January 14, 2009

Let me on the pitch, I can help the Middle East

Andy Zaltzman has unlocked the key to the Middle East crisis: pitch invasions

I know that this might seem a relatively insignificant bout of nostalgic grumpery in an age when the whole of cricketing tradition is under threat, but cricket has lost something special with the outlawing of the end-of-match pitch invasion, as well as its more restful but nevertheless enjoyable counterpart: the end-of-match stroll across the outfield to stand in front of the pavilion whilst some commemorative medallions are handed out with all the glitz, glamour and razzmatazz of an egg sandwich in a disused quarry.

No doubt some these celebratory or commiseratory crowd incursions were putting players at increased risk of suffering a public handshake or mild back-patting incident. More importantly, it is unquestionably more difficult for the organisers to cram the requisite 150 sponsors’ logos onto a pavilion balcony than onto a temporary cardboard rostrum that looks like a struggling school pupil’s failed CDT project.

However, some of the most memorable moments in cricket history have been when players have had to sprint with their commemorative stump through a swarming mass of celebrating fans, sidestepping like particularly exuberant Fijian rugby players to avoid excessive hair-ruffling. And some of the most iconic images of the game feature victorious captains waving from a lofty pavilion perch to their adoring throng like a chuffed pope after a particularly good St Peter’s Square sermon (albeit that few popes have saluted their fans after being drenched in champagne and beer by jubilant cardinals) (only Pius IV).

I acknowledge unreservedly that the world has more important political and economic issues piling up in its in-tray at the moment, but if cricket’s authorities can demonstrate that they trust their spectators to pitch invade with due care and decorum, perhaps the Middle East will realise that any problem can be resolved if only those involved are prepared to try.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer