The Bangladeshi guy in the shop under our apartment in Rome is puzzled. He doesn’t understand why I keep pretending that I don’t understand the rules of cricket. My pretence has been going on for months and it’s starting to grate on him. I’ll pop in for another bottle of Bucanero and he’ll joyously proclaim, England are all out and Pakistan are 117 for 2!, to which my only response is, er, so who’s winning?
I’ve explained the social context for my genuine ignorance numerous times to no avail. I think he sees it as something shameful. Maybe it is. I certainly find it a bit embarrassing. As far as he’s concerned, I’m an educated person from the country that invented the sport, so even if I didn’t understand, I surely wouldn’t want to lose face by feigning a lack of knowledge (my evident lack of patriotism is also a source of some bemusement). One issue is that he prefers to speak about cricket in English rather than Italian, and while his command of my language is considerably better than my mastery of his (restricted as it is to a handful of food words that on reflection are probably Hindi anyway), his lack of basic grammar combined with the fact that his cricket vocabulary supercedes mine in any language gets in the way of effective communication.
So I explain again that in the UK only rich people play cricket (‘posh’ is a bugger of a word to explain), that I didn’t go to the kind of school that taught and encouraged an interest in the sport. Cricket isn’t the most popular game in Britain, football is. It’s a political thing. He’s not listening. After all, he spends all day every day around Italians, and he’s not a big fan of Italy. The Italians don’t even play, let alone appreciate, cricket! Whereas in me he has a full-blown, native-born cricket enthusiast to marvel at the game with. He loves talking about cricket with me, even though the only players I can think of are Geoffrey Boycott and Johnny Wilkinson, and I can tell you even that took quite a lot of effort.
Right now there’s a tournament taking place, which as I write has reached the semi-final stage. Pakistan are beating England (I think) and tomorrow India take on Bangladesh. He’s going to close the shop for half a day to follow the game. I’m genuinely excited to see his excitement – I’ve interviewed so many IELTS candidates from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka for whom cricket is the driving force in their lives. But half an hour ago, having endured another failed attempt to explain the contorted relationship between class and sport in British society, I promised to him and to myself that I would go and study the rules. It is, in several senses, absurd that I don’t understand what the numbers mean, how wickets relates to overs and overs to whatever the other one’s called. If there even is another one.
The problem is that I came back up here, cracked open the beer and started writing this. Ever time I think about googling the rules of cricket or opening onto one of the few parts of the Guardian website I’ve never ventured onto before (although shouldn’t I really go for The Telegraph?), I start to feel slightly dozy and more than a little bit chippy. I could not give a flying fuck about cricket. I hope Bangladesh win. I hope they crush England 7,000 runs to love. Christ, imagine what a boost it would give Boris Johnson and Michael ‘fucking’ Gove if the English cricket team were to win the Cricket World whatever-it-is right now. The bloody Daily Mail would probably photoshop a picture of a triumphant-but-dour Theresa May with Will Carling (or whoever) and call her QUEEN OF THE ASHES. So here’s to Shakib Al-Hasan, Mashrafe Mortaza, Tamim Iqbal and even (if it’s not too late) Virat Kohli. Anyone but England. Forza! everyone else.
Ps. According to the Daily Telegraph website my beloved Pakistan have apparently beaten England, I’m off to buy some Pimms :-).