February 29, 2012

Man up, Huss

What’s a big, strong Australian got to fear from a small, round red thing?

Sunday, 26th February One of the joys of cricket is the opportunity it gives us for vigorous debate whenever another little hole is found in the tattered fabric of the blessed Laws. Is the ball dead, or is it merely resting? Is it six if a stray platypus catches the ball and carries it over the boundary rope whilst keeping one webbed foot on the field of play?

This kind of stuff also lets us bask in the illusion that, through the scrutiny of a few densely written paragraphs of cricket scripture, ideally read aloud from a tatty old Wisden, we can pin down the whole messy business of reality, dig out the pure truth and then batter everyone about the head with it until they agree with us.

India’s captain knows all about this kind of thing, and having been overly generous at Trent Bridge last year, he wasn’t letting Hussey minor get away with anything today. But after an awful lot of chin-scratching, Hussey II did wriggle free of the clutches of Law 33, on the grounds that he had handled the ball to avoid injury.

So perhaps Law 33 needs a new paragraph, defining the difference between “injury” and “Mummy, I got an owie!” Besides, I thought Antipodean cricketers were tough. If Little Huss is claiming that he was scared of a tiny bruise on his tummy, then it’s time he thought seriously about whether he’s entitled to that Australian passport.

Monday, 27th February Once upon a time, television viewers were enthralled by shows like Dallas, Dynasty and, if their evenings were particularly empty, The Colbys; glamorous melodramas featuring ludicrous characters and preposterous financial goings-on that almost always ended in tears, recriminations and implausible, series-ending cliff-hangers.

But in recent years, cricket lovers have been able to follow their own high-finance and skulduggery-themed soap opera. The Shires is a tale of colossal egos and massive financial incontinence amongst the deceptively comatose world of county cricket. It’s a tale of dodgy architects, high-maintenance South Africans and crazy fixture lists.

Above all, it’s the story of 18 desperate men, men who know there’s only so much subsidy money to go round. In an earlier episode, the chairman of Hampshire had sold his ground to the council. Today he sold the name of the ground that he’d sold to the council to a company named after a random selection of Scrabble tiles.

From now on, Hampshire cricket lovers, proud heirs to the legacy of Hambledon, will be privileged to call the place where they watch their cricket the Ageas Bowl. “Ageas” is from the Latin “agere” meaning “unpronounceable drivel” but was also the name of the Greek God of Financial Disaster. I can’t wait to see what Hampshire do next.

Some troublemakers might ask what all the hospitality gazebos, satin-furnished conference suites, innovative financial arrangements and Surrealist pavilions have got to do with identifying and developing talented England cricketers? This is, after all, the thing for which counties receive the annual subsidies that keep them afloat.

But, like Dallas, The Shires shouldn’t be taken seriously. It is a fantasy world populated with implausible men in suits pretending that their heavily subsidised debt-ridden sports clubs are proper businesses. And, like the best soaps, it will end with a bang as several counties commit financial suicide in the final episode.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England