A game without heroes

presentation May14Striking a ball with a bat and propelling the ball at a target are both instinctive activities. Children, new to the game, revel in these basic physical challenges. Around those simple actions, cricket has assembled a dense patchwork of custom and law. Youngsters, enthralled by the essence of the sport, throw out challenges to its conventions. As a junior coach, I know that some of the required answers will not satisfy.

Take who gets the credit for dismissals.

‘Well done. Three wickets today.” I’ll congratulate a youngster on a successful debut.

‘No,’ I’ll be corrected, ‘I only bowled one out.’

‘Don’t forget the two catches your sister took off your bowling.’

‘But they don’t count as mine. I did get another one, though, when I ran out their opener’

Cricket’s laws governing the scoring of runs are perplexing. A boundary hit should be a bonus score, on top of the runs completed by the two batsmen trotting from one end to the other. When children realise one cancels out the other, some tend to settle for standing and watching the ball they’ve struck. Nonchalant if the ball reaches the boundary; wasteful if it pulls up short.

And mentioning boundaries, they’re not places a child would choose to field. Posts in battle haven’t been deserted as readily as by nine year olds told to sweep at deep backward square leg.

Fresh eyes bring a piercing clarity to some of cricket’s ethical dilemmas. Run out backing up – unequivocally out to the player who would extend no mercy to the opposing batsman whose stumps are broken while he has his laces tied by the umpire. A bowling arm that isn’t straight – patently unfair to the child who’s been working and working on her own action through indoor practice and chilly spring evenings.

Cricket’s laws and conventions only make good sense to those whose frame of reference is cricket. It is encouraging that children continue to come to clubs to play cricket, learning the techniques and thrilled at the challenge of the game. But fewer and fewer have already experienced cricket as a live spectator, or as a television viewer.

Cricket is drifting towards a status held by rounders or even British Bulldog. Pursuits for the playground and playing field, but not the living room or days out to matches with Mum and Dad.

While football anchors skills in its youngsters’ minds with references to the star players – the Iniesta two-touch, the Ronaldo step-over – most junior club members have only a hazy view of the cricketers they could be imitating. Spending time with young players convinces me that cricket risks becoming a sport without heroes.

Organised cricket may be a recreational choice of more UK primary school children than ever before. Many will carry on playing into their teens. But shorn of free to air TV coverage and overwhelmed by other electronic past-times, the game is losing its cultural position. Once the habit of watching, debating and obsessing about the game of cricket goes, so will the crowds at international match days, the big company sponsorship and eventually the essence that elevates cricket from a mere game, to a sport.

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About chrisps

TouchlineDad to three sporty kids; cricket blogger and coach; and the alpha male in our pride.

5 responses to “A game without heroes”

  1. shaunhornby33 says :

    Reblogged this on shaunhornby33 and commented:
    Could not have summed up the state of Cricket as a sport in England at the moment better than this. Brilliant read from @chrisps01

    • chrisps says :

      Thank you Shaun. It feels like something major must change soon, or a long decline faces the game.

      • shaunhornby33 says :

        This issue needs to be recognised sooner rather than later from the hierarchy. Feel as if Free to Air TV has a big say on this matter. Its no wonder that cricket in this country has declined in participation since the last Ashes series to be shown on FTA Television was, shock horror, 2005.

  2. Rajiv says :

    Chris, when I was growing up in India, there was no TV (at least until i was in my mid teens). The whole state only had one first class cricket ground, which I had never visited. My exposure to cricket was commentary on the radio, newspaper reports and articles in a glossy sports mag called the Sportstar, which we got each week. But it was enough to fire the imagination. I had visions of the great fast bowlers of the day (Marshall, Holding, Lillee, Imran) sending down thunderbolts, and fearless batsmen meeting fire with fire. The innings Greenidge played at Lords in the 1984-85 series was to me the greatest feat possible. A double century after lunch on the last day. Every evening in the school yard we tried to be these guys. I would strike a pose like Greenidge playing a square cut, or try to model my action on Holding. Whispering death, how cool a name is that? King Viv. big Cat Lloyd. Little Gavaskar, floppy hatted, opening against the fearsome west indian pace attack. None of this I saw live, or even on TV. They were my heroes. I don’t know how it works. I guess there were no Xboxes or iPads to compete!

    I agree England has got it wrong. Cricket is evolving away from the English game. Typified by Iron Bottom saying ‘the IPL should not exist’ in his Cowdrey lecture. That guy is an idiot – great allrounder in his time, but not all there in the grey matter stakes. I have no reason to believe the rest who run English cricket are any better

    • chrisps says :

      Rajiv, those are lovely memories. It just seems that our kids aren’t growing up with that same feeling of wonder about the great cricketers of today. They throw themselves into the game, but not while dreaming of being Steyn or Sangakkara.

      I do sense a shift in opinion towards T20 amongst cricket fans of our age and older. Rather than seeing it as a threat to the cricket they adore, it’s beginning to be accepted as a necessary partner. I think of it as the sport’s marketing arm, just as the analogue music industry used singles to sell LPs.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

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