May 14, 2014

Dear cricket snobs...

Andrew Hughes
A committee comprising former players and experts has been appointed to decide if this is "real cricket"  © AFP
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When cricketers write down their thoughts, we should all pay attention. Obviously this doesn't include their Twitter dribblings. Perhaps somewhere out there among the bat-waving, ball-flinging fraternity there lurks a potential Twitter Shakespeare, a part-time legspinner, pinch-hitter or reserve wicketkeeper, who may one day open our eyes to the glorious and profound possibilities inherent in the 140-character form.

Thus far, alas, such a hero has yet to emerge and the collective literary efforts of the planet's cricketers seem to be an experiment set up to test the infinite-monkey theorem.

So I should qualify that opening statement. When former world-class cricketers possessing the wisdom derived from spending half a lifetime learning how to do something, and who have, along the way, picked up the ability to string a couple of sentences together, write down their thoughts, we should all pay attention.

Naturally I read Martin Crowe's ESPNcricinfo piece about T20 cricket with interest. When I was young, Crowe was a colossus, an immovable piece of furniture in the living room of my cricket imagination. Other New Zealand names came and went, but Crowe, M, along with Hadlee, R arrived on my scorecard without my even having realised I'd written down their names. When a man like Martin Crowe opines, we take note:

"T20 is a game initially derived from real cricket... "

"It's not really cricket and it never will be."

I was inclined to take Martin Crowe's word for it, but still, this "real cricket" business had me puzzled. What is real cricket, exactly? Is it timeless cricket? Five-day cricket? Four-day cricket? Three-day cricket? Fifty-five overs? Forty overs? Single-wicket? Was the three-day County Championship less "real" than the four-day County Championship? When thousands turned up to watch a one-day game between Kent and All-England at the Artillery Ground in 1744, were they watching real cricket?

Over the last 300 years, everything about our game has changed: rules, equipment, format, length, hairstyles, but the one thing that hasn't changed is the contest between a person with a bat and a person with a ball. That is cricket. The rest is mere detail.

Martin Crowe isn't the first to trot out this line about real cricket. I know many people who agree. Some of them are apparently rational, pleasant citizens, able to wander at large in the community, manage their own affairs, vote in elections and so on, without causing a danger to themselves or others. Yet on the subject of cricket they remain adamant. They know what they like and they know proper cricket when they see it.

But if T20 is not real cricket, what exactly is it? And why do so many people want to watch it, if it isn't "real"? Martin Crowe has the answer:

"T20 is the place to try new stuff, with entertainment in mind."

Ah, that dirty word: "entertainment". Entertainment is what the poor plebs who buy their tickets to IPL games are after, the fools. They part with their hard-earned money in exchange for the temporary fix of entertainment. Connoisseurs of real cricket wouldn't fall for anything so tawdry. Real cricket fans know that "real cricket" is about handing over large sums of money with no promise of any entertainment whatsoever.

The problem for the real cricket enthusiasts is that entertainment is more than just the gaudy icing on the cricket cupcake. Entertainment now pays the bills. Why do thousands of people worldwide attend cricket matches? For the good of their souls? Because they can't get a good nap at home? I suggest they come in the hope of entertainment.

No entertainment means no crowd. No crowd means no sponsors, no television coverage, and no money. No money means no more big, fat central contracts. How many current and former cricketers would be prepared to play for free, in front of near-deserted stands, in matches ignored by the media, in order to preserve and support real cricket?

In many Test-playing nations, real cricket is not financially viable. So instead of being sniffy about the IPL, perhaps cricket snobs should be asking how they can make real cricket more entertaining, and sooner rather than later, lest real cricket go the way of Real Tennis.

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

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Posted by Speng on (May 16, 2014, 20:05 GMT)

Real cricket is County Cricket where there are more in the two teams and their entourages than in the stands. Real cricket has no actual fans - go to England and ask 10 random people if they follow cricket... In the West Indies Real Cricket can't get on the radio much less TV, most people couldn't tell you where the nearest Real Cricket ground is but they know which WI players play on which IPL franchise. Real Cricket players don't make enough to be professionals but funny enough those guys playing that thing that's not real cricket fill up our test teams...

If they stopped playing Real Cricket tomorrow who'd know? i guess nobody since Real Cricket obviously isn't about entertainment.

How many of us have ever played this Real Cricket? I never touched a real cricket ball until I was eleven never played on a pitch. We played ketchy-shubby with boards and tennis balls, tennis court cricket, table tennis ball cricket in parking lots... but I guess it wasn't real.

Posted by KapilsDevils1983 on (May 15, 2014, 15:46 GMT)

Balanced pitches make for a good contest between bat and ball - not the format. Also each to his own, if people are entertained by watching paint dry, then let them watch test cricket - why should I stop their fun. On the other hand, the self righteous who believe test cricket is superior - it's not! Lots of test cricketers are rubbish at t20 - Clarke, Rogers, Smith, Dravid, Laxman - unsurprisingly, and lots of t20 cricketers are no good at tests as they require different skill sets! Some players like Devilliers, Warne, KP and Kohli have the game across all formats! The most superior cricket is BALANCED cricket.

Posted by ramli on (May 15, 2014, 13:07 GMT)

@Inswinging toecrusher ... you got your name right boss ... nice take on pseudo Aussies ...

Posted by   on (May 15, 2014, 6:19 GMT)

It's ridiculous to think that all t20 matches are played on flat pitches and have scores over 180. How many times have we seen a t20 side defending 140-150 score?Citing an example SunRisers defended many matches in which they only scored under 150.We regularly see KKR spinners choking the opposite batsmen. That t20 is full of sixes and 200 plus scores is a stereotype. Even in the last World T20 the "flat" pitches in Bangladesh threw in many 150-160 scores.

Posted by   on (May 15, 2014, 2:57 GMT)

Real tennis is far better than lawn tennis. Case closed.

Posted by   on (May 15, 2014, 0:44 GMT)

I grew up in Australia during the early 1980s and it's unfashionable to mention this nowadays but we stank. The highpoint of my childhood ambitions was Tony Mann and Andrew Hilditch batting three days to lend the scorecard at least a veneer of respectability against the West Indies second XI. And that's one aspect of cricket that I prize, clinging on with grim determination when the only hope is survival not victory.

T20 and ODIs don't have that. Win, Lose, they're you're only options, the hard-fought draw is not an option. And while some people don't treasure it or miss it, I do. In that sense T20 does lack some of the context and nuance that can create some really striking drama (admittedly only occasionally delivering but that's another matter). If that's the sort of drama you like then T20 is in some sense inferior, though there are many other ways in which it is superior. If you view cricket as purely a test of technical skills then what's not to like?

Posted by InswingingToeCrusher on (May 14, 2014, 18:43 GMT)

@Biggus - All your big guns play IPL. And then they play BBL. Why do you guys play so much 20 - 20 if you love your test cricket more than any one else in the world. And how do you assume India has only 1 opinion? That would be profiling. Not too good an idea in modern times. Also, can you tell by what statistics, you say test cricket is dying in india. Last I checked we even went to India Australia matches where your team performed so poorly. If we can go and watch such a substandard team, what does it say about our love for tests.

Posted by DustyBin on (May 14, 2014, 15:24 GMT)

T20 is probably what the 1960s marketeers in England should have created when 1st class cricket was (or at least its attendances were), waning. My personal prejudice is that we've spent an unwelcome 50 years (40, in international cricket) embracing the 1 day format. I like the short explosive form of 20/20. I love slow developing, hard fought test Matches. yet 50 overs per side still requires me as a punter to give up a whole day without that being part of a greater. more gripping narrative. It's not as dramatic as 20/20 nor requiring the players' massive concentration of the long form. So if I were world cricket's dictator I'd kill 1 day cricket tomorrow & embrace the other 2 forms-1 to make money & excite, & the other to enthrall & provide real "tests"

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Hughes
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

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