Innovations June 7, 2011

Are you with Shahid?

On the one hand, he’s fickle

Saturday, 4th June Shahid Afridi and the PCB are now officially in a state of feud and are settling it like men, the old-fashioned way: press releases and legal notices at dawn. Stopping Shahid from playing Twenty20 in England does have a hint of the playground about it. But then again, Afridi would try the patience of the most benevolent administrator. He is the boy (with the lovely hair) who cried resignation once too often.

So whose side are you on? It’s tricky, as Run DMC put it.

Though this revolution is timely, I’m not sure Afridi is the man to lead it. The Che Guevara of Pakistani cricket may look good on a t-shirt but he’s not the most reliable of figureheads around whom to rally. He is the embodiment of unpredictability. He lets you down, then he makes up for it, then he lets you down again. It's no coincidence that the founding members of the Afridi fan club all went grey years ago. As heroes go, he is from the shelf marked “flawed”.

On the other hand, he isn’t Ijaz Butt. Like I said, it’s tricky.

Sunday 5th June Cricket Australia are toying with the idea of twilight play in some Sheffield Shield games next year. Not before time. It’s as timid as warm milk, but they’re reckless revolutionaries compared to the ICC. In most corners of their dominion, Test cricket has nearly ceased to be and is well on the way to being an ex-format. So what are they doing to reanimate it? We may, possibly, have some sort of Test championship playoff in 2013, a mere decade after the Test ratings were initiated. That’s about it.

How about day-nighters? Four-day Tests? Coloured clothing? Players’ names on the backs of their shirts? A slightly more robust approach to playing in the rain? A new ball every 40 overs? Sacrilege! Whilst (popular and profitable) 50-over cricket is fair game for all manner of wacky innovations and bizarre experiments, the five-day format must be perfectly preserved, like a museum exhibit, as the cobwebs accumulate and the spectators drift away in search of something more interesting.

But perhaps there is another angle. Maybe, instead of trying to find 21st-century solutions, we should seek inspiration from the past. I’m not talking compulsory beards, cravats or Bodyline (although there’s a lot to be said for all three). No other sport depends so much on the condition of the playing surface, so why not make a virtue of it and bring back the uncovered pitch? Hands up who wants to see how well Ian Bell or Thilan Samaraweera cope with a sticky dog at Old Trafford or a hard-baked turner in Chennai? Let’s make Test cricket a real test instead of a run-fest.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England