week, The Guardian ran a feature where they got their arts critics and their sports writers to swap roles and do the others' job for a day. So, to cover the horse racing, they sent a dance critic; to write about the opera, they had a rugby analyst, etc.
To cover the cricket they sent Caroline Sullivan, an American rock critic, who attended the first day of the 2nd Test match between England and New Zealand at Old Trafford and came out with the same puzzled, nonplussed feeling that seems to afflict anyone who watches cricket for the first time:
Today's game is considered special because it's umpire Darrell Hair's first match since he controversially accused a Pakistani player of cheating in 2006. I keep an eye on him to see if he does anything interesting, but no -- he just stands a few feet back from the pitch and looks bored.
Ah, but what's this? He's waving an arm, and both teams troop off the pitch. Apparently, the light has become too dim for play to continue, and we're going to have to wait until things brighten up. An hour later -- it's 5pm, and we've been here six hours -- we're still waiting. But instead of throwing bottles, as the crowd would be doing if this were a gig, spectators are placidly reading magazines and drinking tea. And they say English stoicism no longer exists.
Other than her comparison of a long, tedious day at the cricket to a Tindersticks concert, there wasn't too much of note in her review (nor in any of the other ones, for that matter.) In fact, the most interesting thing about the whole exercise was to see how far some of the writers would push their forced analogies just to make a point. (The prize might go to the theatre critic who managed to compare an overweight, 47-year-old darts player's struggles to the peripateia of the doomed heroes in classical tragedies.)
I guess it should be no big surprise that The Guardian's idea turned out to be better in theory than in practice. The job of putting the action on the field into a different context and of bringing new perspectives to the analysis of the game should really belong to the specialist sports writers themselves -- that is, in essence, what they're being paid for. It takes a spectacularly good writer -- and/or an outstanding intellect -- to come in from a different field and cover a sport in a novel and insightful way.
(Like, for instance, David Foster Wallace's brilliant piece on Roger Federer for the New York Times a couple of years ago. I'd give a nut and a couple of inches to write something half as good as that someday.)