Today the England cricket team plays the latest in its One Day International series against Sri Lanka at Old Trafford. On 12th June at Leeds its equivalent will begin the First Test against the same country.
Unless something extraordinary happens, I shall be watching little or nothing of either.
Call me old-fashioned – and don’t worry about insulting me, because I’m happy to admit it – but I finally fell out of love with, and ‘bailed out’ of, cricket as a major sport at some point in the 1990s.
It is inevitable that the sporting and other interests of each generation’s youth tend to be more vivid and influential in the memory that others in life. Personally I like to guard against any blanket “It was better in my day” nostalgia, both for fear of boring anyone younger that I come into contact with and because – as a child of the Sixties – I like to think of myself as being constantly open to new experiences and experimentation.
Nevertheless, against that ‘live and let live’ background, I recently shocked myself by retrospectively identifying 1963 at the year when the deadly virus that eventually put paid to my love of watching cricket first arrived – in the form of the Gillette Cup, England’s first one-day county competition.
Let me explain.
When I was a kid, the great players of the time – e.g. May, Cowdrey, Graveney, Trueman, Statham, Jon Snow, Lock, Laker, Worrell, Kanhai, Sobers, Hall, Griffiths, Harvey, Lawry, O’Neill, Hanif and Mushtaq Mohammad … ad infinitum – seemed inexorably linked by an umbilical cord of historic certainty to their predecessor giants such as (going backwards) Bradman, Miller, Larwood … Hutton, Hammond, Ames … Hobbs, Woolley, Hendren … Sidney Barnes, Hirst and Rhodes, Trumper … Ranjitsinhji, McLaren, Grace … all the way back into the 19th Century and the days before Test cricket even existed.
With each new cricket year in the 1960s, as he set off on his arching run to attack the unsuspecting batsman, I knew that Fred Trueman was continuing his quest to break ‘Titch’ Freeman’s 1928 record of 304 wickets in an English season and Alec Bedser’s career mark of 236 Test wickets … and later Brian Statham’s 242.
When Fred eventually reached his final total of 307 Test wickets, I couldn’t see how it could ever be beaten. I well remember Fred’s wry comment when he was asked whether he thought one day someone might manage it: “I don’t know. But what I do know is that, if anyone ever does, he’ll be bloody tired!”
But that, of course, was then. These days, cricketing records are like confetti and far the lesser for it. In the 1960s a bowler who took 100 Test wickets was a man to be reckoned with – in 2014, however, unless he’s skittled 175 to 200, his modern equivalent is regarded as scarcely out of short trousers.
For me, the great thing about cricket was its never-changing nature. One felt that one’s present day heroes were standing in direct decent from their forefathers and could be compared directly to them.
Looking back now, that notion was probably about as authentic and relevant as John Major’s famous fantasy that “Fifty years on from now, Britain will still be the country of long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers …”
I guess, even in the Sixties, the rules of cricket were being tampered with, green-keeping science was being advanced and modern bat and ball technology was rendering the exploits such as Garry Sobers’ 365 not out against Pakistan in 1958 or Jim Laker’s 19 wickets against Australia at Old Trafford in 1956 – measured against the exploits of the cricketing greats of the 1920s and 1930s, never mind those before that – as ‘Mickey Mouse’ in comparison.
Because certainly, that’s how I feel about the modern cricket world of incessant Test cricket, ODIs and T20 matches.
I know everything worthwhile in life has to evolve and develop … or probably die. But, for me, ODIs – never mind T20 matches, for all their worldwide commercial and popular success, are basically taking cricket towards baseball.
That’s not cricket – or Test cricket – as I know and used to love it.
For me, proper cricket involves a contest of several days’ duration, of ebbs and flows, highs and lows … and yes, probably also longish periods of dullness and boredom – the very ones that radio’s Test Match Special commentary team was so adept at filling with cakes, irrelevant chat and moments of inspired interviewing and fun. As these times of ‘thrash and bash’, hit & giggle instant gratification gradually take over the world, it seems to me that the game of cricket is inexorably diminished.