The greatest love of ball
When we think about what we love the most, we realise that it is the echo of an even deeper love
What I know about love is that it’s contagious. It spreads and infects those with whom it comes in contact, and sometimes it’s difficult to identify where it started.
There’s a cricket Test on at Newlands right now and I’m not really a part of it, which makes me sad because it’s shaping to be the kind of Test that comes around every so often as a reward for the lean times: the sort of Test where stakes are high and the Aussies are whining and it feels as much like a movie as it does a sporting event, and all your friends are watching, transforming your solitary joy briefly into a communal one.
I am far away from Newlands and from any television set that shows the cricket, and sometimes distance makes you feel love most keenly. I love cricket in a pure and genuine way. I ask nothing from it but that it exists and I be allowed to love it. It has broken my heart more than once but it has always been a constant thrumming comfort to me, a kind of eternal base-note, a heartbeat that tells me I’m not alone even when of course I am. My love for cricket may not be unconditional – only maniacs and some parents have unconditional love - but it’s not dependent on such tawdry considerations as my team winning or the right people being selected. That’s not love – that’s just being a fan.When I was a young boy growing up in Durban there was no international cricket. On a Saturday morning when Natal were playing at home my mother would drive me 40 minutes to Kingsmead and drop me off outside the stadium with a lunch box and a newspaper. This was the 1980s, before people knew about sunburn or skin cancer and before the invention of sunblock or hats, but when there were still newspapers. I would sit solitary in the summer sun for seven hours, idly calculating run-rates and averages and frying like a young sausage. During the lunch break I would walk out to the middle and thoughtfully inspect the pitch and then hover around the impromptu games of cricket being played against the boundary boards in the half-hope that someone would invite me to play. The invitation didn’t always have to be formal: if the tennis ball was hit your way and you threw it back that was often enough.
At the end of the day’s play my mom would fetch me and drive me home and listen to me shriek as I lowered my bright-red sunburnt body into the bath, then the next day drive me back again for another seven hours in the sun. Short of making me sleep inside an x-ray machine, it’s hard to think what more she could have done to give to me cancer as a child, but I also still have the autographs of Neil Radford and Kevin McKenzie, who I cornered on the boundary when the Mean Machine came to Durban, and I was there when Collis King hit Alan Kourie over the roof of the grandstand. In my memory that ball went clean out of the ground. In my memory that ball is still traveling.Once an ex-girlfriend asked me where I first found my love of cricket, and I couldn’t really remember. It had always been there, I said, but of course it wasn’t always there. You have to learn to love the things that define you. I have been thinking about it since then, and I remember now how when I came home in the evenings after my day at the cricket my mom always knew more about what had happened in the day’s play than I did because she’d been listening on the radio. I remembered how when a Currie Cup game came on the television she could identify every player in each team by sight. “That’s Rob Bentley,” she’d say. “That’s Trevor Madsen” – a feat of memory and of cognition that seemed unimaginable and unsurpassable. I remembered her crush on Peter Kirsten and how she would boo Sylvester Clarke for bullying him. My mother doesn’t miss a ball of a Test match. Sometimes at three in the morning she’ll be sitting watching New Zealand playing Sri Lanka in Wellington or somewhere. She used to smoke cigarettes and watch the cricket but nowadays she just watches the cricket.
Sometimes when I call my mother we don’t know exactly what to say to each other, because we are difficult and awkward people, especially with each other, so we talk about the cricket and she grumbles about when David Miller will realise his potential and she tells me that Temba Bavuma makes her happy and I try to explain the intricacies of reverse swing to her, none of which I know.
We love the things we love, but sometimes love is a way of expressing the bigger love that doesn’t know how to show itself in words.