Monday, 2 November 2009

Rain down, rain down...

'Each man kills the thing he loves,' said old Oscar, and he should know. Without being impertinent and trying to second-guess him, I take that line to be about the complex closeness of love and hate, of how too much of one provokes the other.

In a terrific piece for the Guardian, Stuart Jeffries looked at Andre Agassi's claim that, 'I play tennis for a living, even though I hate tennis, hate tennis with a dark and secret passion'. 

Jeffries went on to speak to Vic Marks, who told him, 'sometimes as a cricketer, you long for it to rain so you don't have to play... When it pissed down you knew that you were not going to fail that day. Lovely thought.'

Part of the piece is about the pressure of professional sport, which only those who play it can assess intimately. But part of it is about something more universal. As a kid, I can remember hoping it would rain before big games, or that I'd develop some mysterious injury. The hope in itself was a release. Where it stemmed from, I think, was not just fear and not just hate but from love, and to understand the love you have to accept the rarity of it.

That's because the feeling of coming through the pressure, through the sleepless nights and the prayers for rain, the feeling of going to the game anyway, and of facing the fear and then having it melt away as you stay in, and you don't fail, and you reach 10 and then 20 and start to feel better, and all of a sudden you're in the game and it's there and you want the strike, covet it, and the game turns from something to be feared and hated into something to be loved, to be loved because it offers you a feeling that you just can't get anywhere else.

It's not a cheap feeling, it's not a cheap thrill. It has a value and a price. It's a rare thing. It's the other half of hate, but it's much more fleeting. You can come to hate its value and its price, but that's the thing that you hate. 

The feeling has a ratio, of course. For someone of Agassi's talent, it's probably the feeling of winning a grand slam. He took eight in his career. Eight times the feeling came, in all of those hundreds of matches, those thousands of hours, and it came with its price. He might have hated the price, but I'd bet good money he doesn't hate the game.


Brit said...

I think this is an excellent piece on why an amateur would 'hate' his beloved hobby and pray for rain.

But there are missing elements which I suspect only apply to the professional. First, the grind. For Agassi, this would be the diets, the hotels, the practice sessions, and then the endless first-round, second round routine matches against mediocrities, tournament after tournament, which don't test his talent, just his will to concentrate sufficiently not to be humiliated. For cricketers, this might be four day county matches in the Second XI in front of one man and a dog, or in the First XI in front of six men and dog.

And second, there's the existential problem of earning your living, of justifying your being on this planet, by doing something so trivial and, in those awful moments of clarity, as absurd as batting a ball about.

The Old Batsman said...

Yes absolutely, the grind and the process, rather than the game. It's be interesting to know at what level of obvious usefulness a job stops feeling trivial though - anything sporting or artistic? Investigative hack? Nurse?

Brit said...

Well I suppose an existential crisis, or 'Naked Lunch moment' if you like, can strike anyone at any time (except, perhaps, midwives). But playing ball games for a living (particularly in front of small, barely conscious audiences, or crowds that have all come to see the other guy) must scream at you daily.

The Old Batsman said...

Yes, probably why lots of them aren't overly-encumbered by self-awareness...