This season I watched two of Leicestershire’s home games in the misbegotten Royal London 50 over competition but stayed to the end of neither. At one I slipped away early (my daughter, who was with me, had an evening appointment and there didn’t seem much likelihood, 20 overs into their reply, of Leicestershire making a match of it). At the other I came as close as I ever have done to walking out of a cricket match, with the Foxes on 30-6 after a 10.30 start. But, even then, I wasn’t very close to walking out in the classical sense of that term, more cutting my losses and hoping to catch an afternoon’s cricket at another ground. In the event, I stayed, the game ended at about 3.00 and the only noteworthy thing I saw was poor Tom Abell being carried off after a nasty blow to the testicles.
I don’t think I ever have walked out of a cricket match and I’m not sure it’s even possible; on the other hand, I rarely stay to the end (or, to put it another way, I usually slip away early). Walking out of a football match is a common phenomenon (sides from the North-east being particularly prone to it, for some reason). It is a piece of theatre, intended to convey disapproval of the way a side are playing, or of the management of a club or its owners. It works best at home games and is most effective if carried out en masse, wearing replica shirts or other identifying regalia and preferably when the match is being televised.
This might work at a Test Match, I suppose, although I’ve never seen it done and, given the cost of tickets, it would be an expensive gesture for an England supporter to make. At a County match it would only work if the entire membership rose as one in the middle of play and marched out as a body (preferably hurling their ties and replica caps to the ground as they went). Even then, it would be hard to distinguish from a rush for the bar, or (at Grace Rd.) the appearance of Mr. Stew’s Lunchtime Specials in the Meet.
Simply leaving before the end of a County game is a different matter, as is arriving late, popping out at lunchtime or – a common phenomenon at Grace Rd. and Trent Bridge – watching the morning session before moving on to a watch rugby or football in the afternoon and returning for the last session and a later session in the bar. Most commonly, though, the crowd begins to drift away and thin out at tea (the time when, in the olden days, most grounds began to fill up as people dropped in after work).
There are practical reasons, for this, of course. Drivers want to beat the rush hour traffic and I want to be sure of catching the last bus (which, in my case, leaves the centre of town at 6.20). I have to get up early in the morning and I have things to do when I get home. It is vanishingly rare for a four day match to end in the last hour of the fourth day (or any other day) and unusual for the outcome of a one day match to be in much doubt ten overs out. And so on.
But, in my case, I am beginning to wonder whether there is not something compulsive about this slipping away early, some hidden motivation that I am trying to rationalise. I could stay to the end of County matches, if I were prepared to spend a little more on travelling by train and I quite often slip away even from club games on a Saturday within walking distance of my house.
Perhaps it is because so few games (or days) end in a satisfying conclusion (when I do stay it is usually because I think there might be one in the offing) that leaving before the end avoids the sense of deflation that results from an unsatisfactory conclusion. Or perhaps, in some deeply-buried, delusional way, I think that, if I’m not there to witness it, the cricket will have no ending?