The Ashes – Office ball games

WHEN you have been obsessed with a particular subject for as long as you can remember, what do you do when everybody else starts taking an interest too?

During the summer of 2005, many English cricket fans who thought they were part of a small, elite group suddenly realised they were not alone. For so long football had dominated the back pages – and often the front pages too – as we griped and moaned about how the real beautiful game never gets a look in. When Ashes fever gripped the nation, everything was different. Jonathan Agnew recently observed that the way people watch cricket in this country changed that summer.

Luckily for us precious die-hard fans, those nice people from Sky were kind enough to come along and remove cricket from “normal” TV, restoring once more the sport’s long-held image of elitism that it had worked so long and hard to shed.

My company recently moved into a new office, and within clear view of my desk there are two large plasma screens. This is not uncommon in a newsroom – we need to keep abreast of any breaking national stories. But just before the first Test began, both screens were re-tuned to the newly and entirely pointlessly re-named Sky Sports Ashes.

Weekdays during Test matches have now become something of a personal war of attrition. One one hand, I have a busy and demanding job which requires concentration throughout the day. On the other hand, the Ashes is on. Every time the bowler reaches the top of his mark, my eyes shift inevitably from my PC screen to focus on the bright light in the middle distance. I don’t even have to turn my head.

Then there are my co-workers. The editor-in-chief of my newspaper’s sister paper is a cricket nut. Obsessed with the game. This I can cope with. This I can identify with.

His news editor operates on a similar level, but seems strangely able to focus on his work even when Australians wickets are falling above our heads.

The guy sitting directly opposite me is Canadian. Yesterday he told me he made an effort to watch the cricket when “Stuart Smith” was batting, but struggled to understand the scoring system and found it all a bit boring.

Our chief sub-editor is a rugby man, but recently revealed that he is a demon bowler for his Twenty20 midweek team.

At the other end of the scale, there are those who can’t stand the game. Our crime reporter pulls a face whenever it is mentioned. The web editor doesn’t like the sun, or going outside at all, never mind any kind of sport. Arriving on Monday morning, he greeted me by asking: “Is that the end of the cricket now then?” When I said there are nine more Tests to go before January, each of them five days long, he sighed.

Then there are the Johnny-Come-Latelys. When our head of news discovered my love for the game, she mocked and called me a geek. But as the first Test was drawing to its dramatic conclusion, I received an excitable message asking how my nerves were holding up.

Wading into the growing debate, one of our trainee reporters described cricket as “just rounders in a straight line, innit?”

I don’t yet know how I feel about my colleagues’ sudden interaction with my lifelong passion. Sometimes I want to jump out of my seat and shout “You don’t understand! You weren’t there at the beginning! It wasn’t always like this, you know! Do the words Mark Lathwell mean nothing to you people?”

But for now I will content myself with the thought that I know more about what’s going on than most of them. And if any of you are reading this in the office, which I expect you are, my message is this: Please don’t change the channel. I promise I’ll get back to work. Just one more over.

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