Britain has a long-standing tradition of groups of people standing around in fields wearing bright white shirts and trousers and occasionally running a little. There is sometimes – but not always – a bat and ball involved, and some sticks stuck in the ground. This is the fine sport of cricket, the only game I know of where there are scheduled breaks for lunch, tea and drinks, all codified into the MCC Laws.
On many Saturdays over the summer, including today’s first match of the season, my incredibly amateur team plays on an extraordinarily haphazard village pitch (half an hour is spent before the start of every game filling in the rabbit holes – usually with the nearest mole hills). I, like many very enthusiastic but fundamentally skill-free players, have a go at lots of different roles on the field of play.
One particular role I fill well is that of wicketkeeper, whose main job is to stop the very hard and fast-moving ball from flying past them after it passes the batter. The sole requirement for the position is a bloody-minded attitude to pain and discomfort, which I possess in droves.
Jesting aside, there are a number of attributes which a good wicketkeeper possesses – quick reflexes, focus, flexibility, quad strength, etc. One particularly powerful one, though is leadership.
The best wicketkeepers will not only lead by example in their enthusiasm and efforts, but will also assist the captain in motivating, praising and guiding their teammates. They typically do this through a confident, gobby attitude, and keepers are famously eccentric in a loud way.
One aspect of a keeper’s play which can prove particularly powerful is their proximity to the opposition batter. A well placed comment to the batter or enthusiastic praise of the bowler can unsettle, confuse or distract the batter so that they play a false stroke, and that can make all the difference in a game as one mistake is all it takes for a batter to be out of the game.
Commonly referred to as ‘sledging’, this technique sometimes involves rude or inappropriate comments. My preference is to use flirting, and I have found it to be very powerful. I have some qualms about this, which I will outline shortly. However, on a purely pragmatic level, I have found that most straight men feel very unsettled about being the focus of even feigned interest from other men, and in a sporting context this puts enough doubts in their mind to distract them from their play.
Some of my teammates have also been amused by this, and have joined in with gleeful comments about my ‘interest’ in the batsman. A similar effect can be observed when our opening bowler, a woman, is bowling, as some men fear the comments from their teammates if they are ‘out’ batting against a woman.
My reservations about this are as follows:
– it could clearly be perceived as somewhat unsporting
– it could reinforce/consolidate prejudice against gay/bi people
– it is partly using peer-based homophobia and teasing to discomfort players
However, there is also an extent to which this confident and overt expression of sexuality increases awareness of the existence of bisexual people, a problem often faced by the bi community (also known as bi erasure).
It also undermines traditional sexual/power exchanges by playing with the insecurities and uncertainties in the privileged male heteronormative sexuality, while empowering a traditionally repressed expression of sexuality, that of same-sex attraction.
Questions arising from this week: is it acceptable to use flirtation on the sports pitch to unsettle opposition players? Particularly, is this problematic when it throws up queer/LGBT+ dynamics into the equation?
Those of my readers from Cambridge University who know any former Women’s Blues hockey players may want to be aware of the current drive by the club for equal prominence of both teams:
“As part of the celebrations we plan to unveil a new Blues name board at Wilberforce road for the women’s teams pre-2005. This will complement the boards for men’s and women’s Blues since 2005, and men’s Blues back to 1951, which were unveiled at the 2015 celebration. Our records for the women’s teams pre-2005 are incomplete and this is why we have been delayed with the new board. (…) We would also be very grateful to receive any information about ladies Blues teams and Varsity match scores pre-1998.”
Additionally, anyone who knows anyone graduating who wants to ‘queer it up’ should have a look at this guide, courtesy of Nina Thunder.