November 17, 2012

Is this the preservation of Test cricket?

Aside from growing their hair and absent-mindedly walking into lampposts, philosophers spend their time wrestling, on our behalf, with the Big Questions

Aside from growing their hair and absent-mindedly walking into lampposts, philosophers spend their time wrestling, on our behalf, with the Big Questions. What is existence? What is the nature of truth? What's love got to do with it? How does Donald Trump get his hair to do that?

So here's another one for our chin-stroking friends to wrap their syllogisms around whilst sipping Lady Grey in the refectory of the Faculty of Important Thinking. If a Test match is played but nobody sees it, has it really happened?

At a time when Test cricket is going the way of other quaint 19th-century pastimes like duck-dangling, unicorn-prodding and cockerel-mockery, those who find themselves temporarily at the controls of the Test Match Spaceship seem bent on steering it into the black hole where all irrelevant pastimes go to die.

Perhaps they think that by rocketing their sport directly into the crushing maw of dark obscurity, they will go shooting through a popularity wormhole, like a prune through the digestive tract of a cow, and pop out the other end into a parallel universe where people care about five-day cricket, Justin Bieber hasn't been born and middle-aged men in expensive suits are sex symbols.

How else do you explain the fact that whilst Test cricket's popularity is receding more quickly than Sourav Ganguly's hairline, those in charge seem to be taking a perverse delight in preventing as many people as possible from watching, hearing or even seeing photographs of the thing they claim to want to preserve?

The BCCI have asserted their right to levy a fee on commentators for the privilege of walking on their luxurious fitted carpets, for taking advantage of their beautifully designed plastic chairs and for having the opportunity to glance at the portraits of former members of the board hanging in the foyer of the Sardar Patel Stadium.

They would also be quite within their rights to institute a per-sheet toilet-paper utilisation charge, with small concessions for those who'd tried the prawn biryani in the Ravi Shastri Seafood Grill. And since the oxygen circulating in the corridors of all Indian stadiums is clearly BCCI oxygen, some sort of deduction might be appropriate, particularly for asthma sufferers who always seem to use more than their fair share of the stuff.

Likewise, the ECB are entitled to flog the rights to watch Alastair Cook scratching himself to Mongolia's premier cricket broadcaster, Ulam Bat and Ball, if the price is right. And if he wants to, Giles Clark can spend his weekends fiddling with his mouse, tracking down those ne'er-do-wells who keep trying to watch Test cricket on the internet and having them arrested.

But if we really want people to fall in love with the five-day game, should we be making it so difficult? Some sports try to seduce you with the promise of half-price tickets, free television coverage, pulse-quickening action, and a convenient playing schedule. At the moment, Test cricket's seduction style is to saunter up to you, yawn, slap you in the face with a mackerel and attempt to charge you £45 for a conversation.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England