Cricket is synonymous with all that is true and honest in life, or it was.
‘It’s just not cricket’ has for years referred to having something that is unjust, or just plain wrong done to someone or something. ‘To play with a straight bat’ is used to refer to someone who is honest and has traditional ideas and beliefs.
Yet with match fixing scandals, the dawn of T20 and the vast sums of money swirling around the game the gentlemanly behaviour associated with the game of yesteryear is fast becoming a thing of the past. Some feel that the demise of Test cricket is linked to the drop in moral standards around the globe.
The decline may well have started a lot earlier than some imagine, after all it was the President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe when first elected Prime Minister who said “Cricket? It civilises people and creates good gentlemen. I want everyone to play cricket in Zimbabwe. I want ours to be a nation of gentlemen.” Sadly that hasn’t transpired and Henry Olonga and Andy Flower, two of that countries top players cannot return after protesting against his regime when they wore black armbands during the 2003 World Cup to reflect a mourning for democracy.
There are many who feel that the standards the game once stood for are no more. The recently released docu-film “Death of a Gentleman” is aptly titled and exposes the Cricket Boards of India(BCCI), Australia(CA) and England (ECB) power-grab at the ICC in early 2014 in great detail.
Sadly Alistair Cook’s marathon innings for England in the 1st test match against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi also belonged to a bygone era. His innings seemed out of place in a game that now sees a ‘good eye’ more valuable than good technique. Sadly too the game which came to a dramatic conclusion as only Test Cricket can, was played in front of a crowd not much bigger than some village sides are able to draw.
Pakistan’s plight of having to play outside of Pakistan is not good for a sport played by only ten nations at the highest level. Australia pulling out of their tour of Bangladesh makes the landscape on which the game is played even more depressing amongst those nations who play professionally. In fact Cricket has so many wonderful paintings of games being played in wonderful settings, but these too are becoming a thing of the past as developers take over grounds and clubs cash in.
In England, the home of the game, there is currently a disconnect between recreational, professional and governing departments of the England and Wales Cricket Board. Many feel that the only hope for the game is if those at grassroots level start to sense that they do, actually, have a voice that will be heard, and can see a clear way to influence policy on the game. As like many other sports around the globe those running the game are now totally focussed on the elite level, and are trusting those who love the game to keep grassroots going. In fact the ECB has been brazen enough to encourage people ‘to get stuck in and volunteer at their local clubs.’ That is all very well, but these people should have a say in how the game is being administered.
The sad thing is the Television stations who pay the money for the sport to survive at elite level are no longer interested in the older more traditional fans. They are aiming at the younger fan, as this is the market their advertisers want and find appealing. It is for this reason that Pakistan cricket is about to launch a T20 tournament in the UAE to raise much needed funds. It is why the move towards four day test matches over the traditional five is almost inevitable.
The truth is the sporting landscape has clearly shifted, and shifted dramatically. Skill and subtlety have been replaced in so many sports by a mechanical, over-coached bludgeoning styles of play. Football has become overly defensive, rugby too, while cricket has promoted a fast food version of the game where technique means little and the bowler is on a hiding to nothing; bat so superior over the ball.
Sadly the fact of the matter is in television terms the only Test series that makes any money is the Ashes series. Television executives are businessmen and not benefactors, so one wonders how long they can keep offering such vast sums of money for a sport that may fill air time, but fails to engage viewers. Times have changed and Test cricket in television terms is becoming like posting a letter. It still works and is a skill, but few have time for it and would rather enjoy a message with more immediacy.
There are some who feel that the demise started when the ICC started to play around with the scheduling, when International teams were suddenly playing far more games than in the past. Many of the true followers of the game simply could no longer keep track of who was playing whom, and who would be their next opponent. There is merit in these claims, as traditional tours to a country every two or three years became a thing of the past.
Cricket finds itself approaching a major crossroads and the grab for power made by the ECB, BCCI and Cricket Australia may have been a huge miscalculation, as ultimately these three giants of the game for various reasons are now the ones charged with saving it. When the game needs a breath of fresh air their own self interest may in fact strangle the last few breathes out of Test cricket as we know it.
With former Test Captains appearing in court for alleged perjury and players admitting throwing games the credibility of the game and what it has stood for for so many years is threatened.
Prophetically it was the Yorkshire Post’s Cricket Correspondent JM Kilburn who wrote ” When ‘it isn’t cricket’ has become an anachronism and a smear, cricket will be close to its deathbed.”