This, that and the other. Mostly the other
In the years since Test cricket was removed from the fixture list, an unofficial branch of the sport had developed, filling that niche. Beginning as exhibition matches, five-day cricket had grown, so that there was now a robust international programme. It wasn't enormously popular but it had a small, loyal audience.
Known as the World Test League, the game featured an odd assortment of promising young players and second-rate pros who were never likely to win recognition in conventional international cricket. The sport's administrators tolerated the World Test League, not seeing it as a threat. Occasionally they acted to ensure that a particular player renounced it in favour of official cricket, but other than that, they were content to let it tick over in its understated way.
The nameless man was today attending one of their infrequent matches. He'd volunteered to keep an eye on the World Test League several years ago, and secretly rather enjoyed this part of his job. He found the matches offered something different from the shorter, more predictable, official forms of the game.
Furthermore, he found that when he returned to normal international cricket, he enjoyed it all the more, having spent some time appreciating cricket action that unfolded in a different way. In his eyes, the World Test League complemented official cricket rather than competing with it.
Today the nameless man was at the fifth and final Test between England and West Indies. He had also attended one day of the second Test a couple of months earlier, and it was alarming to think that the series was still going on. Could the game really hold people's interest for that long?
Looking around him, it was clear that it could. The ground was busy, if not full, and it struck him that the stands were actually significantly busier than they had been during the second Test. That was odd. He decided to carry out a little unofficial research so that he'd have something to report at the next board meeting.
The nameless man scanned the stand in which he was sitting and was not entirely surprised to see a pair of faces he knew. The more he went to World Test League matches, the more often he found that he would recognise people in the crowd. The same people seemed to come again and again. This couple had been sitting near him when England had played New Zealand last year and had shared some food with him. Maybe they would remember him.
"Hello," said the nameless man. "Was I sitting next to you at the New Zealand match last year?"
"Oh yes," said the girl. "I think you were. You're something to do with official international cricket, aren't you?"
"That's right," he replied. "I work in Dubai, but I tend to come over here for a World Test League match at least once a year."
"Keeping an eye on the competition, eh?" joked the man, gesturing towards their low-key surroundings.
"Well, in a way," said the nameless man. "There's always something to learn, something that could be improved in the way we do things. That's the way I look at it, anyway."
They watched the batsman evade a bouncer and then the nameless man continued: "I was wondering whether I could ask you a couple of questions, actually?"
"Fire away, but I don't think you'll get much useful information out of us," said the girl.
"No, you're perfect," said the nameless man. "I want to get a better insight into why people watch these matches. I'll be honest, I enjoy them myself, but I can't help but notice that the series seems to have become more popular over time, not less. That's kind of weird, isn't it?"
"No, I don't think so," said the man. "Test series kind of build to a climax."
"How do you mean?" said the nameless man. "It's 3-1 to England and it's the last Test. There's nothing really to play for, is there?"
"Are you kidding?" said the girl. "It's a Test match. There's a Test match to play for."
"And it's not just about the score," added the man. "The whole thing builds, whatever the results. I didn't know half these West Indies players at the start of the summer, but the lad who's bowling now - Davids - I'm keen to see more of him, that's for definite."
"Yes, he's very quick," said the nameless man.
"And he's got the better of Selby," said the man. "You wouldn't have thought that at the start of the series. It's just got worse and worse for our lad. He hasn't been able to buy a run. At the start of the series, he struggled. Now he's almost a beaten man before he's taken guard."
"He's doing okay today, though," said the nameless man.
"Great knock," agreed the man. "Thirty-seven not out, but it's impressed me more than most hundreds."
The nameless man sat back and digested this information for a while. "I take it you don't feel the same about official one-day series? You don't feel like they build?"
"They do a bit," said the girl. "I used to really like one-day series when I first got into cricket - more than Twenty20 series, even."
"But you don't anymore?" asked the nameless man.
"The matches get a bit samey," she answered. "I think I preferred one-day series because there was more variety, but this offers more still. I still watch the one-day World Cup and stuff, but the individual series don't really grab me. I kind of feel like I've seen them before. This stuff's always new."
"This is new?" said the nameless man, taken aback.
"This is always new," affirmed the girl.
Alex Bowden blogs at King Cricket.
All quotes and "facts" in this article are made up, but you knew that already, didn't you?
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