I love sport, of almost any kind. I appreciate that it leaves some people cold; for those this entry will doubtless be terminally boring. For the rest…well, the past month has been an exceptional one for sporting competition and the light that it shines on human nature.
For the duration of the Olympics we had two televisions permanently on the go, one on the main Broadcast channel and one on the “red button” of self-selection of events. I’d had only the most casual knowledge of some of these but excellent commentary and explanation – of rules, requirements and, inevitably, back stories – quickly led one into the grip of the narrative.
This was the first Olympics in which I felt that the Athletics, important though they were as a centrepiece, were not the be-all and end-all of the thing. In fact I was much more engaged by other sports and in particular by the reactions of the participants.
Clearly, these are world-class sportspeople. It’s not possible to reach an Olympic standard of skill without a physical and mental dedication way beyond my comprehension. Years of pain, struggle and sacrifice go into that one brief appearance on our screens and it’s rarely the case that any athlete is injury-free. There’s no reason why they should be articulate about their efforts and achievements and of course I’m on record about my abhorrence for the “How do you feel?” school of vampire broadcasting – in victory or defeat.
But even in the face of this I was struck by the self-denigration, the unassuming nature, the sheer humanity of so many of the athletes. So these people at the height of their powers, in the moments of their lives, showed a simplicity which allowed us all to share in the humanity of the moment. It’s more complicated than that, but there’s something in sport which brings us all together into shared being-alive, right now. It’s for that that I love it.
Most of it, most of it….
For some of the time the computer was on in a third room, with ball by ball commentary of the ongoing Test series against South Africa. Being a cricket nut’s the polar opposite of Olympic fandom. In the latter the Big Moment is well flagged up; with cricket you have to pay attention all the time as the story unfolds, with possibility of a game, a series hanging on a moment’s incident.
Now, cricket’s a devilish game, a team effort which relies upon spotlight-pinned individual effort; in which both over-thinking and over-relaxation spell disaster. Somehow the balance between zen calm and “once more unto the breach” has to be held. This summer that balance was tipped for the England team and, as a fan, I find there’s something piteous in that.
Kevin Pietersen is a player of mind-boggling, firework talent, of astounding and instinctive natural gifts. In self-awareness or awareness of the impact of his words and actions on others and on team ethos he has not, it seems, been similarly blessed.
OK, I’d best explain for international, sport-interested but cricket-ignorant, readers what I’m on about here. KP is/was the star act of the England team, capable of turning a game on its head by sustained brilliance. Equally capable of then losing the game by an ego-driven bravura act. An Attraction – all games have them. And the Attractions, in all games, often begin to think that they’re bigger than everything and everyone.
So with KP. In short order this summer he announced that he was going to be available only for limited versions of the game (hey, cricket lovers, I’m doing my best to speak to anyone, anywhere here!), then publicly announced that it was “difficult being me in the dressing-room”. Then it was revealed that he’d texted a series of something-or-others to the opposition team, mid-match. That’s, er, a little bit against the spirit of a team game, whatever the content of the texts may have been (most likely Not Good in one way or another).
So he was dropped from the team for the final, crucial game. His way back to playing in the future is now in doubt and it seems may depend upon the exhibition – on his part -of an element of contrition, public or private. In my view it’d be tragic if he never played for England again…but that would be the tragedy of KP, not a tragedy for English cricket.
Meanwhile the game went on and it was a cracker. I was lucky enough to be there on the third day. England lost in the end, but in a life-enhancing way. (I know that won’t make sense in the USA….) Possibly (understandably) worn down by the KP saga Andrew Strauss, the most successful England captain of the modern era, resigned thereafter.
I add that to my collection. In a previous visit to Lords I saw the last innings of the great I.T.Botham as England captain. The extravagant, gifted character of his era he then immediately buckled down to great, great feats of play. So, rather the reverse of the KP scenario. I was also there, I’m afraid, for the Pakistani No Balls.
Well, for those who don’t know I might as well be talking Martian now, mightn’t I, while for those who do…could it be any more bleedin’ obvious?
I meant to write this in the spirit of Loving Sport. The Paralympics are under way now and I dare say I’ll be in tears at achievements, or near-achievements, there soon enough. Tomorrow the rugby season kicks off and once again I’ll be injudiciously roaring my head off at that, hoping that some romance, some skill and art can shine through in what’s now a game that’s become slightly too professional for its own good.
(Incidentally, almost all the rugby players I’ve met – quite a few – have been self-deprecating, unassuming and civilised, for all the ferocity of their on-pitch presence.)
“Too professional for its own good” – is that possible? It’s no good for me to hanker for some Corinthian ideal now. I was a child of the Fifties, though, so that idea’s still around in me in a way.
Now other spectres loom. Just as with That Music.
“I love sport, of almost any kind”, I said at the start. There’s one, though, which no longer engages me much at all.
I bet you can guess….
Who would I have at the centre of the defence in my all-time England team?
Billy Wright? Bobby Moore? or….?