function of sport, defined by the OED as ‘amusement, diversion, experiencing life as a game…’ And ‘to play’ is ‘to move about in a lively fashion, frisk, flit, flutter and frolic’ (a lot of f words).
Instead, sport has become a commodity, the players are ‘brands’, with agents seeking their millions before the body gives up. Game plans are analyzed by coaches, psychologists, strategists – the whole thing a military operation, with the public bemused and mystified consumers as players troop around the world like mercenaries, selling themselves to the highest bidder. At the same time, followers of teams are supposedly rooting for local pride and tradition. It’s as mad as Donald Trump.
But on Saturday, down at the domain, sport and play existed for an afternoon. The field had been lovingly mowed and we marked out the pitch with a paint brush and some house paint. The gear was ancient, no one was particularly skilful, everyone had a bowl (so there were lots of wides), the pitch was surprising (despite a modicum of rolling), there were many spectators, a lot of beer was drunk and children tossed the newly-mown grass at one another. Nevertheless, competition was keen.
The Larrikins, having urban pretentions, brought with them a short section of picket fence so that they could enter to bat through a gate. They scored a miserable 126. Blackball had a perhaps fatal runout early on, but put their heads down. By 5,30pm the Larrikins were somewhat staggery after the fourth drinks break and Blackball seemed to have it in the bag until a ball skidded along the ground to hit the wickets of in-form Michael and the last batsman had to be shown how to hold the bat – not a promising sign. Two runs to go and Jerry struck the ball hard at a stout fielder at close mid-wicket. It stuck in the flesh as it were and his hands enfolded the hurt and fatefully, the ball. Much amusement – and it had been serious enough to be a contest. The sun had shone and everyone was content. No money had changed hands.
As one of the spectators said, ‘It’s lovely to do nothing for a day. ‘ Meanwhile another was going through the feelings of the last year – his wife having died – a soft murmuring. The kids continued to frolic, and a nice story was told at the group photo, of this bloke who used to surreptitiously expose himself on such occasions, until taught a lesson through a cigarette lighter being equally surreptitiously applied.
There was much shaking of hands, pride at it having gone so well, a wheelbarrow of empty bottles loaded onto a trailer to be taken to the dump and everyone would have some new images in their head.
There is a phrase, cricket was the winner. On this occasion, community was the winner. And it hadn’t required any government intervention, or NGOs, charitable funding bodies, advisors, criteria, visions, missions, objects or outcomes.
Just some people experiencing life as a game.