September 4, 2013

What are cricket boards for?

Cricket is crying out for the return of the boring administrator

There is a lot to be said for daydreaming. The world is full of tediously focused people who never take their eyes off the ball, but who wants to watch the ball when you can gaze aimlessly at the crowd, the sky, the pitch, the birds, or your own shoelaces?

Some of humanity's best brain-work came through daydreaming. Galileo hadn't given much thought to suns, orbits and suchlike, until his mind started to wander during mass one Sunday morning. Lalit Modi had no interest in franchised hyper-leagues, cheerleaders, megalomania or world domination until he found himself stuck in a Mumbai lift listening to the Lighthouse Family for 27 minutes.

Even a commoner can benefit from daydreaming. Only this week I came up with three chin-strokers while I was stuck in a conversation about illegal parking with an angry policeman.

Firstly, what's the difference between a medium-fast bowler and a fast-medium bowler? For example, in the Playfair Cricket Annuals, David Capel was always MF, but Neil Foster was FM. (Graham Gooch was SM, and by the end, Ian Botham was more VVSM.)

Secondly, why are the Army Barmy? If it's a self-help group for people with mental-health issues, then surely there are more sensitive titles. Or couldn't they be bothered to find another rhyme for Army? That's unforgivable when just ten minutes with a rhyming dictionary threw up the Balmy Army (purveyors of soothing lullabies) the Smarmy Army (supporting England in an unctuous and insincere manner), the Origami Army (adept at creating paper representations of the day's play), and the Pastrami Army (always bring their own sandwiches).

Thirdly, what are cricket boards for? Every other species of board has a purpose. Floorboards stop you from landing on the breakfast table of the family who live downstairs. Cupboards solve that tricky age-old problem of where to put your cups. Washboards make fine musical instruments. And waterboards help certain governments in their quest for global justice.

But cricket boards?

I think I know what they should do. Arrange matches for the benefit of spectators. Keep things running smoothly. Make sure players get paid on time. Steer clear of media squabbles. Maybe even work together with other boards for the good of the sport.

What they actually do is rather different. In the last week alone, we've seen the following examples of board misbehaviour: bad-mouthing senior players in the media (SLC); not paying their players (ZC); attempting to bully another cricket board over fixtures (BCCI).

The problem is that cricket boards are usually staffed with politicians, businessmen and former players. Politicians are skilled at lying, presenting things in the best possible light, and character assassination (or in some cases, literal assassination). Businessmen spend their lives persuading us to buy things we don't need, sacking people, and extracting money from every situation. And former players just want to be loved.

So our cricket boards scheme, spin, and chase after dollars with the gusto of a pack of slavering, if slightly overweight, basset hounds in pursuit of a fox. They are forever launching new franchised leagues that nobody really needs, giving us their opinions without our having asked for them, and being photographed leaving courtrooms wearing expensive suits. We have some of the most ruthless, Machiavellian, commercially minded boards in history.

But we don't want our cricket boards to be dynamic, ruthless and exciting, just as we don't want our hospitals to be dynamic, ruthless and exciting. We like our hospitals to be roughly in the same place they were yesterday, reliable, reasonably efficient at doing the thing that they are supposed to do, and largely free of flesh-eating diseases.

Cricket is crying out for the return of the old-fashioned, ego-free administrator; the pen-pusher; the bureaucrat; the man in the dull tie who will come into the office on time and do exactly the same thing he did yesterday; who will do the boring things and do them so well that we won't even know what he looks like, and our only clues to his existence will be that every cricketer gets paid on time, the fixture list has regular gaps in it, and coverage of the sport is widely and freely available for everyone.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here