Milestone, not millstone
Thirty is not a conventional milestone in cricket. The only occasion that comes to mind when the thirtieth something was celebrated was when Sunil Gavaskar exceeded Don Bradman’s record total of Test match centuries, making an unbeaten 236 against West Indies in Chennai in December 1983.
In most of the cricket that I now play – over 40s twenty over contests – thirty matters. It’s the score at which batsmen must retire. It’s an effective load-balancing rule. It mirrors the familiar limit on overs per bowler and enables the league to accommodate talents such as Neil Fairbrother, without his like running away with every match. It does throw up some anomalies. My team, the Silverbacks, won a match in our title run in 2011 without taking a wicket: the opposition’s openers were both retired 30; numbers three and four batted through but were tied down, setting a total that we achieved for the loss of six wickets.
This post marks a self-reflective and indulgent thirty: the number of posts on Declaration Game. What follows are some of the things I have learnt.
There are four distinct pleasures to blogging. 1) the emergence of an idea – a juxtaposition, contradiction, or connection within cricket or to something outside the game that throws light back on it – and fleshing it out. 2) writing – attempting to construct an argument, supporting it with images. 3) publishing – being out there and being read. 4) discussion and connection – finding out what readers think of my views and contributing to theirs.
The first pleasure was available to me before Declaration Game. The difference now is that I consciously seek themes, even plan them to coincide with upcoming events, as well as responding to news in the cricket world. Car journeys, my daily commute, are fruitful environments. I have become even more wrapped up in the game and aware that my own knowledge of this worldwide game is narrow and shallow.
Years of work have made my writing style functional, so it has been enjoyable regressing and trying different ways of expressing myself about something that excites my passion. I am aware that I don’t describe the activity of cricket well. There are only three or four descriptions of how a batsmen bats or a bowler bowls across the thirty pieces. I think it stems from a deficiency in how I watch and appreciate cricket that needs some work – not just for the blog, but if I am to be an effective coach of junior players.
Pleasure number three is the driver. My cricket obsession, for which this blog is an outlet, has spawned an even sharper obsession: how many visits the blog has had. I understand the shortcomings of the stats, but just as a fast, rising delivery ‘gets big’ on a batsman, so these numbers have become big for me. (If you want to cheer me up, click on the links to individual posts, rather than use the scroll bar.) And are my numbers big? In the context of 2.2 billion internet users, 1 billion cricket fans and a whole host of less demanding contexts, ‘no’.
A first lesson in gaining an audience is to build from the base of an existing on-line social network. Starting a blog and social network from scratch at the same time left many of my early works, shall I say, overlooked. My first tactic was to try to engage the audience of the blogs that I enjoyed: commenting and trying to get reciprocal blog-roll acknowledgement. But blog-rolls fall into neglect and as I have seen from my own site statistics, few readers use them as jumping off points to find new writers.
It should not have been a revelation that what draws readers is a trusted source’s recommendation to read a specific piece. Out there are a number of well connected enthusiasts who act as brokers between bloggers and potential readers. A single plug from Testing Times, mspr1nt and others is worth any number of my own carefully crafted teasers on twitter or Facebook.
The second source of numbers have been forums (let’s keep ‘fora’ for the non-digital variety). But I have been thrown out of more forums than I was pubs as an underage drinker. They don’t welcome ‘advertising’, even of something as non-commercial as Declaration Game. My ballsiest venture was to climb aboard middle England’s most influential network: Mumsnet. I had written a post about cricket passing down the generations of my family – Old Father Makes Time. I set up a thread on Mumsnet asking whether parents should encourage their children towards the hobbies or activities enjoyed by the parents, or let the kids make their own way there. Quickly, there were half-a-dozen excruciatingly earnest replies that nothing good could come of pushing my children towards something just because I enjoyed it. Then I was rumbled: ‘Are you really interested in our opinions or are you just looking for more visitors to your blog?’ More visitors to my blog would be super, I agreed, before withdrawing from this away fixture.
I have found that an established blog attracts a level of passing traffic. In recent weeks, google searches have often accounted for over half of a day’s visitors. I am often baffled how these surfers have been directed here and doubt that they will find what they set out for (but I hope you feel welcome), few more so than the seeker of ‘kp pussy’.
The readership of a piece (through the interest of brokers and forum lurkers) is related to its subject matter. Posts about current matches, players and controversies are bigger sellers than personal pieces or views of the game through a sociological lens. Sachin Tendulkar hadn’t appeared in Declaration Game until this sentence. To pander or not to pander?
Fortunately, with nothing but pride riding on my visitor figures, that’s not a dilemma. But, Declaration Game has provided me with some insight into the challenges of running an on-line business. It has occurred to me that, if my income depended upon the blog, the kids would be going to bed hungry most nights. To earn a minimum wage from the time spent on the blog over the last six months, each visitor, I estimate, would need to pay £0.50 for the privilege. Incentive enough for me to keep the day job.
Web 2.0 is all about pleasure number 4 – interaction, the consumer as producer. But, I contend, most bloggers (myself included) are more motivated by being read. It’s poor form not to respond to comments but it’s something I have done and had done to me.
I have selected my favourite bloggers under the heading Senior Pro’s in the margin on the right. I prefer writers of essays rather than match reports and all of those listed offer original perspectives on our much chewed-over game. I want to highlight the contribution of a few, who are better attuned to the potential of the internet for discussion, debate and even campaigning. Brian Carpenter (Different shades of green) is a generous and reliable provider of comments and comment responses. AER Gilligan and aotearoa are notable bloggers, often with attitude, and excel at twitter exchanges. Ducking Beamers has an enviable knack of writing brief posts that provoke readers to contribute their thoughts as comments. They are international class web 2.0 exponents.
Whether the individual blogger is interested in debate or just being read they are giving entertainment and enlightenment for free. Maybe you will join me in a resolution to record your appreciation of every blog you enjoy with a comment, a like, a facebook link or a tweet. In this world we inhabit, those are the hard currency of reward.
In the cricket I play, thirty is the point of enforced retirement. This activity has no such rigid rules and so I will blog-on. But with the season about to start, participation in playing and coaching means Declaration Game will slip a couple of places in the order. Visits to the crease won’t be as frequent but the time spent on the other side of the boundary won’t be wasted.