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Soup of This Day #284: Behind Those Doors It’s A Wilder Ride

January 11, 2013

Fingask curling
Curling is a gentle, well-paced winter sport. In this instance it is being played at Fingask Castle, Perthshire in Scotland. No doubt there’ll be some single-malt awaiting the competitors at the timely conclusion of the day’s play – Image: H. H. Milne, 1853. H. H. Milne is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

It’s been hot here of late.

This is not unusual – It’s January in Perth. There’s a theory that you can plan an outdoor barbecue in Perth years ahead of time for January – You know the weather will be hot and just right for throwing a prawn on the barbie in the evening.

We don’t call them shrimp. That was just a TV ad made for an overseas audience. I’d like to refer you to Pepe the Muppet:

‘I am not a shrimp, I am a king prawn.’

Here in Australia we eat prawns, although not Pepe obviously – That would just be weird.

To be clear, when I am referring to ‘Perth’, I mean Perth in Western Australia. Not Perth in Scotland. You’re probably best not having your barbecue outside if you’re in the latter. This is partly because it’s 1:00am there as I write this.

That’s not generally an environment friendly to a barbecue. They are best conducted at a time that, roughly at least, corresponds to regular meals. There is some flexibility to this guideline – For example a barbecue brunch is perfectly ok, as is a late-ish barbecue supper at say 10:00pm.

1:00am however, is quite frankly having a laugh.

And in this case, a shiver. It’s currently around 3°c in Scotland’s Perth. Later on it will rise to 4°c with ‘outbreaks’ of rain and ‘snow on hills’.

Not only should the good folk of Perth in Scotland be dialling back on the barbecuing but I think the conditions are not for cricket either. Cricket, a welcome companion to a barbecue, is a summer sport. While it doesn’t mind the cooler conditions, it is adverse to the rain. ‘Outbreaks’ of rain doesn’t seem like much more than occasional isolated showers, but rain is all water falling around and getting stuff wet, and even if that kind of thing is outbreaking into a desert that hasn’t seen a drop of water for the past 40 years, it’s liable to interrupt the cricket.

Then there’s the dark. Most cricket fans have long gotten used to hearing the horrible phrase:

‘Bad light has stopped play.’

By ‘bad light’ what is actually meant is a shortage of light, rather than a hurtful type of light, such as a 100 kW satellite-destroying laser. Although that would be bad if used on a cricket pitch.

Cricketers need ample amounts of light so that they are able to adequately see a ball hurtling towards them at up to 160kmph (100mph). If it’s dark then the chances of that are slim, even if you eat a lot of carrots or are a cat with superb night vision.

Yes, I know that guy, Joseph Swan, illuminated his house with incandescent bulbs as far back as 1880 – Interestingly enough he juiced them up with hydroelectric power. The 1st Major League Baseball (MLB) game to be played under lights did not use hydroelectric power – It occurred in 1935. While the 1st cricket match to be played under lights occurred in 1952 – The Middlesex County Cricket Club side faced off against football’s Arsenal FC at the latter’s Highbury ground in North London, which had recently had lights installed. They played with a white ball as opposed to the standard dusky red, that had been hand daubed with paint – Allegedly they had to keep introducing new balls as each time 1 was struck more of the bright paint was chipped off.

Even with that experiment it was to be another 25 years before cricket under lights became popular, via the advent of World Series Cricket – Limited overs matches that were the beginning of the current One Day International game.

And that is the key distinction that exists to this day – Test matches are not currently played under lights. Well at least not properly – They can be played under lights but only in such a way that the artificial illumination merely aids the natural. Once that scenario has been reversed the umpires will adjudge that the floodlights are dominating the waning sunlight – Usually the determination is made from assessing the player’s shadows – The floodlights will cast multiple shadows in a sort of wheel-spoke pattern. At that point stumps are called and everyone troops off for a sing-along.

I may have made that last bit up.

It doesn’t even need to be fully dark for vision to be sufficiently impaired to call off a game – Twilight is enough, as is a particularly overcast, and thus dim, day. This latter does make cricket in England a dicey prospect throughout each day, even in summer, but particularly in winter when the sun rises about 27 minutes before it sets again.

Winter in the UK is no friend of cricket.

Nope, cricket is for summer. The smell of fresh cut grass, the buzz of insects in the air and the distant sound of a leather ball meeting a willow bat with a solid thwarck. That sound is not the only 1 you’ll hear off the bat though – You can also hear a cracking thwack, a whumping thwock or even a precise and clear thwick. The latter can be risky but is much safer than the dangerous thwuck, particularly against a fast bowler who charges in at pace, before unleashing a missile at your feet.

You don’t want to thwuck with that.

All of this, the sunny weather, the trooping off when conditions become less than ideal and the occasional sounds of the game, create an indelible and languorous rhythm. It’s for sipping and savouring, is cricket – An ale where you study the individual bubbles and the way that light strikes them just so, before lazily rolling the amber gold down.

Ice hockey is not like that. It’s more like this:

That’s not actually hockey. It’s just like hockey without being it. It’s a metaphor.

Yep ice hockey is the antithesis of cricket – For 1, it’s played on an ice rink for crying out loud – That’s frozen water, and not just any old sub-zero H2O either – That water has been frozen into a rink by layers and it frequently needs to be scraped, washed and squeegeed to a smooth surface, most likely indoors and under lights.

To be fair, once you’ve gone indoors the lights are pretty much mandatory – They ain’t no bad lights that help you see the puck.

The term ‘rink’ comes from a Scottish word that means ‘course’ – It was originally used to refer to curling playing areas – Places of smooth, slow and measured motion. Unlike hockey, in which, once the game is under way, it is played at a lightning speed – Players entering and leaving the battle through a seemingly endless revolving door, the action punctuated by sweeping drives and bullet-like shots whipping from nowhere to somewhere else via a few ricochets and rebounds.

Ice hockey is not the slowly-consumed ale that cricket is – Instead it’s a hard-edged ice-filtered brew whose bubbles are replaced by complicated fractals and that needs to be slammed down hard, fast and teeth-jarringly cold.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against hockey – I quite like it – It’s just that I find it hard to understand, to get into the flow of. That video I compared to hockey above is a 2 minute compressed time-lapse of a football game involving FC Barcelona and Osasuna, the former being the most skilled of all modern proponents of that game. Because it is compressed it’s hard to follow the ball and instead you get caught up in the strangely poetic swirls as the game darts around the pitch. That for me is hockey – I can almost never see the puck and instead I’m left to watch the players in motion, making complicated patterns in the ice and occasionally fighting.

The fighting is almost a relief. It’s a good time for me to check in with where the puck and game has got to.

That last bit is grammatically wrong but if you say it fast it sounds just about right.

And that too is hockey – It seems to me that if you play it fast it is just about right. I’m kind of looking forward to catching some of it in this now-shortened NHL season and expanding my icy horizons. If only because the summer of Australian Test cricket is done and I’ll need a sport to cool me down from these oppressive temperatures. That will be kind of fitting – There is a Perth in Ontario, Canada, just to the south of Ottawa.

They play hockey there, right?

Behind Those Doors It’s A Wilder Ride

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