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Wednesday, June 13th Murali thinks the English Twenty20 competition is old-fashioned. I’m not quite sure he’s got the hang of England yet. Old-fashioned is what we do. If we wanted to organise our cricket properly it would be based on the cities, where the people live. But we don’t do organised. We prefer an organic approach, partly because it preserves the accumulated wisdom and heritage of our ancient isle, but mainly because it means we don’t have to do anything.
And his idea of merging counties is a lousy one. Combining Gloucestershire and Somerset? Into what? The Somershire Mutants? The Gloucesterset Freaks? Where would the YorkLancs monstrosity play their home games? I suppose joining Leicestershire and Northamptonshire would at least contain the tedium in one place and Middle Surrey has a nice ring to it, but Hampsex and Kentsex sound positively unpleasant.
Franchises aren’t going to work either. English people are generally well-disposed towards cricket. They are pleased in a vague sort of way that it’s there and come the soggy season they might even consider going to a Test match, until they see the prices. But that’s as far as it goes. I can’t see Katie Price or Anthony Hopkins stumping up £100 million for the privilege of owning the Birmingham Bores or the South London Gangsters.
Murali obviously doesn’t understand how sport works in England. Long ago, it was written that there shall be a thing called football, that it shall be a wondrous thing, flowing with milk and honey and that all that is football shall be forever bathed in sunlight, but all that is not football shall be in outer darkness.
If you sold all of the county car-parks, county players, county chairmen and county chairmen’s personal assistants, you’d just about raise enough money to be able to employ Samir Nasri’s cleaner or perhaps Wayne Rooney’s enigmatic cousin Dwayne for a couple of weeks. Tycoons, despots, mafia dons and intergalactic fugitives are squabbling over the ownership of second division football clubs like frenzied pensioners at a jumble sale. But I’m afraid no self-respecting porn star would be seen dead buying an English cricket team.
Thursday, June 14th Prepare yourself for a sentence bewilderingly overloaded with big names. Viv Richards has compared Kevin Pietersen to Muhammad Ali. He’s right. When KP trolls down the pavilion steps, there’s a hum of excitement as spectators put aside the crosswords, shopping lists and maths homework with which they entertained themselves whilst Trott was in. Even sitting on the dressing-room balcony picking his nose and reading the Daily Star, KP is box office.
So who on earth can replace him in the one-day team? Well, at a time of national cricket crisis, we naturally look to our elder statesmen, reliable men of substance and experience, men like Alec Stewart. Alec is a little like the monarchy: a bit old-fashioned, slightly wooden, not particularly comfortable talking in public, but somehow immensely reassuring.
Alec has the answer. Ian Bell. Yes, really. He also claims to be Ian Bell’s biggest fan, which makes you wonder how much support Ian is getting from Mrs Bell. Perhaps she prefers KP.
But Ian’s No. 1 fan does have a suggestion. He thinks that Ian should bat like Ian and not try to be someone he isn’t. Instead of asking the dressing-room mirror how he can be more like Kevin Pietersen, he should be asking his reflection how he can be more like Ian Bell. This is, I’m afraid, a slippery slope and leads inevitably to talking about yourself in the third person, a diagnosis of galloping egotism and a position in the IPL commentary box.
Besides, it isn’t true. We all remember running in to bowl imagining we were Dennis Lillee or Imran Khan, or in my case, Neil Foster. We almost always bowled faster or smashed the ball further if we pretended to be someone we weren’t and I bet even Dennis sometimes pretended he was Ray Lindwall. So my advice, Ian, is to forget all that nonsense about being yourself. Get a maroon cap, practice chewing seven sticks of gum at the same time and swagger to the crease like it’s 1976. Yeh, talk nah Mrs Bell.
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73