This series of articles was first published in early 2001.
So who does play, and why? The social aspect of cricket is a major consideration here as it is in most Irish sport and cricket clubs are excellent social centres, often dominating clubs that have far more members in their tennis or bowling sections. Being a summer team game is an attraction to many who enjoy the crack in a changing room or bar. In Dublin cricketers are mainly from a middle class background, as is the case in the Belfast area. In the north county area of Dublin and in the North West there is a much wider social profile with players drawn from all sections of the community. The attraction of clubs to young players is paramount. Parents are always delighted when their children are taken off the street for long periods in the summer and cricket is a game which is very difficult to adapt to if you have not had a grounding as a schoolboy or girl in a club. The ICU strategic plan hopes to increase the number of primary schools playing Kwik cricket by 10% in each of the next three years and rather optimistically hopes that the number of secondary schools playing increases by 25% each year.
The average club cricketer is about 26, has a good job, practices once a week and if he is keen to do well in his club is probably highly annoyed by the number of Australians batting above him in the order. He is a bit uncomfortable with the aggressive 'sledging' that has become common place in club cricket and sometimes wonders why umpires can be bothered listening to the abuse so frequently aimed in their direction. He likes a pint or two after the game and probably finds the club atmosphere better and more accommodating than in his rugby, hockey, or soccer club. He will play cricket far longer than those who play other team games and eventually when he succumbs to golf he will continue to play a bit of cricket, if only of the taverner variety.
In Ireland he will have thousands of conversations explaining the laws and attractions of the game and why it is not necessarily boring. He may be confronted, as I was once, with explaining the game and its trappings, to an American tourist in College Park. He found the scene, with the white flannels and umpires coats, against the bright green of the field, quite extraordinary. Then at 1 pm about fifty medical students emerged from a lecture in the Moyne Institute on the far side of the ground, wearing their lab coats. My American friend stared across the field and pondered on this for a while. Then he asked, 'Say, what are all those umpires doing over there?' Our average club cricketer may sit on a club committee and be torn between spending £5000 on a West Indian Pro or a new roof for the clubhouse. He will put on weight from eating egg sandwiches at tea time, drinking the amber nectar after play and eating chips on the way home. He will find it difficult to explain to his girlfriend how he can spend maybe twelve hours on a Saturday indulging in his favourite pastime and its compulsory social duties. She may eventually stoop to making egg sandwiches herself when she discovers that as she cannot beat him, she might as well join him.
Cricket was very much a sexist sport and some would say that it still is. Ladies were not permitted in the bar in Phoenix until about 1967, which is, I suppose, much better than the MCC's belated decision to allow lady members in 1997. However since 1967 there have been two lady Presidents of Phoenix and the club's most famous lady cricketer, Mary Pat Moore, became a successful captain of Ireland and was last seen commentating on Sky Sports on the England Womens' series with South Africa in 2000. So the average male club cricketer is likely to find much more female company in his club than was the case in the past. However, the resurgence in the Ladies game has strangely had little impact in Northern Ireland. The Irish Women were disappointed by their performance in the recent World Cup in New Zealand, but nevertheless they do rank sixth in the world. At the last AGM of the Irish Cricket Union, in February 2001, the Irish Womens' Cricket Union dissolved itself and was amalgamated with the men's organisation. This was warmly welcomed by all at the meeting and has to be good for all involved in the administration and playing of the game in Ireland.
Wherever the game is played around the world it attracts enthusiasts, fanatics and statisticians. Ireland has always been full of them. John Hill was a Trinity, Clontarf and International cricketer who played 1st XI cricket in six different decades. When he left Trinity, in the forties, his first job as an engineer was in planning new housing estates in Belfast after the war. He ensured that the lampposts were all 22 yards apart thus creating numerous ready made pitches for a future generation of enthusiasts. An umpire from the North West, who shall be nameless, was standing in his first international. In the hotel in Dublin he was rooming with one of the Irish players. He found sleep difficult the night before play and got out of bed at three in the morning. His roommate (now owner of the CricketEurope web site), feigning sleep, watched as our hero practised raising his finger to himself, in the mirror.
Apparently he dismissed enough batsmen that night to warrant an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. Finally, an apocryphal story on the appeal of cricket statistics. About 25 years ago I was driving along a dusty highway in Indian territory in the state of Arkansas. I noticed a sign on the side of the road advertising the world's best memory man, Chief Big Hit. The sign said, 'Ask the chief any question, if he can't answer you win $500 dollars'. I pulled in and went into his tent. He beckoned me to sit crosslegged on the floor and then I asked him my question. 'In the North West Cup final of 1948 who hit the winning runs?' Without blinking an eyelid he replied 'Alec McBrine, for Donemana against Strabane'. Astounded, I left the tent having lost my $10 dollar wager. Recently I was driving along the same road and to my astonishment I found the chief still in business. I decided to renew the acquaintance and waited for my turn in what was quite a long queue. As I entered the tent I held my right hand up in the traditional Indian manner and said 'How'. 'A drive through extra cover', came the answer.