I have several friends who are serious cricket aficionados and they are meticulous in sending me almost anything to do with the sport that comes their way. As a result I see a range of commentary, much of it from established sports writers, and it struck me after a recent riposte by a well-known Jamaican sports writer that sometimes we are seeing a very narrow view, or perhaps a blind side, in otherwise reputable persons.
One example of it is the ongoing controversy in the sport that sees arguments raging between followers of the much revered Test match format and the new shorter forms, including T20 which is drawing huge crowds, on the one hand, while being roasted by the tradionalists as “not being real cricket” and … well, you know the litany as well as I.
Frankly, I find the attacks on T20 often display the narrow view, or blind side, and I’m often taken aback by the shallowness involved. One example came this week from an established Caribbean sports writer, bemoaning the decline of Test cricket, in which he made the astonishing statement that if Test cricket got the financial and promotional attention that T20 gets, “it would be okay”. I had to read the statement twice to be sure I got it right.
Hello? The evidence is before us that, generally speaking, Test cricket is not what the people want (that’s why it’s on the rocks) and the promotional attention and slew of tournaments popping up in T20 is obviously because of the market for that form. I don’t consider myself a sports specialist but I know enough to recognise that these are two completely different games, stressing different things in the players, and naturally some athletes will be drawn to the more physically and mentally demanding Test form, but ultimately the question is simple: what do the people want to see? And the answer is equally simple: look at the gate receipts and at what is exciting patrons including women and young people. It continues to baffle me how people who have the power of reason and experience with the game, continue to completely ignore what is staring them in the face. And please spare me the sneering elitist comment that I “don’t understand the game”. Tell the fans staying away from Tests and flocking to the short form, that they don’t understand the game. Love Test cricket all you want, admire the greater demands on the players in that long form, choose to spend all day every day for five consecutive days, watching it, but ultimately it all comes down to popular appeal, and the jury is firmly in on that point, as the short game is now the most popular version. Well intentioned as they are, all these contortions and variations (including the most recent one of a World Test Championship) to bring the Test crowds back have failed and the decline will continue. The fans in the thousands are shouting in your face telling you what they want. You’re not only wasting your time, you’re showing very skewed reasoning, to pompously tell them, “you don’t understand real cricket”. In fact, the fans coming to T20 are clearly demonstrating what they consider to be “real cricket”; the people running the sport seem quite blind to that message.
The other nonsense paraded in this Test versus short form debate is the argument that the short game “is all about money”. What a peculiar point. Where is it not all about money? Everywhere else it’s all about money, why is the short game being slammed for what is part of modern life? In every sport in every country, the big money rules. The American model is dominated by it (NFL, NBA, NHL, etc) but it’s not just America, it’s the world. Transfer sums in the millions of pounds are commonplace in soccer. In car racing, in tennis, in golf, the stars demand and get huge sums of money. It is astonishing to find athletes in one section of one sport being severely criticised for earning huge sums. What are the T20 players being asked to do? Struggling for many years with very paltry returns, when the big money offers come, they should simply reject them? Show us the career these days where people are turning away from the money. Why are we slamming T20 cricketers for something the whole world is doing? Cricket aficionados who are devoted to the Test format, need to find another argument beside the one that T20 is all about money. Living as we are in an age where everything is all about money, presenting that point as something profound is simply too ridiculous to be entertained.