England November 18, 2009

King Giles and the monster


Giles Clarke, inventor of many valuable cricket laws © Getty Images

Life, friends, is a complicated, unsettling, sometimes dangerous business. We have to cling to what we know, to look to those truths that we can depend upon, which may not be for ever but which serve as useful beacons on the misty seas of 21st-century life. Fortunately there is one human foghorn in particular whose utterances always steer me in the right direction, away from the jagged rocks and into calmer waters. I am talking, of course, about Giles Clarke.

In the decades that have passed since he became ECB Chunterer-in-Chief, I have benefited enormously from his wisdom and even formulated some simple maxims to sum up his teaching. For example, Clarke’s First Law Of Cricket is a cornerstone of the English game. It states that if Giles Clarke declares his admiration for something or someone, then you can be sure that person or object is bad for cricket and entirely worth avoiding.

The elegance of Clarke’s First Law is that the converse also applies. Anything that gets old chubby cheeks blowing out hot air like a dirigible with a puncture is highly desirable and unquestionably good for the game. Only last week we witnessed a splendid pageant of colourful and spurious arguments as Clarke launched himself onto the airwaves to explain why the recommendation that the Ashes be on free-to-air television after 2013 was A Very Bad Thing. A Very Bad Thing Indeed.

Of course, under Clarke’s Law this means that it is A Very Good Thing. It has been easy to lose sight of this simple philosophical truth amid the barrage of disinformation and spin booming forth from the ECB’s media howitzers over the last five days. But like Luke Wright on his Test match debut, or a tabloid photographer trying to get a picture of Cinderella, we must keep our eyes on the ball. Though sultry Sky sirens such as Michael Atherton attempt to beguile us with their plaintive wailing, we must close our ears to it all and seek steadfastly for the truth by remembering Clarke’s Second Law of Cricket: Counties Come First.

This particular Law was born of a terrible truth. Deep down in the foul-smelling bowels of the ECB headquarters, just along the corridor from the Kolpak-cloning booth and past the boiler room where they store remaindered copies of Alastair Cook’s autobiography, is a yawning chasm of oblivion, the bottom of which is impossible to perceive. And a little way down into that unfathomed pit, clinging on precariously, is a hideous, slavering, 18-headed monster; deadlier than the Hydra and grumpier than Scylla with a migraine.

Each morning a Sky van delivers fresh sacks of currency notes, which humble ECB employees haul down to the basement and empty into 18 gaping maws, thus temporarily satisfying the beast’s appetite. But in 2013 there might be no more money trucks from Sky. After they have fed the young, the disabled and the women cricketers to the monster, what will the ECB do? Let the hideous beast starve, you might say. But Giles cannot. For long ago, he became King of English Cricket by making a pact with the creature. If he fails to keep it nourished, the magic will unravel and in a puff of hot air, he will turn back into a large, plump and slightly indignant rat.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England