We tend to heed the opinions of literature's Nobel Laureates very earnestly, so mark these words of Harold Pinter:
"I tend to think that cricket is the greatest thing that God ever created on earth - certainly greater than sex," the playwright wrote, "although sex isn't too bad either."
One does see the strangest things in Florence, does one not Miss Honeychurch?
But, alas, some gifts of God are enjoyed unequally. Whereas the joys of sex seem at least to be cherished universally, appreciation of the joys of cricket faces severe regional barriers. Although the bat and ball game is a sort of extra religion to millions in South Asia and the Caribbean and is fanatically followed in England and Australasia, in mainland Europe, as in the Americas, cricket is more likely to elicit a yawn than a cry of ecstasy.
With its baffling terminology, such as wickets, yorkers or LBW, cricket is considered by many of my Austrian friends to be complicated to the extent of incomprehensibility. Don't think that I've forgotten your jeering when I painted the games social and geopolitical significance!
It's not complicated, of course. If I can understand it, anyone can.
One team has a chance to score points, or runs, by hitting the ball around the field with the bat while the other fielding team tries to prevent them scoring too many by stopping the ball, or by catching it and getting the batsman out - that's the equivalent of a goal in football. Then the two teams swap roles. The rest you can pick up by watching.
Which is why, on a sunny spring evening in May, I was headed out in the concrete suburbs of Vienna. A little birdy had told me that cricket was actually played here in Austria and, what's more, none too unsuccessfully. And that's why I found myself heading to watch the Austria Cricket Club playing in an international youth tournament.
As I settled down in a deck-chair on the boundary, gracefully and gratefully receiving a beer in one hand and a chickpea curry with sampol in the other, I was glad to see that the Austrian team was not only beating a visiting horde of Germans from the Tegernsee, but was doing it in an aggressive, fearless way that, I felt, was sure to foreshadow the clash of the two nations in the European Championships in June.
I put this theory to the German batsmen sitting next to me, some of them nervously preparing to go 'in' and others dejectedly ruing the fact they were 'out' (oh just google it!). They responded with some jeeringly condescending comments about the quality of the Austrian football team, but amidst the scorn I did manage to find out, from a long-haired, broad shouldered player called Robert, why the cream of Bavaria's youth were so into cricket that they'd travelled 500 kilometres for this tournament when they could have been at home drinking Weißbier:
"Cricket is such an exotic game," he said, "and you meet players from all over the world here."
(photo: Austria Cricket Club)
The Manchester United of Vienna
He was right. The Austria Cricket Club is as typically Austrian as the curry of which I was now consuming a third portion. Club Chairman Siva Nadarajah, father of Austria's swimming star Fabienne, told me he had players from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa; Jamaica, New Zealand, Australia and England on his books.
But 63% of the club are Austrian, which makes the club more authentically Austrian, than Champion's League winner's Manchester United can claim to be English, of course.
Club Chairman Siva with the "Vienna World Cup".
I asked Izuru, one of the Asia players, what drew him to the game. He told me that it was the fact the game can swing dramatically, so that one side that seems certain to lose can end up winning. He also thinks that there is a spirit that sets the game apart from other sports like football, for example: "There is no dishonesty in this game. Everyone is just doing their best and respecting their opponent. It's a good feeling when you play!"
(Bah, he should have played for the dirt-bag team I captained, the legendary Elton Village Cricket Club Under 14's - the most punk rock renegade XI to ever hit the eastern half of Huntingdonshire.)
"Street's like a jungle..."
What was so refreshing at the youth tournament I was watching in Floridsdorf, was that girls were playing alongside boys.
And one of the stars of the German team was Stephanie who has been playing cricket for 8 years. She said it's the risk taking that has made her so addicted. Although the team game can swing dramatically, as an individual one mistake can be "Out" and face a long wait on the sidelines. But to score you have to take risks, which give the brave players that delicious thrill of the gambler and reduce lesser men, such as myself, to nervous wrecks.
If none of my new cricket friends has so far managed to convince you to get involved in cricket, Hungary's coach Andy Greeve had what I think is a winning argument for the game of cricket:
"Because the games last longer than in sports like football, you spend so much time relaxing off the pitch with your friends. In football everything is so rushed. In cricket it is easier to develop friendships."
And did I mention you get served curry?
Austria Cricket Club