It is an unpalatable truth that there are a lot of people out there who don’t like cricket. And they certainly don’t, in the words of the song ‘Dreadlock Holiday’, love it.
I’m not talking about those who just turn their noses up at the game, proclaiming it boring, too slow, too long, too obsessed with tea and cucumber sandwiches.
It’s the people who are actually part of cricket I mean, who live off the game but nevertheless seem somehow to despise it, or to regard as merely as an instrument for their own egos and ambitions.
Oh, they like the money and status it brings them, as ex-players, as administrators, as journalists and commentators, and frequently as all of the above: the hospitality areas, the first-class travel, the celebrity. But their sense of the magic of this wonderful sport, of its capacity for bringing people together and absorbing them in the battle of bat and ball, if they ever had it, is long gone.
That love exists all right, in people working long hours, unpaid, in Prague or Dar es Salaam or Nukualofa to prepare a ground that they and their friends can play on at the weekend, in coaches introducing the game to boys and girls in Guadalajara or Djakarta or Barcelona, to umpires and scorers turning up week after week, in all weathers, in Accra or Kathmandu or Ottawa, because without them, the game would be less enjoyable or wouldn’t take place at all.
And to be fair, it also exists at grassroots level in the ICC’s Full Members, in the clubs scattered across the Australian outback and the South African High Veldt, on the beaches of Sri Lanka and the Caribbean, in the local leagues all over the British Isles.
Most passionately, it exists in the tens of thousands of games which take place on every maiden and patch of available space on the Sub-Continent.
Where it exists much less commonly, and with much less intensity, is in the boardrooms of cricket’s official masters, and in the newsrooms of the papers and other media who report on the game.
How else to explain their apparent desire, all too often, to restrict participation in cricket’s major global tournaments, and to refuse, steadfastly, time after time, to direct an adequate share of the sport’s considerable resources towards expanding its reach at every level?
We see the effects of this miserable approach at every turn, from Cricket Australia’s shameful treatment of the less powerful Full Members to the contempt with which the ICC tosses a few crumbs towards its least privileged Associates.
We have seen it this week in Ramiz Raja’s call for Zimbabwe to drop out of Test cricket, echoed by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Chief Cricket Writer (and former communications manager for Cricket Australia) Malcolm Conn, who tweeted on Monday: ‘Fewer more meaningful tests and more A tours for the stragglers until they reach a certain standard. Test cricket should be an earned privilege not an administrator’s whim.’
This provoked CricketEurope’s Andrew Nixon to point out, quite correctly, that ‘Literally every full member was given that status on an administrative whim. Not one of them earned it on the field.’
It would be easy to conclude that the arrogance of many administrators and commentators developed along with the BCCI’s takeover of world cricket in the 1990s and the infusion of huge sums of media money, but that would be a mistake.
After all, Australia refused to play any Tests at all against New Zealand between 1946 and 1973, at a time when financial concerns were much less important than they are now.
But it is true that the governance of cricket has moved further and further away from the grassroots of the game as the decades have passed, and telltale references to ‘the business’ reflect the fact that cricket, like many other sports, is in danger of succumbing entirely to the forces which have recently seen the farce of the European Premier League in football and the partial sale of the All Blacks to private equity investors.
Cricket may not be unique in this respect, but its culture is distinctive in its tendency to believe that ‘less means better’, with ever-shorter formats, narrowly-restricted global competitions, and an obsessive focus on those with the biggest reputations and the fattest wallets.
Cricket lives among who love it best, the 70-year-olds who keep playing because they just can’t stop, the pioneers in Mongolia or Tajikistan who caught the bug once and are determined to share it with everyone they can, the volunteers who mark the creases and make the teas and tend the scoreboard.
And those who operate at more rarified levels, in the boardroom and the newsroom, need to understand that, to remember that that enthusiasm, that love, is what underwrites everything they do. Cricket belongs to the people, not to the franchise-owners or the media magnates.
Cricket belongs to those who truly love it.
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