You’ve got to give it to the people that run the game of cricket, despite it having the appearance of one of the world’s more dull, austere and esoteric sports, the organisations that oversee the game have worked tirelessly to devise new ways of making the game ever more appealing to a wider audience. It’s important to note though that one of the main reasons that I’ve always enjoyed cricket is for the fact that with its tradition and arcane rules it hasn’t appealed to a broad audience, if it had, then it would end up having an audience much like football and thus immediately make cricket completely shit.
The most recent efforts of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have focused on trying to ‘sex up’ the four day county cricket format by introducing day night games. Now, the four day format of the County Championship is undeniably the most dull, and understandably the most poorly attended. The four day game only appeals to the die hard cricket enthusiasts, men who have nothing left to live for, dull men who find themselves trapped in even duller marriages, men who are looking for solace in a dull game that nobody really cares about. Some might even say that following county cricket in many respects represents the last alternative to suicide. But, despite this the ECB appear to believe that by playing matches under floodlights and allowing the final session to finish at around 9 or 10 in the evening will make the game accessible to those who’ve had to work all day.
What the ECB fail to appreciate is that after a hard day at work there aren’t many people who will find the idea of watching a stand alone session of cricket, in the dark, to be that entertaining, with the exception of those men who are avoiding going back home to see their wife, and these guys are already following the four day game anyway. It can only be assumed that the ECB has leapt to the conclusion that because Twenty20 is played under flood lights and has been hugely successful, then it must be, that if you put county cricket under floodlights it too will automatically appear more exotic, and irresistible to the public, and less like the only alternative to killing yourself. Early indications in the form of ticket sales suggest that when this was first tried during a round of County Championship matches in June, the day night matches were far from a success.
This day night farce will be extended to the international game when England play their second Test against the West Indies, at Edgbaston, under floodlights. Now, in a country like Australia I can see a certain degree of sense to day night cricket. After spending the whole day in the Australian sun you’re probably going to end up looking like an old leather handbag, full of sun dried tomatoes. In Australia the sun is an actual risk to the health of those out in it. This is a risk, that we can safely, and thankfully say, that the people of Birmingham have never had to contend with, and not even the most dire models of global warming are likely to predict a scenario where glum faced Brummies are packed into hospitals brandishing their latest Actinic keratosis. And as such, day night cricket just isn’t necessary, it’s just a gimmick to try and make something more interesting. It’s like sitting on your hand to make it go numb and then trying to masturbate, it’s just a gimmick that tries to make something that should already be pleasurable, even more so.
Cricket has a history of embracing experimentation and change. Such changes have often been concerned with reducing the games length. Timeless tests were de rigueur up until 1939. One Test match between England and South Africa lasted 10 days, before the English team had to leave to catch the boat home and not to miss the start of World War Two. Therefore, 46 hours of play had resulted in a draw, as a spectacle some considered this unsatisfactory. Indeed it might have been this that enraged the Fuhrer to such an extent that he took the decision to invade Poland, but this is just historical speculation. After seeing off Hitler, cricket’s organisers required Test matches to be completed in less than 5 days, thus allowing cricketers to respond more quickly to the outbreak of future global conflicts that might require the skills of men who can stand exposed in fields, for long durations.
Limited overs cricket was introduced in the early 1960’s which enabled a result to be reached in less than eight hours. In 2003 the game was streamlined even further, with Twenty20 cricket allowing you to see an entire match in an afternoon, or evening. The obsession of reducing the length of cricket matches makes me wonder, how good can cricket be when the trend seems to suggest that the audience are actually demanding to see less of it? If we develop this logic to its inevitable conclusion then why bother playing at all, just let the captains do the coin toss and see which one of them can perform the most star jumps at either end of the wicket, while monkeys throw flaming chainsaws at them. It would be quick, entertaining and we could have a result by 11:30, and get back to playing Cookie Jam on our phones.
Although Test matches were originally timeless, the dimension of time has become somewhat of an obsession, both with how much time a game takes, and at what time the game should be played. It’s just possible that sometime in the future, the ECB might get really adventurous and invest in research that actually finds a way of reversing the spacetime continuum. This would allow us to watch a five day Test match before it had even begun, and then get back to work before we’ve even had the interview for the job. The ECB’s fascination with time could well have unforeseen consequences. Disturbances in the spcetime continuum could open a wormhole to a parallel universe in which John Emburey could actually turn the ball, and where Merv Hughes is an English schoolboy leading a miserable life at Eton as Mike Atherton’s Fag.
Messing around with cricketers clothing has also been considered as a way of generating more interest in the game. Pyjama cricket, as it is sometimes pejoratively referred to, first appeared in the late 1970’s. The idea essentially being to dress the opposing teams in two different uniforms. Not an unsound proposition for a sport, but whether or not this actually lead to an increased interest in cricket is at best a moot point. I mean if you were really attempting to increase viewers by virtue of the clothes the cricketers wore, then surely you’d be dressing them up like The Village People. Drag queen matches would be a spectacle worthy of anyone’s attention. The Possibility of watching a six and a half foot West Indian charging up to the wicket wearing high heels and a wedding dress could only fail to entertain someone laying on a stretcher, with the blanket pulled up over their face. So I can see what cricket was thinking with dressing the teams differently, it’s just that they failed to really capitalise on where this logic could have taken them. All in all it leaves me thinking of all the missed opportunities, and fun we could have all had.
It appears to me that the Cricketing authorities are obsessed with the colour of their
sport. Having introduced colourful uniforms at the expense of all white, they took a beautifully red cricket ball and demanded that on some occasions it become white. The recent introduction of day night County Championship, and Test matches, sees a pink ball being used. Apparently it’s all very scientific and involves the colour that can best bee seen by the batsman under certain conditions of light, which in itself seems a little dull, why not use a ball that the batsman can’t see at all? Even better the fielding team uses an imaginary ball. The bowler hurtles up and delivers the so called imaginary ball, meanwhile the wicket keeper, who has tied some fishing line around the bowlers off stump and yanks on it hard just after the bowler should have delivered the ball. The off stump falls down, the bails come off, and the batsman departs convinced that he’s just faced a 100+ MPH delivery.
In the same way that changing just the colour of the clothing seemed a little too conservative, changing just the colour of the ball, to me anyway, seems to lack imagination, why not change its shape, its size or its composition, why use a ball at all?
I suggest, that the team that wins the toss decides whether to bat or bowl first, while the other team decides whether the game will be played using a Rugby ball, a brick, kitchen appliances, or rodents. There’s almost an infinite number of objects that could be thought up of for a bowler to sling down at the batsman. Some may argue that certain objects are more dangerous than a cricket ball, and that might be true. But, some of the objects are also far safer, nobody’s going to be bowling intimidating ‘chin music’ using a hamster, so the whole issue of safety ultimately balances itself out in my book.
Another thing for consideration, bowlers could be required to bowl in certain types of mood. Instead of the traditional leg spin, off spin, or seamer, the great bowlers of the future will send down deliveries with despair, doubt, and ambivalence. Of course these moods were experimented with extensively by the English bowling attack throughout the 1990’s, with the likes of DeFreitas, Tufnell, and Chris Lewis.
I’m off to practice my bowling seeing that I’ve now established a perfectly good excuse for rubbing my testicles against the microwave. After that I’ll go to bed and probably have nightmares featuring Dennis Rodman wearing a wedding dress running up to me and suddenly out of the gloom, and it’s all the ECB’s fault, not only are they ruining cricket, but now they’re ruining my sleep. The microwave won’t be fit for use soon either.