I have been going to watch cricket with my father since 1980, when we saw Ewen Chatfield take 13 wickets for Wellington at the Hutt Rec to beat the then world champion West Indies. I was nine, and what I remember most was watching Joel Garner lope around the outfield near us to near unanimous admiration – this was early days in a series which later became controversial in both countries/regions.
My first test match – New Zealand beating India at the Basin Reserve in 1981 – again, with Father Luddite.
We rocked up to the most recent Basin test this weekend, a pretty tame draw between two pretty poor teams, New Zealand men and Pakistan men. As usual, my father scintillating cricket company, analysing field placements, recalling previous players, critiquing player decisions, and crucially for me, enjoying the good play of both teams.
Mostly the crowd around us were similar. I didn’t hear one piece of racial abuse on either day, directed at either crowd members or Pakistani players.
This is in marked contrast to cricket games I’ve been to elsewhere. Most memorably, Headingley in Leeds, 1992, Pakistan men vs England men, a crowd full of local British Asians, revelling in Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram bowling with fire.
The local white English fans brought a pig’s head into the ground – which was not confiscated – to taunt Pakistani fans with.
Or the racial abuse that’s been part of every Australian cricket match I’ve attended in Australia or England.
Then there is gender to think about. Here as elsewhere, if you want to yell witticisms at a male cricket player, there’s nothing like a bit of sexism. He might be “playing like a girl”, or a “stupid useless cunt” or “a bit of a wuss”.
Father Luddite doesn’t engage in this, and shifts uncomfortably when it happens. But then, he taught me how to play, and toted me around grounds all over the country, where he watched women cricketers hitting balls over boundaries, diving gracefully to retrieve balls, throwing with strength and ease.
Related to verbal sexist abuse is the roasting women in the audience get when they walk around the ground. In the UK and Australia, in the grounds where you can move, if a woman walking to get a drink or go to the loo is young, wearing tight or little clothing (in summer, the temptresses, what are we thinking?), and particularly, blond, they can expect calls of explicit sexual commentary to greet them. Often from many, many men. It’s revolting and makes most women stay in their seats until a break when more people are milling around.
That rarely happens here. Two reasons I think. More women going to the matches. And more women prepared to begin “rating” men in similar ways if they walk around. Liberal feminism at its best.
What was brutally apparent this last Test match however was the New Zealand cricket-watching public’s obsession with same-sex sex. On Saturday on both sides of us there was a constant stream of men teasing one another by saying they “liked it up the arse”. And I do mean constant. Then there were the jokes about Kiwi Brent Arnel’s name. He needed to “bend anal and take one for the boys” according to a very loud commentator who never failed to get a ripple of mirth when he advised the crowd of his thoughts.
Women near us joked about not touching each other now, but they would later. Other men talked loudly about what a “sexy beast” Chris Cairns had been (which in my opinion is true, nice to know straight men exploring their sexuality have some taste).
So what’s that all about? Having reduced the racism and simmered down the sexism, are New Zealand cricket watchers stuck hovering with homosexuality?
Answers on a postcard.