March 22, 2014

The problem with rugby analogies

Giles Clarke wants English cricket to learn from the rugby team. How presumptuous

"With a bat in hand, I'd fancy a switch hit at this point" © Getty Images

As you may have noticed, English cricket is in a bit of state at the moment. The masses are, if not revolting, then fairly close to revolting, and at a time like this, we look to the wise old men of the ECB to calm the situation, to reassure the frightened public, huddled together for warmth as we contemplate the cold, desolate post-KP future.

So on Tuesday, Chairman Giles Clarke emerged on the balcony at Lord's to address a small flock of pigeons that had gathered on the outfield in expectation of birdseed.

Giles had a simple message. He wants us to "move on". Not in a Curtis Mayfield way. By "move on" he means "stop whingeing". He wants us to move on like Tony Blair wanted us to move on after his Mesopotamian misadventure, or like Giles himself wanted us to move on after that unfortunate business with the helicopter, the crate of cash and the international fraudster.

Giles doesn't like to have to explain himself, but he did condescend to offer us a hastily assembled rugby analogy, about which I have some doubts.

Admittedly, I may not have grasped all the nuances of the egg-chasing pastime, but it appears to be a sport in which 15 hefty players roll around in the mud, from which melee, from time to time, a lone player emerges, scrambling free like a prisoner making a break for the wire, only to be hauled down again by seven or eight granite-jawed heavies

In the Lord of the Flies environment of the average rugby game, I'm sure Giles is right that there is little room for the temperamental individual genius. It's hard to display your genius, after all, when half a dozen hippo-sized men are sitting on your head.

But Giles is a shrewd chap and he will have noticed that cricket is not rugby. It isn't even a bit like rugby. Cricket is not a high- impact physical pursuit. In fact, it is barely even a physical pursuit. As I can testify, it is possible to get through a whole game of cricket without ever exerting yourself in any direction, unless you count quickening your stride to ensure that you reach the Battenberg before the rest of the throng.

Cricket is a person with a bat and a person with a ball. It is essentially an individual sport - golf without the appalling trousers - and the only reason it became a team game is that it saves time to have ten people to retrieve the ball from the outfield instead of one.

So there is plenty of room in a cricket team for a temperamental genius with a South African accent who nobody likes, particularly when he scores almost all of the runs.

The enforced and unexplained absence of Kevin Pietersen leaves a big hole in the England batting order; a big hole surrounded by some other holes. But when English cricket supporters ask why there's a big hole where Kevin Pietersen used to be, the response of Chairman Clarke is to tell them to stop asking questions and get back to waving their flags.

We've all had some fun with PCB chairmen over the years, but say what you like about the various gentlemen who've filled that role, at least they weren't there for long. Giles Clarke - Ijaz Butt with a fringe - has been around forever, chuntering and denouncing, blustering and threatening. Perhaps, if the England cricket team can do without their best player, the ECB could manage without their egregious chairman. Time to "move on", Giles?

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