Sean McPartlin - Auld Lang Syne
Cricket Scotland blogger Sean McPartlin gives us his first blog of 2014 with some reflections on the changing nature of cricket.
When I first started watching cricket in 1962, I was surrounded by men who had fought in the two world wars and women who had survived them. A few of those spectators would even be able to remember WG Grace as a player. Many of the current players were ‘young men of independent means’ and those who weren’t had a full time job for 8 months of the year to pay for their “hobby”. Cricket was either 3 day or 5 day and the limited television coverage was frustratingly vague in monochrome. Lancashire were in such disarray that they brought in a club amateur, Joe Blackledge, to be their captain, and, unsurprisingly, that season continued their acrimonious decline.
Cricket, like the world it inhabits, has changed beyond all recognition. It’s more universal, more colourful, more pressured, and more marketable. All forms of the game are instantly accessible – either by television or live feed, the players are often household names – even in non-cricketing households, and the demand for success is instant.
There’s little doubt that Kerry Packer “brought cricket into the twentieth century” in many ways, not least in administration and remuneration for players. What is more debatable is what happened to the summer game when it arrived in modern times.
Despite its aura of tradition, cricket has changed constantly in its long history, though it often seems to have struggled to be in harmony with the times. Indeed, maybe that has always been part of its charm – that it has provided an escape from the familiarities of every day life, and changed at a slower pace than the rest of the world.
Not all change is bad, nor is it necessarily good.
When cricket – the game – is at the heart of developments, progress has been impressive. The arrival of limited overs cricket reflected the need for a shorter form of the game while maintaining its basic skills – and even honing them. Improvements in employment conditions for players were long overdue, and the development of equipment – both for players and grounds - has been hugely beneficial. Players are fitter, backroom support is more professional, and media coverage vastly improved. The arrival of the T20 format seems to have caused a stir amongst a section of the public who may not previously taken a great interest in the game.
However, as is the case with other sports, the pursuit of commercial success has not always sat easily with the roots of the game’s appeal. International cricketers now find themselves on a treadmill of fixtures scattered across the globe – often requiring adjustment between two or three different forms of the game. Nations seen as ‘commercially inferior’ find their Test fixtures squeezed in around increasingly regular meeting of the ‘major draws’ and television calls the shots. Test players, with minimal bedrock experience in the county game, find that T20 shots tend not to be effective in building an innings in the 5 day game, and ‘burn out’ seems increasingly to be a professional hazard.
Cricket needs to be careful that in seeking to appeal to the short attention spans of the 21st century it doesn’t lose its soul – the cause of its longevity as a sport. Spotting a T20 advert last season which read: “Barbecues, music, and stumps which light up”, I wondered if it was already too late.
However, cricketers are nothing if not optimistic – even in the dark midwinter, as the gales howl around us.
I mentioned Lancashire in 1962 and the air of despair around Old Trafford. Within six years they had embarked upon a decade of dominance in the One Day game and had introduced a generation of young talent alongside the likes of Farokh Engineer and Clive Lloyd. When the mix is right, all things are possible.
With that in mind, good luck to Cricket Scotland under Paul Collingwood and Craig Wright as they enter another qualification experience down in New Zealand. Let’s hope it’s the start of a Happy New Year!