Friday, 11 September 2015

Column 31, 2015 – The Future

Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 134, Friday September 11, 2015.
[Full text below]

This is my last column for The Cricket Paper, at least for a while. So this seems an appropriate time to peer into the crystal ball, and have a look into the future of cricket, to see how it all turns out.

2017 South Africa hit 500 in an ODI. New Zealand chase it with four balls to spare.

2019 The World Cup in England is investigated under the Trade Descriptions Act, and ordered to re-name itself the FEENIO Cup [Former Empire Elite Nations Invitation Only]

2022 Akira Sharma becomes the first woman to play men’s international cricket. The tiny 17-year-old makes a hundred on debut against men twice her size and age.

2027 In his last game in an England shirt, Ben Stokes scores the first quadruple century on day one of a Test match.

2031 N Srinivasan and Giles Clarke demand an $80bn ransom from the ICC for something called ‘The Spirit of Cricket’. The organisation initially shrugs it off, as no one there has the faintest notion of what it could possibly be. No one that is, except the janitor, who has a vague nagging memory from his childhood. He becomes chairman, and injects joy back into the game. Clarke and Srini are banished to Napoleon’s exile island of St Helena in the south Atlantic, and forced to give the $80bn to kids’ cricket in developing nations. Everyone lives happily ever after.

2037 The full-body ‘nerve suit’ becomes commercially available, allowing the wearer to completely experience the physical sensations of others. Marketed as a sex toy, it is soon subverted by ingenious hackers and used to resurrect Michael Vaughan’s cover drive for everyone to experience as if they’d hit it themselves. A software engineer fined £1m and jailed for a month says it’s “a small price to pay”.

2044 Sir Joe Root fills fellow pundit Gary Ballance’s shoes with mayonnaise live on air for the 12th consecutive season, and is finally rewarded with a knighthood for Services to Practical Jokes.

2052 After the successful colonisation of the moon, cricket is struck off as a Star Fleet Approved pastime when Jamaican astronaut Christopher Gayle the Third breaks the glass ceiling on the life support dome and becomes the first person to literally hit a six into orbit.

2069 I play my last game for Damerham CC, aged 101, declaring: “I can’t complain, I’ve had a pretty good knock.” Needing just four runs to achieve a lifelong career average in double figures, I am run out without facing with an average of 9.94.

2077 Bicentenary Ashes Series. England beat Australia 5-0 in Australia. Again.

2091 The Cricket World Cup is held in New Argentina, contested by 247 of the world’s 292 recognised countries, a team of expats from Mars, and a delegation of visiting Nnncrulians. The time-dilation technique used in ‘Relativity Tests’ allows each nation to simultaneously compete in a five-Test series. Finland beat China by eight wickets in the final. Some things never change.

- ends 496 words -

Friday, 4 September 2015

Column 30, 2015 – Death of a Gentleman

Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 133, Friday September 4, 2015.
[Full text below]

In the fast paced, cash obsessed world of modern sport, what hope is there for the gentleman’s game? Is Test cricket’s fate already sealed? And is T20 the prime suspect? These are the questions cricket journalists Sam Collins and Jarrod Kimber set out to answer with their documentary Death of a Gentleman.

The cinéma vérité style is reminiscent of Nick Broomfield, or more recently the likes of Michael Moore: the journey of the film-makers forms part of the narrative. Initially they’re motivated by the frustration of watching something wonderful wither, but during the course of its making, the film solidifies into something else, and the power-grab by the ‘big three’ of India, England and Australia dominates its third act.

The most remarkable thing about this outrageous coup d’état was just how little outrage it caused. Implicit in this is that those who might have been outraged – the ‘lesser’ full nations and associates – had already been effectively silenced by the big three.

That’s the real story at the heart of this film, and if it doesn’t entirely succeed in fully unearthing it, it does succeed in shining an unforgiving light on its shadowy architects.

As in most films, the most striking figures are the baddies.

Former BCCI president and current ICC chairman N. Srinivasan wields all the power, and is so entrenched in the centre of his own web, that he appears impossible to untangle. As Kimber puts it, “Any committee that could possibly get rid of him, he’s on”.

But the real boo-hiss baddy of the piece is Giles Clarke. The former chairman and current president of the ECB conducts every interaction from a position of lofty entitlement. His bellicose brand of arrogance borders on open aggression, and he appears genuinely affronted by the idea that anyone might question his actions, or hold him to account. How DARE they. Haughty disdain wafts around him like cologne. He’s a real pantomime villain, and the screening I was in shuffled and bristled in indignation at his every utterance.

By contrast, there’s a strand of the film following batsman Ed Cowan and his family as he makes his Test debut for Australia. Cowan is engaging and likeable, and his story is by turns heart-warming and heartbreaking.

But its relation to the film’s thrust is peripheral. It represents all that’s good and pure and worth saving in Test cricket, but this film is about the boardroom battles rather than those on the field, and Cowan’s story, poignant though it is, only highlights that disconnect.

But that is not to detract from its worth. Death of a Gentleman its an important film for anyone who loves cricket, as Collins and Kimber and many of their contributors so evidently do.

Seek it out, and decide for yourself if their campaign to #savecricket is worth supporting, before the corruption, greed and short-termism of the administrators at the heart of our game destroys it before they’ve even finished counting the money.

Death of a Gentleman is showing at selected cinemas nationwide.

- ends 493 words -