Alec Marsh

Why the English love lazy sports

  • From Spectator Life
Image: Getty

Once upon a time, when the fingerprints on the Wimbledon trophy were more or less exclusively British, you could win in SW19 whilst wearing trousers. Even a tie if you go back far enough. But then, back in those days, tennis was a no-sweat sport.

Well, perhaps a drop or two, but essentially there was much less of it around than today, when sweatbands, perspiration and frequent towelling off are part of a fetishised display of effort and strain – one that’s often accompanied by verbal ejaculations of sometimes rather alarming severity. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been forced to mute Wimbledon at times because of the repetitive baseline grunting.

But it wasn’t always this way. Long before the relentless moaning, women once played tennis bowling underarm while dressed like Downton Abbey dowagers, while the men, like thrice-1930s winner Fred Perry, even wore sweaters. The fact that this correlates with Britain’s strongest period in the sport is intriguing.

Another great no-sweat sport is cricket: even today, unless one is bowling very rigorously for a prolonged period, one ought not perspire. Not really, not unless it’s really hot, which it usually isn’t here. And this is helped by the structure of the game, which limits the physical exertion of the bowlers to six balls, at which point they can go back to loafing around the outfield, while pondering their next Mr Kipling.

Who would want to disturb the gentility of tea with the fug of body odour in the pavilion?

And it makes sense: who would want to disturb the gentility of tea with the fug of body odour in the pavilion? I’m sure I could bowl my slow right arm delivery for eternity without troubling a sweat gland, and I’m sure I’m not alone. In part, this is all thanks to the dependably poor English weather; where else in the world would players of an ostensibly summer sport be issued with a woollen jumper weighing the same as small dog?

But the fact remains that getting out of breath playing cricket is like breaking a sweat on the golf links: it’s your body’s way of telling you you’ve got bigger problems to think about than your batting average.

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