Championing the quality of the written word

Greg Chappell   -  Getty Images

In the past 40 years, subtlety in the art of batting and the quality of the written word have been lost to the brutal demands of the technological age. At this rate, the soul of the game is in danger of being lost in the scramble for instant gratification.

From 1877 to 1977, the game of cricket evolved slowly and held a unique position in society.

I grew up in an era when there was only one format and I dreamt of playing for Australia in cream clothing, with a red ball and a white sightscreen in daylight hours.

There was no television to watch cricket live, so my formative years were spent listening to the mellifluous tones of John Arlott, E. W. “Jim” Swanton, Brian Johnston and Alan McGilvray over the radio.

The game moved slowly, and the commentators were able to infuse their own personality into the broadcasts. Interestingly, each ground had a sound of its own coming over the radio waves.

What was missed on the radio was picked up in the columns and books written by such luminaries as Neville Cardus, Jack Fingleton, Ray Robinson and John Woodcock. The language used by these accomplished wordsmiths added colour and glamour to a game that was just beginning to be seen on myopic black and white television sets. It was the advent of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket in late 1977 which set the pace of change to a different meter.

Packer’s arrival coincided with the emergence of colour television which transformed the game and propelled it in all its glory into the loungerooms of homes all around the cricket world.

To differentiate his series, Packer injected it with more limited-over games and introduced the white ball, black sightscreens, coloured clothing and day-night cricket under lights.

A new generation of watchers came to the personality-infused, faster speed of the game. With more camera angles and former prominent players describing proceedings from the commentary box, the game took on a different look and sound.

Over time, administrators could see the monetary value of organising more of the limited-over game in preference to Test cricket. Unwittingly perhaps, they devalued the longer form of the game and the public began to demand more of the shorter format.

Other changes began to creep in. Pitch preparation changed to make them drier and more batsman-friendly. Totals crept up, grounds began to shrink and more boundaries, especially sixes, overtook the cheeky single as the score de rigueur.

Television lapped up the more colourful game, but as it sprouted, other forms of media had to change their game plan.

From having painted vivid word pictures of the game, written media and radio became more interested in the sensational.

The vicarious interest in the players’ private lives picked up speed as mobile phones with in-built cameras became widely available, and with the advent of social media, everybody was a potential critic.

Twenty20 cricket accelerated the pace of change and with it the demand for power over subtlety. Test cricket has been marginalised in the race to satisfy the time demands of the technological revolution.

The new-generation player has become fitter and stronger and the call for batsmen who can clear the ropes means that they and the coaches have a different set of demands to satisfy. The nimble-footed player with exquisite footwork who could pierce gaps on either side of the wicket has been replaced by the brute who stands still and frees his arms to hit the ball as hard and far as possible, as often as he can.

The face of cricket writing has changed at the same time. No longer the need for clever use of words and well-constructed prose. Now it is about access to sources to provide meaty stories: real or imagined.

Sportstar can’t reinstate the artistry to batting, but the magazine is able to champion the quality of the written word over the celebrity of the contributor. I urge it to continue doing so.