An era of bloodlust
Predicting the future is difficult. In cricket, the clairvoyants use many forms of futurology: divination by wagon wheel, by pitch map, by manhattan. And it's still nigh-on impossible. But not totally so. So, if you want to place a few heavy, cast-iron bets on the cricket, here's the second of our three-part series. You can read part one here and part two here.
With WADA close to admitting defeat in the face of ever more sophisticated pharmaceutical products and masking agents, an unsanctioned T20 tournament in Netherlands in 2022 trials the legalisation of performance-enhancing drugs. With participants munching down the anabolic steroids, there's a quantitative leap in the performance of fast bowlers, who regularly hit 190kph; Bangladeshi left-arm spinner Hasnain Manbub's arm ball clocks 140kph.
With several players quaffing testosterone shakes while batting, the amount of aggression rises exponentially and the tournament soon spawns a sinister, ultraviolent, Running Man-style spin-off called Hardball, played for high stakes and in front of a TV audience rabid with bloodlust. The batsmen are not permitted to use any type of protection when facing the 120mph exocets, although, as they're on colossal doses of morphine, that doesn¹t really matter.
With the rise of social media, bowlers in T20, 1-on-1, Tests and Hardball will be tweeting between deliveries: "wide of the crease this ball, nip-backer, hope he tries to leave it and gets bowled". Or: "New blog: How I follow-up my bouncer with an inswinging yorker #waqared". On Facebook, Mickey Arthur insists on status updates at end of each over.
By 2025, climate change means that fielding in gloves is permitted in England, while fielding naked is allowed in Sri Lanka and the Caribbean.
Despite the misgivings of the egg-and-bacon crew that T20 is some sort of apocalypse, it's undeniable that the format hothouses creativity. Thus the jaded seen-it-all-before merchants of the MCC get a rude shock as new technical innovations appear in IPL24 (their coaching manual still not yet updated to include the googly).
First, those amateur beach ballistics experts of Sri Lanka develop an upswinger. While cries of "Cheat!" emanate from the drinking clubs of West London, savvy administrators (from those same clubs) hotfoot it to the Commonwealth Office to expedite these wizards' UK citizenship applications.
Then comes the first new distinct batting shot since the Dilscoop and the switch hit appeared in the late noughties: a stroke developed by Eaioaioeun Morgan, cousin of Eoin, called "the Hurl". The batsman gets off side of the ball, as though to play the ramp shot, only he then somehow manages to keep the ball on the surface of the bat as both he and it pirouette through 180 degrees, finally hooking the ball over backward point's head, à la pelota, at speeds of around 180mph. Spectators in the point areas are advised to keep their eyes on the ball and to buy life insurance.
While the rest of the world kowtows to the BCCICC and generally feasts on T20 riches, the pauperisation of county cricket continues apace.
The drive to raise urgently needed funds leads to the redevelopment of county grounds in creative ways (following the lead of Canterbury, where they knock down their indoor school to build a supermarket, and in which they occasionally practise in the aisles, though not the fruit or dairy).
Surrey, Warwickshire and Lancashire rent their outfields out as helipads, interrupting play on several occasions per day and causing an 89% rise in the amount of lost headgear, mainly wigs and some charity-shop baseball caps. Somerset cut a gigantic chalk Facebook "like" symbol into the Quantocks in the hope of attracting druids. Hove doubles as a camp site throughout the season. Chester-le-Street installs wind turbines.
Draconian new stop-and-search measures at county grounds lead to the confiscation of packed lunches, with offenders immediately frog-marched to the spangly new Panini Palace under the grandstand for some pastrami-rocket-and-caramelised-onion-chutney creation that elicits only an affrighted stare.
By 2035, the counties' parochial intransigence has reached absurd levels in 19 of 21 cases (Staffordshire, Devon and Norfolk having been given first-class status). Squads are larger than their memberships, cricket's popularity having been eclipsed by parkour and base jumping, yet still the chairmen refuse to abandon the Sacred Format. The schedule in which T20 games are shoehorned between the morning and evening sessions of Championship matches, causing chaos at the ticket booths doesn't really help.
Eventually, in 2040, with bankruptcy looming, a regional format is adopted. Lancashire and Yorkshire resist and secede, first from the Panini Palace Regional Championships then from the United Kingdom itself. Suddenly, England has as much trouble producing pace bowlers as India, who duly return to the Test fold.
Scott Oliver tweets here