Razor-sharp readers, who have not yet glanced at the mugshot at the top of the page or who prefer to consume their media digitally, may suddenly be struck with a sense of shuddering disappointment as they realise that this is not their regular Saturday columnist, a man for whom a cricket bat is a weapon rather than a piece of sporting equipment and who, upon simply hearing the word cricket, tends to make a face that suggests he has just wandered into a maternity ward and inadvertently opened the bin for dirty nappies.
He is not alone. There are those who wonder how two teams can play a match for five days and still not find a winner. Or how it can be classified as a draw when one team has scored several hundred more runs than the other. Others simply find it hard to take a sport seriously that has fielding positions named silly mid-on, backward short leg and deep square leg. The cricket, then, is not for everyone.
Mere mention of it even induced silence from a previously loquacious taxi driver, who could not have looked more appalled at hearing one was en route to the Ashes had one said one was spending a day shopping with the boys or going to the ballet. Telling people you like the cricket is therefore something usually best said in a whisper and often accompanied by a hastily offered explanation. "Eh, my mate made me go, and, eh, you could get a booze, and, eh, it was sunny," while those yet to be convinced shake their heads in disappointment, completely baffled as to how any Scot could have anything to do with what is still perceived as the quintessentially English game.
The cricket, then, is not as well received as the football. It is perhaps more comparable to a wedding. It tends to go on for a good while, people get more and more drunk as morning evolves into afternoon and then into evening, while paying increasingly less attention to those dressed all in white in the middle. There are also often fights over the most innocuous of matters, the reasons for which nobody is quite sure of come the morning.
It does not take the deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes to tell the difference between a cricket crowd at the start of play and one at the end. The day opens to polite applause at appropriate junctures, quietly-observed remarks about interesting passages of play, and general all-round sporting behaviour. The only interruptions tend to come from the rustling of a newspaper, a chicken wing being unwrapped from its tin foil, or someone with Test Match Special on the radio just a smidgen too loud. It is all very proper and British.
It does not take too long, however, for that sense of polite decorum to dissipate. By the end of day the stands resemble less a venue for acknowledging sporting excellence and more like the last days of Rome.
International players at the peak of their profession could make an exquisite century, take a hat-trick of wickets, or pull off the most athletic of catches on the boundary and still not hold the attention of everyone in the crowd. Instead, come late afternoon, when many of those in attendance have made a decent stab at drinking dry the many overpriced bars in the arena, the focus turns to rather more rudimentary affairs. At the cricket there is a particular fascination with gathering up empty pint tumblers and forming them into giant beer snakes, folk scurrying around on their hands and knees under seats and into the aisles to find more and more to add to their construction.
Various volunteers are then required to hold the snake aloft as it winds its way from one end of the stand to the other, some unfortunate enough to be positioned at the point where the glasses are not quite empty and are then treated to an impromptu shower. The hope then is that it is definitely beer that is spilling over them. Acts of bravado and plain showing off are also not uncommon at the cricket. Last week an Australian gentleman attempted to win the respect and admiration of his fellow cricket fans by pouring his pint into a shoe and then downing the lot in one go. What might have been considered an impressive achievement by some was somewhat then diminished by the mouthful of sick that emerged from deep in his stomach not long after completing his act. And after that he was off. It was his turn to bat . . .