July 20, 2010

The quest for proper cricket

Forget all the marketing twaddle; bring back timeless Tests, heavy-duty grafting, and pitches from hell

Conventional wisdom is that Test cricket needs a facelift, a makeover, an injection of conceptual botox, or at the very least, some form of major and invasive reconstructive format surgery. Whereas Twenty20 is dressed up in the latest consumer-enticing finery, fresh from the fevered minds of those clever marketing chaps, Test cricket is still wrapped in a shroud of dusty rules and cobwebbed ritual.

For example, even though a stadium may be overlooked by enormous towers featuring row upon row of pristine lightbulbs and served by many miles of lovely electrical cable, it is still possible for players to go off in the middle of the day due to bad light. And though rugby players may hurtle headlong into one another long after rain has turned their pitch into a quagmire, Test cricketers cannot possibly be asked to run about outside when the grass is a little damp.

And a good thing too. The future of Test cricket is not to be found in pink leather balls, cheerleaders or lunch breaks at midnight. Instead we must make a virtue of anachronism. Tradition and history are powerful selling points. Why else would a poky little ground in north London with an eight-foot slope be regarded with such awe by visiting Australians? Newcomers expect Test cricket to be stuffy, old-fashioned and impenetrable, and we should not disappoint them.

We can start by bringing back the timeless Test. Let’s turn Test cricket into a reservation for the world’s endangered grafters and stonewallers, men like Shivnarine Chanderpaul; true artists who deserve a bigger canvas. Imagine Paul Collingwood walking out to bat on the 17th morning of the Third Timeless Ashes Test. Picture, if your imagination can encompass it, Simon Katich batting for six or seven weeks as he builds an epic century single by patient single.

The next retrovation (we must steel ourselves to using the language of marketing) should be the uncovering of the pitch. Pitches these days are terribly bland. Pre-match horticulture reports linger hopefully on the odd green shoot or occasional tiny black line, which is as likely to be one of Nasser Hussain’s eyelashes as evidence of nascent cracking. And at the merest hint of moisture, groundsmen rush to protect their pampered patches of earth from the rude intrusion of Mother Nature.

That isn’t how cricket was meant to be. I want to see highly-skilled prima-donna superstar batsmen hopping and flapping about as the ball turns square on a sticky dog or takes enormous chunks out of a surface that has been baked in the sun for four days. Closing your eyes and swinging will no longer be an option, nor will 13 varieties of slog-sweep suffice to sustain an international career, and thus the batsmen will be separated from the Luke Wrights.

And finally, let’s do away with the laws on intimidatory bowling. Fast bowling, if it is any good, should always be intimidatory. Restrained from unleashing their full hostility, the modern fast bowler grows frustrated and turns instead to mouthing obscenities. Setting them free of artificial restrictions will therefore reduce sledging and bring about the beautiful spectacle of Dale Steyn trying to bounce six balls on over off Ricky Ponting’s face guard.

Now that, as the adverts will undoubtedly say, ideally in a Yorkshire accent, is proper cricket.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England