A packaged new world

Mon, Oct 1, '07


Vaneisa Baksh


Almost 75 years ago, on board a ship returning to the West Indies at the end of his first season with Nelson in the Lancashire League, Learie Constantine indulged a reverie on the future of cricket.

In Cricket In The Sun, he described it: "... An alarming impression came to me at times that three-day cricket matches are an anachronism in our hurried, workaday world. It seemed to me, sunning myself in a chair on the liner's deck, that the era when men could afford to give three whole days to one game, and then as often as not fail to finish it, had passed away. As in a dream, I foresaw an incredible world where county teams, also, played and usually finished their games in one day, with never a wasted minute; when a shower did not stop play; when those thousands of fine cricketers who now cannot afford to turn out for anything more ambitious than a Saturday afternoon club got into the first-class game..."]

"I know that what I dreamed of on that boat was heresy and madness. Only an H.G. Wells could anticipate an England in which cricket, like football, was a one-day affair, and a Test match might be won and lost in six or eight hours, with the aid of time rules limiting innings. It would take the football millions into the cricket-ground stands; but what of that? Avaunt, foul temper! Get thee behind me, Satan! It would not be quite cricket!"

Learie had foreseen the inability of Test cricket to fit practically in a world with less leisure time and more impatience. Aghast at his imaginings, he cast his not-quite-cricket thoughts aside, but he could not escape their unavoidable return.

One-day matches would make a spectacularly controversial appearance inside 50 years, unleashing hysteria over its distortion of symbols and its contamination of the essence of cricket. Yet, the 50-over games thrived, drawing large crowds and making television broadcasters wealthy partners as markets opened. These matches clutter the international schedule today, but have become the financial underwriters of Tests.

After nearly 30 years of one-day matches, purists had barely subsided when up came Twenty20, an even wilder blasphemy that is spreading to masses bred on a culture of entertainment designed in short, shiny, attention-grabbing packages.

'Tis not quite cricket; but it isn't going away.

Commenting on its rise, Gideon Haigh observed that it was designed to attract those who were not drawn to Test cricket's "subtleties, intricacies and distant intimacies." Twenty20, he felt, offered no forum for the exposition of these qualities or true skill and artistry.

"A novel idea, this: to redesign a game to the specifications of those who don't like it, rather like creating art for consumers who prefer pornography or composing music for listeners with a taste for cacophony," he scathingly noted.

The dread that its rise would kill Test cricket has a deep underpinning in the loss of a way of life, another paradigm shift that tosses us fully into the reality of our truly cacophonic times. When the 50-overs game emerged, it represented that first wave signalling the transition into a world where time was now compressed beyond imagination. The culture of instant gratification that demands speed and immediacy in every transaction had not yet established its global dominance.

It has now; and Twenty20 manifests the coming of age of that movement.

The distress and alarm being sounded for the loss of the ideals of cricket ring like dirges for more than a game whose elements defined identity for generations. They mourn the passage of a world order and the entrenchment of something short, sharp and brutish, packaged for the quick consumption of shallow attention spans.

It may not be quite cricket, but because it so aptly reflects the culture of our time, it offers the same mirror to gaze upon our mutating human face.