Michael Jeh July 11, 2008

Just not cricket

Perhaps it’s just a cynical way to attract more than just 'cricket fans'

Some of the responses to my previous post got me thinking: do cricket administrators consider the modern game an unattractive product? Why do I say this? Well, it must be. Why else would you need a host of other ‘sideshows’ to keep the public entertained? Is the cricket itself not enough?

Perhaps I’m old fashioned. Perhaps I’m one of the minority who still likes to go to a cricket match to actually … wait for it …watch a game of cricket. Why do I feel slightly guilty for admitting that? Because I know that I will cop some stick for not “lightening up” or for not moving with the times or for not embracing the ‘circus’ that cricket has become.

Boorish, drunken, loud spectators aside, we’ve now got a situation where the organisers themselves are almost admitting their product is so poor in entertainment value that they need to put on a ‘Variety Show’ between overs to keep us from falling asleep. Pop music played throughout a match, handicapped athletics races during scheduled breaks, cheap radio station promotions on-ground and PA systems that introduce every player as if they were announcing a heavyweight boxing fight.

If I wanted a rock concert or a children's show, I would have chosen to spend my money elsewhere. The cricket itself was enough to keep me riveted to every ball bowled. Obviously, people like me are not the ones that administrators want to attract to the stadium.

In an era where batsmen are regularly scoring at over four runs per over, bowlers are nudging 150 kilometres per hour and the standard of fielding is taking the game to new heights, why do real cricket fans need any other entertainment? Compare this to the 1970’s when 220 runs in 80 overs of military medium pace was probably considered a good day’s play.

I used to love the quiet moments, especially after a wicket fell, when I could turn to my neighbour and dissect the nuances of the dismissal and bask in the glory of being a sideline expert. What about a quiet lunch break when a robust discussion could take place with a dozen strangers sitting near you, each one bringing their own personal perspective to that session’s events? Silence created it’s own deafening tension when there was a close game to be won or lost. Listening to the radio commentary whilst watching a series of maiden overs was like sipping a fine wine, a slow and gentle seduction of the senses. The new atmosphere is like being at a disco, slamming down ‘Alcopops’ so you get drunk in a hurry.

We now have the latest abomination: American-style cheerleaders in a Twenty20 game that is already so fast-paced that it leaves you breathless. You’d find more culture in yogurt. Is it not enough that McCullum is smiting mighty sixes every few balls or that Symonds’ acrobatics in the field defy belief? Breathless between brilliance, do we need to be assaulted by yet another form of entertainment, lest we get bored and leave before this three hour game is finished? It's like needing to watch a thriller film during sex.

Today’s cricketers have every right to feel aggrieved. They are fitter, faster and more skilled than ever. Yet, their employers feel the need to augment their entertainment value with cheap add-ons. Perhaps it’s just a cynical way to attract more than just 'cricket fans'. This is now packaged entertainment for consumers with empty minds and full pockets.

PS - Some of my mates tell me that watching the cricket whilst making love is perfectly acceptable behaviour. Now there's a true fan.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane