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Like Bob Woolmer, I’m grateful for the many interesting commentaries on my remarks. This is clearly a topic that exercises many nimble minds, although some of my contentions many not have been completely grasped. Many respondents, for instance, took my reference to the 1984-85 Worrell Trophy series as being rheumy-eyed nostalgia. In these Panglossian times, it seems, one cannot even describe the past without being accused of trying to bring it back; my only purpose was simply to illustrate how different the game has become in less than a generation.
I think it’s worth contemplating what we would be saying if the issue was the other way around. What if the average one-day score was in sharp decline? What if Test teams were regularly being bowled out for 150? My suspicion is that the comments here would be twice as long, and thrice as anxious. The perception would be that the game was in crisis, and people would be recommending that the cricket ball be replaced by a beach ball, and bowlers be restricted to running in off two paces. As for bowlers getting smashed all over the park – well, we can live with that.
But if high scores were a reliable indicator of the quality of a sport, football would have outlawed goalkeepers, and golf would have drawn every green to within a drive of the tee so that everyone could shoot 60. There has to be a struggle to take the advantage; there has to be resistance to the efforts to wrest it back. Sport is not just about spectacle; it involves challenge, frustration, slings, arrows, outrageous fortune.
Cricket has that in spades: it is defined by survival, duration, changing conditions, and a huge range of skills paraded by turns. It’s nice to hear that one reader’s nine-year-old is excited by cricket as it is. But frankly, I don’t want the direction of the game determined by the priorities of nine-year-olds, enchanting as they are.
One sanguine commenter pointed out that cricket ‘evolves’. Up to a point. In the most basic sense, it’s true, what we are seeing is an outgrowing of what might be called the rationalist model of cricket brought about by higher levels of professionalism and more systematic modes of practice. But it is usually overlooked that the benefits of this dispensation do not bestow themselves evenly. While Ricky Ponting can undertake the drill of hitting a thousands balls in the nets before a Test innings, it is physically impossible for Brett Lee to bowl a thousand deliveries. Batting is an easier art in which to groove oneself; bowlers are more susceptible to the vagaries of the day, fluctuations of confidence, ration of luck.
To shrug your shoulders and say that cricket ‘evolves’, therefore, is simply a cliché. These days, in fact, it is no longer shaped principally by the eternal contest of bat and ball, but by a host of financial, commercial, political and bureaucratic factors. Again, I think, this is a good opportunity for us to reflect on why cricket matters, and what we enjoy about it.
And again, thanks to all those who corresponded.