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22.9.2005
Do we need Ashes?

Cricket is like baseball in valium. And I donít like baseball. How can you even call cricket a sport! Isnít it just white upper class fat people trying to have an excuse to get away from their boring homes? So they invented something where you donít need to sweat or do really anything but you can still have a nice cup of tea with your mates in the name of sports. Unfortunately the world wasnít interested so these miserable people had to force countries with strong ties or highly influenced by England to play also so they could feel superior in something when beating these unfortunate nations. This was the angry and unjustified definition I gave four years ago at my first weeks in this country when I got badly stuck in traffic due to a county cricket.
This definition turned out to be as wrong as when I tried to argue wine gums not been included to a no-candy-break because technically they are just jelly. Last week when I stood again in traffic jam caused by people celebrating the Ashes victory I was enjoying what the game offered and presented to this nation. I even joined the chorus of ďWe won the AshesĒ. Thatís bit cheating like all these celebrities suddenly being cricket fans and Welsh people being English every other week. Nonetheless as a sportsman I respected and enjoyed the true sporting event that had taken place.
Excitement, big personalities, drama, sportsmanship, skills and highly competitive mentalityÖ the series offered everything that is good in sports. Most of all it made so many people happy and enthusiastic. From my car window I could see these people didnít think of their mortgages or worried what bosses were going to say next day at work. It was pure joy, something that also brought many people together. The warm feeling got through me that sports had shown its power once again, this time by an unlike source Ė at least to me.
Without trying to steal crickets thunder, wherever Iíve been football is the worldwide language. In any given country and corner of the world, you know you get a conversation when you mention football. Cricket isnít that straightforward. It is the property of selected individuals in selected countries. I didnít belong into that category which explained my original little pet hate towards it. Like most of non-commonwealth people I didnít know the rules, I had no history with the game, great matches or players, I only knew they were having tea breaks during the game. So I really didnít have even Snowmanís chance in hell to find it too appealing to me. It is a game you have to grow into. For a foreign asylum seeker it is not easy to understand the long traditions and passions to a game you have hardly ever heard of. I bet you wouldnít find ski jumping interesting.
The football society tried to introduce me to this national game. Kindly we were made to play England against rest of the world in my first season here. There were very little rule guidance and overall knowledge of the game was shambulls. It was a massacre. I donít think we got a single run and our vocabularily limited Chinese bowler probably still believes the meaning is to have wicked time. My personal contribution: I thought it was bit rude when umpire gestured me with a finger so I showed my middle one back.
Talking of sports is our every day privilege. I like Goran Ivanisevic, I have always followed NBA and one of my favourite athletes is Muhammad Ali. Most athletes respect and often admit following more fanatically another sport than his own. Dressing room is always very aware of topical sports news. Now it has been all cricketing. I almost feel Iíve become friends with these Warneys and Freddies because their names pop up from everywhere. Even without the knowledge of its complex terminology latest conversations of cricket have been fascinating to follow. English and Aussies must be the gold medallists at banter. We have the luxury of having both sides in our camp and it has been seriously entertaining in good spirit. Football society together with the whole nation has been cricket mad during this series. As sportsmen we can appreciate great games and players. Cricket has offered a welcomed breeze of fresh air to the world of sports. We even had another go to this game, luckily now with mixed teams.
I realised how highly technical and tactical game it is, with very different pace and mentality than football. I found it hard to keep concentration for the good hour we were playing, so cricketers must take their coffee strong to be switched on for five days. I was a dug again and wanted to tackle someone for that disappointment because I was enjoying the game. However I realised how different personality and skills youíd need to possess to be good in cricket compared to football. Concentration and tactical awareness between patient waiting and quick reaction to action is closest to Italian football mentality, where individually nothing seems to happen and then bang, it is over if you are not spot on. English game has more passionate and physical approach, far from finesses of cricket. I canít really see many similarities with these two fine sports.
Parks that used to have only sole football enthusiasts have recently almost been crowded by Andrew Flintoffs and Kevin Pietersens. Like a year ago there were dozens of young Johnny Wilkinsons. Suddenly there are no signs of Beckham or games of ManUtd vs Arsenal. It is now more pop to be cricket. Is the dynasty of football threatened? Are kids rather turning into new Michael Vaughans and Martin Johnssons from now on? Will crowds want to go watching cheaper and less corporative sports? Are people and media starting to protest over the bit rude dominance of greedy football world? Temporarily a little maybe. On the longer run very hard to believe.
As much as rugby and cricket have lifted their image and popularity the sports foundations of this nation and masses of tradition still lie in football. The British passion for football comes from motherís milk. Recent trends will obviously raise some sidetracks. Which is good. Football needs to make a reality check and have some competition to realise how to learn from other sports like from this entertaining, competitive and humble series filled with good sportsmanship. It is good that people are questioning footballs domination. For that, Iím really happy for football and cricket. Mostly these will only feed each other. Powerful sporting country proud of its athletes is one of the best things a nation can give to its people. When I see the pride and joy of being English, I hold my hat up how much a sports world can do to individual well-being and dignity. I even envy you a bit for your sport culture and heritage. This single competition went beyond sports. Streets are happier. Cricket is new Prozac. I canít help thinking what would happen if England won World Cup in football next year. That would go beyond any comprehension. For that, Iíd be happy to be stuck in that traffic for weeks.

Aki


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