It’s Not Cricket

That great cricket commentator, cricket writer and oenophile, John Arlott, was of the opinion that cricket reflected the times it was played in.

Thus, in Victorian times, there was much apparent rectitude- “Play up, and play the game”- but much cheating and betting. Post World War I, there was a sense of abandonment and relief after the horrors of the trenches. Class distinctions, between paid professionals and dilettante amateurs, were apparent. After World War 2 these started to fade. Political conflict was reflected in the “rebel” tours to South Africa, defying sanctions on apartheid. A more fluid economic situation led to increasing commercialisation and the end of amateur players at the top levels. The attention span of the public grew shorter. Spectators- many spectators, anyway- wanted games that finished in a day. Thus one day cricket became much more popular.

These are just my uninformed interpretations of Arlott’s idea. Moving into the modern age, the proliferation of independent TV channels led to the rights to international cricket being sold to the highest bidder. There was an increasing amount of experimentation: night cricket, white balls, fielding restrictions, coloured clothing and the like. Now the formats of cricket have again changed to include 20 over games, shorter than even village cricket. (My son, a keen amateur player, tells me that decreasing numbers of amateur cricketers want to play games that last even as long as a day; they want them to be over in an afternoon.) We now have pink balls, free hits, power plays and technological umpiring decisions. There are bidding wars for players in some competitions. Even that core of the game, Test matches, is changing, and some players are saying they are only interested in one day cricket. It may be that, by the time I die, there will be no more Test cricket.

What aspects of the modern world are reflected in all of this? One could speculate, for example, that it is globalisation that has led to the IPL (the Indian Premier League) employing foreign players at huge salaries; but of course your guess is as good as mine and probably better.

I try hard, especially in this blog, not to be a “grumpy old man”. However, I find myself less and less interested in a game I used to love beyond reason. Perhaps, if cricket reflects the times it’s played in, I am just behind the times, or out of touch with them.

It's Not Cricket

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Jumpers for Goalposts

I have slowly come to realise that I enjoy professional sport less and less. I could rant about why at length, but here is a small selection of reasons.

Football The obscene wages; “professional” fouls, lack of local roots (in some cases) and lack of regard for fans (in some cases) as typified by shirt and ticket prices.

Rugby The enormous injury toll on players as they all become huge and hugely muscled, and are even (in some cases) coached to cause injuries. I am told that some teenage players are being encouraged to take steroids to bulk up.

Tennis The obscene wages and the increasing lack of subtlety as power takes over.

Cycling Drug use (in some cases).

Cricket I think I had better write about this separately, because this was my great love and now I find I have fallen out of love with it, at least as it is now played.

Obscene wages seem to be a theme here. Yes, I do mean obscene, given that we still have people living on the streets. (See my blog £367, 640). Drug abuse is another problem underlying a lot of sport. I also hate the way professional sport seems disconnected from the grass roots, and how children are hothoused rather than just having fun. Children’s sports and amateur sport increasingly copy the excesses of the adult professionals. There are a host of reasons for all this happening, but what are my answers? I haven’t got any. Instead I present to you….

Jumpers for goalposts. That is, I know, a very loaded cliché. However, I do hanker after a return to sport played just for fun, so as light relief I offer you these alternatives to professional sports, to reclaim the lost territory of the real amateur:

BadmintonGarden badminton I am not entirely joking when I say that badminton is better outdoors. It adds an element of judgement that is lacking, especially at the top level, involving judging the wind and the terrain, as well as avoiding the offerings of next door’s cat. It’s also very easy to set up and relatively cheap. Unless you trample on your Mum’s precious flowers.

CricketRough cricket There are of course many variations of this, but it’s disappearing fast. I remember painted wickets on the school wall. A tennis ball was used, of course- but it still hurt if it hit you in the face if you hadn’t been paying attention. In the summer we’d have epic Test matches on our local field; a true rough sport rule for us was that you could only hit the ball on the on side, as the field was too small. Beach cricket of course is an honourable tradition, the terrain levelling skill differences. The picture, which was tagged as copyright free, is of cricket on the Bramble Bank at low tide. True rough cricket.

Table- top table tennis As a teenager, we played intense table tennis tournaments on a large sheet of hardboard in a friend’s barn. To my huge pleasure I found that my Mum and Dad used to play on their dining room table using books for the net and the bats, at least initially. A return to this type of improvisation is long overdue. (I’m delighted to see tables being set up in city centres in the summer.)

Football tennis ball squash In the playground at school we had a corrugated iron fence. We used to play a version of squash against it. As long as you could kick the ball against the appropriate panel of the fence you were still in the point. The killer move was to get the ball going down the sleep slope and into the outside boys’ toilets. It should have honed our skills to high standards….. but it didn’t, and that’s not the point of true amateur sport. It was just fun.

Rough football Oh dear, this is turning into reminiscences; our cub scout goals were just a little more sophisticated than jumpers, being bamboo poles. I was a master of the mighty toe punt. It could go anywhere, occasionally into goal. Oh how they ducked.

Cross-country golf This really does exist, and I don’t mean just on golf courses. Be careful playing it in urban areas…. I should also add garden putting. There’s another challenge.

Road bowlsRoad bowls Again, this does actually happen in Ireland. It might be a bit difficult in our crowded island…..

Although this is light-hearted, it has at heart a serious point. It might surprise my small circle of friends that I really do value sport, for young and old. It doesn’t matter what you play, or at what level. You don’t have to be Maro Itoje, Jonny Bairstow or Justin Rose. It should just be fun.

(No, please don’t mention Quidditch.)

My Mother’s Books

My mother was an avid reader; my father still is. As I have probably mentioned before, being in a house full of printed material has made me the ‘print-oriented junkie’ (Harold Rosen) that I am today.

In my memory, there were two main threads to my mother’s reading. One was what we might term ‘period romance’, perhaps best exemplified by Georgette Heyer. I tried some of these and they are, perhaps surprisingly, quite well-written. Some later examples of this genre were not as good; I was a little shocked when Mum lent me one and I found that it contained ‘scenes of a sexual nature’!

I fondly remember reading some of Mum’s books from her childhood. She particularly enjoyed the ‘Anne of Green Gables’ novels; oddly enough, I read them as a teenager and greatly enjoyed them. She also had the “What Katy Did” books.

Most fondly remembered are her cricket books. I’m not sure how she got a love of cricket; maybe from her mother-in-law, who took her to see a test match. We went to see county games together a couple of times and shared a love of Test Match Special, especially the humour. She bowled tirelessly to my son in her back garden, and was always delighted when he put in a good performance for his club. I think she was still aware enough to realise that he had scored his first century when we told her.

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Her great hero was the Surrey and England bowler, Alec Bedser (later chairman of selectors). I still have a treasured copy of ‘Following On’, an account of the 1950-1953 cricket seasons, written by Alec and his twin brother, Eric.

Equally treaured, but more often read, is ‘The Book of Cricket’ by Denzil Batchelor. Published in 1952, it is a collection of potted biographies of cricketers from W.G. Grace to Peter May. I have read it, or dipped into it, time and time again. I can recite many stories from it to the boredom of anybody.

There are and were others, but these are my prized possessions and memories. Thanks, Mum.