England's World Cup disaster and more, 2000

Notes by the Editor

Matthew Engel

On May 30, 1999, The Observer newspaper carried an advert offering readers the chance to win tickets for all England's Super Six games in the World Cup. It is unclear who England will be playing, said the blurb innocently. However, we know they have qualified. At the time the words were written, that was, if not a mathematical fact, then a reasonable assumption. It's just that reasonable assumptions have no place in discussion of the prospects for the England cricket team. A few hours later, they were out of the World Cup.

The script for English cricket now seems to be more like the Book of Job than anything else: the Sabeans have stolen the oxen; the Chaldeans have stolen the camels; and the fire of God has burned up the sheep. Something like that. Anyway, a tournament officially regarded as the English game's make-or-break opportunity to re-establish itself in the public's affection had produced the worst case imaginable: a fall at the first fence.

And so it went on to the end of that millennium and beyond. England contrived to lose a Test series to New Zealand in almost equally improbable circumstances. In the winter, they effectively lost the series against South Africa in the first half-hour. The Under-19 team performed pretty hopelessly in their World Cup. And the women's team lost to Australia by margins that could terrify anyone who thought the men's team could now get no worse (a sampler: Australia 299 for two; England 79 all out).

With the match-fixing scandal temporarily swept under various carpets, the English crisis is now the greatest crisis in world cricket. It is currently difficult to imagine any circumstances in which England (male version) could face Australia over at least the next three series and have a cat in hell's chance of the Ashes. That's not even good for Australian cricket. It is particularly bad for the future of traditional Test cricket, which depends greatly on English influence wherever it is played.

The miracle, so far as the World Cup was concerned was that the tournament survived. Local interest remained high. It was as though the British public were able to appreciate everything much better once released from the anguish of following England; and the team's absence enabled the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to notice the enthusiasm for cricket of Britain's Asians, something which until then had largely escaped them. True, the final was a miserable disappointment, but it was not quite as dreadful as the opening ceremony. And these two let-downs framed much excellent cricket, culminating in the wonderful Edgbaston semi-final and, indeed, the final result: no one could argue with the notion of Australia as world champions.

The format was still not quite right. South Africa, the hosts in 2003, like the Super Six concept that was used for the closing stages but are thinking of extending it to a Super Eight (if they expand it far enough, England are bound to qualify some day). They may also change the random nature of the points system, so that the qualifying teams count all their points from the early stages. I would get rid of net run-rate as a tie-breaker myself, and replace it with something more transparent. Overall, you can sense the tournament gaining strength as an institution, and taking its place among the planet's great sporting events.


Biennial is the answer

Yet England could stage an Olympics and a football World Cup before the cricket version returns. It probably will not be back until 2019; it will not even be staged in Asia until 2011 or 2015. Why on earth not? There is no good reason why cricket remains committed to the self-denying ordinance of holding a World Cup only every four years. It should be every two years.

Cricket is bedevilled by wrong-headed analogies with football. A football World Cup actually lasts two years because almost everyone has to qualify. For the major teams, the cricket World Cup lasts only a few weeks. And the game's unique spread - global but scattered - means that all the World Cups outside one's own home country are very distant and quite likely to be played through the night. A change would not overwhelm public demand, and it would help justify the investment in stadia that is going to be vital, especially before the West Indies tournament of 2007.

The alternative is a continuation and expansion of all the other one-day tournaments that have little meaning and are tainted by the suspicion of betting-relating corruption. The World Cup is cricket's most glittering showcase. It needs to be on display. The International Cricket Council (ICC) should decide at the first opportunity to hold a 2005 tournament - in Asia or Australasia, if that's too soon for the Caribbean to cope - and then rejig future schedules appropriately.


Imbalance of power

Australia began 2000, indisputably, as the world's leading cricket team, with South Africa their closest rivals, New Zealand the fastest risers and England the basket case. In their 1999-2000 home season, Australia played 16 Tests and one-day internationals, and won 15 of them, which is breathtaking. Steve Waugh's leadership had improved to the point where - especially as a motivator - he could be ranked close to his predecessor, Mark Taylor. The Middlesex coach has to be viewed with a renewed sense that his failure said far more about county cricket than it did about him.

England, meanwhile, spent 108 days in the second half of 1999 lying ninth out of nine in the Wisden World Championship, a position they only escaped when Zimbabwe again fell beneath them. England hit bottom after a series in which they played the wrong opposition on the wrong grounds under the wrong management who picked the wrong team who performed in the wrong way.

Two years ago, these Notes said the England set-up was better-run than it had been for a generation. Well, it emphatically was not in 1999. To begin at the beginning: New Zealand should never have been asked to tour. This is not because of any inadequacy in the team - far better-equipped than England's - but because the post-World Cup series desperately needed a sexy match-up that would have enthused the British public. Sri Lanka, who have still never had more than one Test at a time against England, would have been a better choice. So would West Indies, who were due on the traditional four-year cycle.

The provincial Tests were assigned to Old Trafford, where the ground authority would have preferred to miss a year, and Edgbaston, where the pitch was yet again palpably substandard. Trent Bridge and Headingley, which offered the marketing bonuses of a centenary of Test cricket, were ignored. Attendances at the non-London Tests were the worst in years. David Lloyd, the coach, was allowed to pack up after the World Cup, leaving a glaring dressing-room vacuum. Some people at the ECB appeared to imagine that they could hire Bob Woolmer, the former South African coach, though Woolmer had stated publicly that he wanted a break from travelling, above anything.

Selection was bizarre. It became clear during the World Cup that combining captaincy, batting and wicket-keeping was over-taxing even a man as enthusiastic as Alec Stewart. He was then relieved not of one job, but of two, and played as a specialist batsman in the first three Tests. Stewart was replaced as keeper by 20-year-old Chris Read who, despite his promise, had no qualifications whatever for the vital job of being England's No. 7. There is lot of sentimental bunk talked about specialist wicket-keepers. In the late 1990s, England had one - and only one - advantage over all the other Test teams: possession of a world-class batsman who could none the less keep wicket at least as well as anyone else available. It touched the confines of lunacy (to borrow Sydney Pardon's phrase about the 1909 selectors) to toss this away. It was not as though England were operating a consistent youth policy - they recalled yet again the 33-year-old perennial under-achiever, Graeme Hick. Eventually, two selectors, Mike Gatting and Graham Gooch, were scapegoated for this. But only a few months later Hick's phone was ringing with an enquiry if he might be available as a replacement on the South African tour.

Of England's performances, there is quite enough elsewhere in Wisden. What one suspects, but cannot prove, is that the internal politics involving the various power clusters who have a say in England matters was even more horrific than anything happening on the field. What we do know is that the most determined and successful rearguard action of the year was the one mounted by Lord's officials to ensure that the chairman of the England Management Advisory Committee, Brian Bolus, never spoke in public.

In South Africa in the winter, there were some signs that the new regime, coach Duncan Fletcher and captain Nasser Hussain, were righting the situation. But though there were sessions, days, sometimes consecutive days, when England were competitive or even dominant, these were punctuated by periods of utter hopelessness. England gained respectability in the series, losing 2 - 1 to a strong team, through the (technically illegal) generosity of Hansie Cronje, normally the most conservative captain in cricket, who enticed Hussain into the run-chase at Centurion. England were always a good bet that day: they were allowed to chase a target under first-class rather than one-day rules, one of the few skills that the county circuit teaches better than any other cricketing academy.


The never-ending story

We will try and keep the Why, oh why? section brief this year. To reprise: I believe England will be at a disadvantage for generations because children in all the other Test-playing countries grow up either playing freely or going to schools with superior facilities or both. English children are barred from the street cricket which is the norm in Asia or the West Indies by the weight of modern traffic and their parents' terror of paedophiles. Only the tiniest minority go to schools which offer the high-quality organised cricket that is the norm in Australasia and white South Africa.

In comparison, the County Championship is a lesser problem. None the less, it is now sunk in wretchedness. Although the Championship's detractors (like Mike Atherton) always sound a great deal more convincing than its defenders (especially when the ECB's response is merely to tell Atherton to shut up), neither side seems capable of analysing the problems properly, never mind starting to put them right.

The Championship's prime trouble is not that it is unwatched. In that respect, it is little different from domestic first-class cricket anywhere else. It is, however, largely unwatchable: played indifferently by uninteresting and under-motivated cricketers on terrible pitches. In 1990, the counties were playing three-day games on what were essentially four-day pitches, hence all the third-morning declarations. Ten years on, the situation is reversed: four-day games without either players or pitches capable of lasting that long.

Neither administrators nor the so-called radicals can decide what it is they want or why. In effect, England cricketers are being removed from the Championship, through a combination of central contracts and the new international fixture list. Yet a logical county structure of playing Championship fixtures in midweek (Tuesday starts) and one-day games in weekends has been vetoed, partly because it would make it harder for Test players to appear for their counties.

In the early 1980s, it would be quite possible to have, say, a Somerset- Hampshire three-day match with Botham, Richards and Garner on one side and Marshall and Greenidge on the other. Hardly anyone watched, even then. Now it is a rarity to have any current Test players, English or otherwise, let alone a box-office name (there will be a few more genuine overseas stars in 2000 but the pressure of schedules means this will be a short-lived boom). Some people imagine they can somehow replicate Premiership football by having an elite of big-city teams and junking the smaller counties. It is fantasy.

Tests and one-day cricket are the spectator branches of the sport. The domestic first-class game is essential to nurture those. It should be made as enjoyable as possible, spread as widely as possible, taken to as many outposts as possible, and made comprehensible by being granted a sane fixture list, but it is not and cannot be a mass entertainment. The urgent need is to build a culture of greater individual competitiveness from which great players can emerge. That, for what it's worth, is the Australian way - not promotion and relegation.


The new word of the Law

The Laws of Cricket, as published in the first Wisden in 1864, ran to three pages - which left the printers plenty of space to chuck in the rules of bowls, quoits, and knur and spell. At that stage, Law 42 said simply No Umpire shall be allowed to bet. This year, the Laws are again undergoing a major revision, the first in 20 years. The new Law 42 takes up about as much space as the entire document did then, which rather damages the belief that the Victorians were more verbose than we are.

Normally, Wisden publishes the Laws as they exist. This year is an exception. The 1980 Laws have been published every year since then (excepting 1987, when they were omitted); the changeover is due to come six months before the next Almanack is published; and we reckon that the vast majority of our readers would rather read something fresh and relevant. So we are publishing the 2000 code. Once again, however, the Laws have expanded: 44 pages rather than 28 last year. And that's without various appendices.

They come plastered with health warnings. Firstly, we are publishing - with kind permission of the copyright holders, MCC- a draft. It is possible that the final version will be changed, though we are assured that any changes will be fine and legalistic ones. Secondly, the whole thing is subject to approval by the MCC membership at a special general meeting in May, and they could vote to throw it all out.

Equally, the House of Lords - the other one, down the road at Westminster - can vote to have the elected Prime Minister boiled in oil. The members' powers are somewhat notional here, rather like possession of a blunderbuss that would blow the user's own head off. In any case, MCC members tend to get excited only about their own privileges, rather than about something as trivial as cricket. The fact that the Laws remain in Marylebone's keeping, rather than in the hands of their upstart tenants, ICC, is a tribute to cricket's genius for gradual evolution and to MCC's continuing expertise and integrity. John Jameson, the club's assistant secretary (cricket), has worked long and hard. But he has merely been at the centre of an international panel, involving such figures as Bob Simpson, Sir Clyde Walcott, Tony Crafter, Steve Bucknor and Venkat. MCC does not really lay down the Laws in quite the old way.


Oi, umpire! That's a penalty!

Many of the changes are clarifications, to deal with the little curiosities that simultaneously confuse and delight our readers. In two different Tests in New Zealand in 1996-97, similar incidents occurred in which the ball got trapped amid the batsman's equipment and was then caught before hitting the ground. Andrew Caddick was given not out at Christchurch; Romesh Kaluwitharana was out at Dunedin. The Caddick ruling will apply.

Last summer Daryll Cullinan was out in the World Cup at Northampton, caught by Chaminda Vaas, who released the ball a split second before he tumbled over the boundary rope. In future, fielders will have to have control over themselves (as it were) as well as the ball. The forfeiture in the recent Centurion Test - implicitly illegal under old Law 14 - would become lawful.

There are regulations governing the design of wicket-keeping gloves, which have been edging closer to baseball mitts; and fielders will now formally be banned from wearing any gloves at all (thus proving the panel's international credentials - some of these people have never played at Fenner's in April). No-balls will henceforth count one run in addition to anything else scored, ending the absurdity of the meaningless single; this, amazingly, is precisely as advocated in these Notes last year.

The major change to the game itself is the introduction of penalty runs, covering a variety of infringements. This answers the call from umpires, especially at the highest level, for some kind of power to regulate players' behaviour within the game itself. They will now be able to donate runs to either side, which is absolutely right. To take a legitimate footballing analogy: a penalty kick is a much more effective deterrent than a yellow card.

Whether this system ever gets used remains to be seen; even members of the drafting panel think not. My concern is that it should not bring about any principle of retrospection. An innings once closed must be just that. The only score affected should be the innings in progress. Scores can be added or subtracted, but tinkering with previous innings would be chaotic.

In the hope of preventing penalty runs ever being imposed, the Laws will henceforth be preceded by the sonorous cadences of a new preamble: The Spirit of Cricket. This is expected to sell well as a poster and a tea towel, and to be repeated by teachers at the more genteel prep schools. It will probably not, however, be displayed on the walls of professional cricketers' dressing-rooms.

John Jameson says - only half-joking, I think - that he would like a new Law 43 as well: In all cases not mentioned above, common sense applies. I regret this did not happen because the Laws have now grown long and unwieldy. For the game as played on midden and maidan, in the bush and the backyard, they could probably be half the length. I fail to see why case and statute law governing obscure possibilities, mainly in the professional game, cannot be kept separate, leaving the Laws as a more straightforward guide to cricket. Distinguished lawyers were involved in the drafting; they should have asked some old-fashioned sub-editors from, say, the Daily Mail- men traditionally capable of boiling the Ten Commandments down to four and a half.


The last throw?

Sydney Pardon who, as related by Tim Rice on pages 45-48, initiated these Notes in 1901, died 75 years ago. If he were able to read this Wisden, he would probably be baffled by some of the contents, depressed by much of them, and would greet the fact that we are still wrestling with the problem of throwing with a sigh of intense weariness.

The new Law 24 attempts to clarify what a throw is, or is not: A ball is fair if once the bowler's arm has reached the level of the shoulder in the delivery swing, the elbow joint is not straightened partially or completely from that point until the ball has left the hand. This does pin down the moment of truth more precisely than the previous wording, but I am not sure that it will have much practical effect in dealing with the players now under most scrutiny. It is certainly irrelevant to the Muralitharan question.

What matters most is an effective mechanism to deal with suspected throwers. The suspension of Shoaib Akhtar, who was banned from Test cricket on New Year's Eve, was handled in the usual clumsy ICC fashion - especially from the point of view of maintaining Shoaib's career, which is vital, because he is a huge asset to the game. It ended in a humiliating climbdown. But the principle employed was the right one: these decisions must in future be made rationally, using all the super slo-mo technology now available, not on an umpire's whim.

It is extremely rare these days to find a bowler in top-level cricket whose action is blatantly and consistently illegal. The problem, as it has been for the last 40 years, stems from those bowlers who throw the occasional ball, usually a faster ball or a bouncer, to gain the advantage of surprise. Such bowlers are never called by umpires. It is up to ICC to put a stop to them.


The pain barrier

I remember, when I was young, being told about a little boy who had some physical defect which meant he felt no pain. But I was enjoined not to be jealous of him. He was constantly cut and bruised because he was deprived of the early-warning system pain provides. I know very little about sports medicine, but I think of that boy every time I read that someone has passed a fitness test and will play in a match, having had a pain-killing injection.

As one doctor put it to me recently: Pain is a signal that something isn't right. You ignore it at your peril. Captains are entitled to expect players to go through the pain barrier on the team's behalf once in a while. But when that barrier is being artificially lowered by the constant use of injections and anti-inflammatory tablets, there is cause for concern. There is growing evidence that fast bowlers, in particular, are pill-popping every day in order to cope with their workload. Nothing in cricket justifies endangering the long-term health and welfare of players. I suspect future generations may consider our complacency on this subject barbaric.


Overkill

In 1927, there were no Test matches in England, and the highlight of the summer was the centenary Oxford v Cambridge match. In 1949, there were still only 12 days of Test cricket in the season: four three-day games. In the 1950s and 1960s there was a nice rhythm of five five-day Tests: 25 days in all. As one-day internationals came in, there were generally 33 days - six Tests, three one-dayers - and the number remained there until 1997. In 2000, there will be at least 45 scheduled days, probably rising to 48 if negotiations succeed to stage some India- Pakistan one-day internationals. Either 41 or 42 of these will involve England, depending on whether they reach the triangular tournament final. One of the problems with recent England teams has been getting them to regard representing their country as special rather than another day at the office. At this level - seven weeks of international cricket - it is not going to feel special for anyone at all.

Three one-day internationals was not enough. There may be an occasional need to slot in the extra Test match now and again to accommodate Zimbabwe and, maybe, Bangladesh- especially if an official World Championship ever starts. Floodlit international cricket is a worthwhile development (through not an especially urgent one, since England's one-day games have been full for years).

But this is too much. It beggars belief that a Test match has had to be scheduled for Lord's on May 18. This may be one method of maximising short-term TV revenue. It also looks like a promising way of making English cricket look even more pitiful: we could have the first Test ever with more sweaters than spectators. The greatest success of English cricket administration for most of the 1990s was to maintain the momentum of Test cricket as a big occasion, even if the home team was rotten. All that is being jeopardised.


Impure milk

With the 1999-2000 competition already under way, the Sheffield Shield, Australian cricket's inter-state Championship for the last 107 years, suddenly ceased to exist. The competition had acquired a sponsor and, as part of the deal, the trophy itself was immediately retired, as were both parts of the name. Inter-state first-class cricket was henceforth to be contested for - one can hardly bring oneself to write it - the Pura Milk Cup. The very phrases that have been part of the fabric of the Australian language for generations were effectively banned: Shield cricket, Shield records, Shield player.

This is not sponsorship. It is an act of vandalism against both cricket's past and its future: an attempt to blank out future generations from any understanding of the game's history. Tradition is harder to come by in Australia than in England, and therefore more highly valued. The Age in Melbourne rightly called the decision abhorrent.

Domestic first-class cricket is hard to sell and the game has to make a living. But this time cricket has sold its dignity as well as its advertising space. Tim Lamb, chief executive of the ECB, once said, in perhaps his happiest piece of phrase-making, that professional cricket was a business inside a game not a game inside a business. He should have that drawn up as a motto in appliqué work and distributed at the next ICC meeting to be stuck up in every chief executive's office around the globe.


Ground rules

New Zealand's remarkable Test win over West Indies (who were 276 for nought on the first day) in Hamilton took place, apparently, at Westpac Trust Park. Other recent Tests in Hamilton were held at Trust Bank Park. Before that they were at Seddon Park. Trust is hardly the word here: the unwary might imagine that Hamilton is unusually well-served with cricket grounds, like Colombo.

This is, of course, a single ground changing its name at sponsors' whims. It is a spreading phenomenon: Lancaster Park in Christchurch is now the Jade Stadium. In South Africa, brand-new Springbok Park, Bloemfontein, has become Goodyear Park, and Centurion Park is now, hideously, SuperSport Park. This is particularly sad: the town of Centurion (which originally had the apartheid-tainted name of Verwoerdburg) was, rather charmingly, renamed after the cricket ground.

Such changes pose unique difficulties for Wisden. We have an obligation to try and ensure that, long after these contracts end and the names have changed again, future readers can learn where cricket matches were played. And thus we have to be as unhelpful as possible to the deal-makers in this regard. We will stick with cricket grounds' traditional and original names wherever possible. It will be a battle. In England, Hampshire are hoping their new stadium will have a name-sponsor from the start. But how long can such a deal last? We will do our utmost to work round ground-sponsorship as best we can in the interest of our readers. I understand cricket administrators' problems. I hope they understand ours.


Five for the future

Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year for 2000 may be a little overshadowed by the Five Cricketers of the Century but they are a group worthy of the honour. For the fifth time (after 1949, 1962, 1982 and 1997) there is no England-qualified player among them. Even on our traditional criterion - influence on the English season- it was impossible to get one in, though it is fair to say Caddick was an unlucky loser. The peculiar combination of a World Cup summer and England's general hopelessness, however, were the determining factors.

The situation has given us cause to look again at how we choose Cricketers of the Year. As I said, even a few years ago most of the world's star players were active in the County Championship. Now they are outnumbered by Aussies who lord it at this level but can't make their own Test team. On current form, not many of the world's leading players will be taking part in England's two Test series this summer either. The turn of the century seems like a good moment to recognise this reality and tweak our own traditions. Graeme Wright, who is editing Wisden 2001, and I have agreed that, in future, Cricketers of the Year should reflect a more global view of cricket, not just the English season.

I hope this does not mean that our choice will lose its personal - and occasionally idiosyncratic - nature. I hope players will still be chosen from the County Championship. But, the way things are going, don't bank on it.


Radio waves

Over the past year, English cricket followers have had to get used to being separated from the BBC, which lost the rights to televise home Tests until 2002 and, for one winter at any rate, the radio rights as well. Their increasingly half-hearted TV coverage was not much missed, and Channel 4 brought a welcome sense of adventure to proceedings, though overall, I thought, the newcomers were a touch over-praised. Aside from the iconic figure of Richie Benaud, they were short on commentators with real authority and bite.

Talk Radio, aka Talk Sport, who covered the series in South Africa, solved that last problem by hiring Geoff Boycott. They offered far more commitment than has been possible for years on the BBC, with no breaks for shipping forecasts and the like (the BBC for hampered because so many of their spare wavelengths were lost to outfits like Talk Radio). And I didn't even mind the adverts. Unfortunately, Talk fell down on the basics. You couldn't trust their commentators to read out the score or fill you in on developments. Often, one felt like an eavesdropper, trying to piece together the scraps of information they occasionally let slip. Some thought the coverage improved as the series went on, but by then the bond of trust had snapped as far as I was concerned.

Talk insisted that their commentators had to be ex-cricketers. This is now the norm; anyone who wants to commentate on the game probably has to play for England first (though maybe only a few times). This has had two disadvantages. Firstly, we have lost the lovely balance between professional broadcaster and professional cricketer - the one subtly deferring to the other - that made a combination like John Arlott or Brian Johnston with Freddie Brown or Trevor Bailey so right. Secondly, the essential journalistic skills of covering the cricket have been lost. Talk was fine on technicalities but failed to convey the mood - and, very often, the facts.


Behind the glass

Another point Tim Rice spotted is that the 1901 Wisden Notes included a whinge by Sydney Pardon about press facilities at Lord's - although even then, conditions had moved on since the time of one of Pardon's predecessors, W. H. Knight, who had to report games from a shrubbery.

Now we have a media centre, built at vast expense in pole position behind the bowler's arm. It has won a major architectural award, though not everyone shares the enthusiasm. The building has been compared to an alien spaceship, a barcode reader, Wallace's teeth (from Wallace and Gromit), Tony Blair's smile, Mrs Blair's smile, a digital alarm clock and a pickled gherkin. Those of us allowed inside don't have to worry about how it looks, however. We ought to be eternally grateful to MCC, and promise never to write horrid things about them ever again.

There is a problem, though. None of the windows (except in the Test Match Special box) opens at all. We watch from behind plate glass as though in a cataleptic fit: able to see what goes on but wholly removed from it. If Lord's is full, we have nowhere else to go. It confirms my view of architects: they win awards for grand conceptions, not concern with the comfort of a building's users. The new media centres at Taunton, Nottingham and Leicester are enclosed in the same wretched way. It is said that health and safety officers are worried that, if a window opens, one of us might throw himself out. (The Evening News did once hurl the Sunday Times typewriter off the balcony at Leyton, but that's as near as we've got.) I became a cricket writer partly because I wanted to spend my summer days in the fresh air, rather than cooped up in an office. These new arrangements are deeply depressing. End of this whinge. Could someone direct me to the shrubbery, please?


On the road

On the morning of the Lord's Test last July, Angus Fraser had to leave a county match between Somerset and Middlesex to join the England squad because of a last-minute injury scare. He drove as far as the end of the M4 (130-odd miles), then got a call telling him to turn round because he was not required. He would have travelled the previous night but his kit was locked in the ground at Taunton. In fact, Fraser would not have been called at all, except that the preferred alternative, Chris Silverwood, was playing at Scarborough, and that was thought to be too long a car journey.

Some questions. 1. Why couldn't a key-holder be summoned to the Taunton ground? I am assured some were available. 2. In any case, why couldn't Fraser have taken a taxi? There are taxi-firms in Taunton. They charge £160 to go to London. Wouldn't that have been a worthwhile investment to ensure that an England fast bowler arrived reasonably rested? 3. Come to that, did it occur to anyone that they have taxis in Scarborough too? Sometimes, English cricket looks shambolic and amateurish. But sometimes it looks far worse than that.


Before I nod off...

In his autobiography, Tiger by the Tail, Lord MacLaurin, the chairman of the ECB, has the following passage: "It is no longer possible to capture the somnolence of John Arlott's poem 'Cricket at Worcester, 1938', when 'Drowsing in deck-chair's gentle curve, through half closed eyes, I watched the cricket.' Those times are long gone."

I am not entirely sure what Lord MacLaurin is on about. He is right in the sense that there are no deck-chairs at Worcester these days, rather those plastic tip-up thingies, which are less conducive to drowsing. I still don't find it impossible. I half-dozed very happily on a sunny September afternoon last year; there was even someone called Hutton batting. Does he think county cricket isn't somnolent any more? Has he been to Worcester lately?

Heaven knows, I am not against reforming cricket where it is desirable and essential. I have been banging on about it in this space for the past eight years, and Lord MacLaurin can go on tinkering with the game in his way if he insists. But he really ought to leave us snoozers alone. They have done away with the deck-chairs. There are those whose future plans for cricket would include doing away with Worcester. Do away with somnolence, and you will do away with cricket once and for all. And England with it, probably.


© John Wisden & Co