May 18, 2011

The last four overs

This is it for Shane Warne then

Sunday, 15th May Former player Akram Raza has been arrested, allegedly for trying to place a bet. If it’s true, then well done the Pakistani police. I only wish the British constabulary offered a similar service. How useful it would be if, as you approached the counter, clutching a hastily scrawled slip, you felt a heavy hand on your shoulder and heard a voice deep with authority and wisdom:

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, is it sir.”

Quite right, constable, don’t know what I was thinking. Worcestershire to win the County Championship? Forgive me, I’ve not been well lately.

Betting is a drug; it distorts your experience. For example, the normally tolerable inanities of the commentary booth become unbearable when the team you backed at 10-11 is floundering, but on the other hand, as the chap you picked to top-score goes to his century with a towering six, the voices of Danny Morrison and Pommie Mbangwa are as a chorus of angels.

Why do we humans do it? Because we want action. Not being involved ourselves, we don’t just want to be spectators. We want our pulse to be racing. We want to feel like punching the air or kicking the turf too. Betting packs the terror and elation of the human condition into one short space of time, a period of living with the illusion that your senses are heightened. Although they say the same about heroin.

If the charges are true, it raises serious doubts about Akram’s judgement. It is not just that he was allegedly trying to place a bet; I heard he was allegedly trying to place a bet on the Delhi Daredevils. Perhaps he was arrested for his own well-being.

Monday, 16th May This isn’t how it was supposed to end. It looks like Shane is bowing out amid a tawdry farrago of fines, fake tans, skin creams, celebrity dating, furious tweets and absurd defeats. Suitably, the last nail in Warne’s career coffin was delivered by an Englishman, Nayan Doshi, who brought a touch of Tavare to the hit and giggle: 13 balls, 0 runs. His breathtaking subversion of the format was almost sexy.

So Friday it is. I’ll be honest, I’ve started to dip in and out of the IPL. I like it, but I like trifle too, and six weeks of trifle leaves you feeling queasy. But I’ll be tuning in on Friday. It’s the last time we’ll see that menacing amble to the wicket, the beauty of that fizzing legbreak and those well-rehearsed expressions of disbelief. There are only four overs, 24 balls, of Warne to go. I’ll be watching every single one.

Tuesday, 17th May The chaps still don’t get it. Here’s Scyld Berry in the Telegraph, contrasting the popularity of the IPL with the near-empty stands during the first Test in Guyana:

“Even if it is not what it was, at least the IPL can claim to be not half as desultory as much of Test cricket has been made by its administrators.”

Now I enjoy beating up on administrators as much as the next man with a blog to write and nothing to put in it. But I’m not sure how they can take the blame for the dwindling interest in Test matches, unless their error was to allow more exciting and popular cricket to exist, thus diverting the wayward spectator from the true faith? That appeared to be Peter Roebuck’s argument last week.

But what if the problem isn’t the IPL, the administrators, television, Kerry Packer or the BCCI? What if the problem is Test cricket itself? Before we carry on with our efforts to resuscitate the format, perhaps we ought to ask the big question: Could it be that the era of the week-long cricket match is nearing its end? And more importantly, if nobody wants to watch it, then what, exactly, is the point?

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

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