loving players

Autumn LeavesThe Edgbaston washout was an appropriate finish to the 2012 Wisden Trophy. England’s 2-0 win was another early-summer series where the home side forever threatened, but never quite succeeded, to overwhelm a limited opponent. Yet though the Tests missed real contest, they contained enough personal drama to make a memorable series.

Maybe the cliché is true and cricket does actually give a compelling window into the minds of those playing; or maybe it’s just because it takes so long, but the relationship between players and those watching them is oddly meaningful.

Neither Tino Best nor Graham Onions know who I am yet their return to Test cricket was genuinely pleasing. Likewise I don’t know Marlon Samuels but his charisma and class was a bright spot in a dank month. Even Dinesh Ramdin, a fairly anonymous sort, delivered and unforgettable moment. The series showed that, even where teams are mismatched, the fortunes of individuals players can create real sporting theatre.

As production technology allows analysis to become ever more detailed and technical it’s easy to overlook the emotional story that is at the heart of every contest. It’s what makes Ed Cowan’s book so refreshing. He describes, for instance, how being out of form “”

It’s worth reflecting on when thinking about Ramdin’s A4 scribbling. He was playing first Test series in two years. Having played professional cricket since he was 18, his Test runs are the barometer by which most people, and to an extent even the man himself, will judge his life. That note was testament to how important his hundred was. Not for the team performance, nor for a financial gain it may help secure, but for something more fragile, self-worth. It cannot be easy for West Indian cricketers playing out their existence in the shadow of a gargantuan past. It makes the ICC’s fine all the more staggering. Of all things bringing the game into disrepute, a player’s desperate pride should be the least of its worries.

Samuels is another who has faced criticism. His murky past has included bookmakers, chucking and years of unfulfilled talent. His runs were enjoyable not just for their style and their importance in the match but also because they were his redemption. That he also spoke a language humans, not PR gurus, could relate to made him all the more special.

With Samuels’s series-long adversary, James Anderson, rested Onions returned to the side. After a successful first day back he tweeted: “Today has been a special special day, I’ve had the most unbelievable support over the last 2 years to get me to put the 3 lions on again..” It was again testament to the personal that underpins the professional. Having reached the pinnacle of his sport in 2009, a back injury suddenly meant he faced the possibility of losing his livelihood altogether. Watching the finale of a long journey back made a dead Test much more significant. 

And then Tino. Despite limited ability he is one of the most magnetic cricketers around. Whether batting, bowling or fielding he is a one-man talk show and impossible to ignore. For two years he has pined on twitter for a chance again with West Indies and his jubilant, delirious return was something we could all celebrate.

It’s these individual stories that get contextualised through competition. While closely-fought contests are the obviously the most enjoyable, sometimes it’s nourishing just to share in someone else’s personal fulfilment.

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