Modern times

Will we ever see the likes of Richard Hadlee and Kapil Dev again?-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY ?

The man in the street is no longer able to afford hours of his life watching cricket; instead he demands the short sharp shock of T20, over and done within an hour or two, writes Ted Corbett.

All the signs are in place and for those of us who love the old drawn-out marathon Test matches they bring bad news.

The day of the five-day games will come to an end shortly but that is not the worst news. The day of the Test, beloved since they began in Melbourne at the time of the hansom cab, the first hint of electricity and W. G. Grace’s astonishing deeds back, will not last much longer either.

Many in cricket — the most conservative game “the old days were best”, the traditional, bow-the-knee to MCC — have not noticed but things are changing. Believe me, the man in the street is no longer able to afford hours of his life watching cricket; instead he demands the short sharp shock of T20, over and done within an hour or two.

It’s not just the length of the matches, it’s the months involved in following a series. All very well for the toffs with a few bob in their pockets, or a heap of shares forgotten in the attic, or a Cabinet wage rolling in every month.

Besides, and this is important, the average working man, tied to his tractor, his factory or his driving seat five days a week, may be low paid, looked down on and generally less privileged than those toffs, but he is not stupid.

He has lost respect for the people who control cricket as they blunder around mistaking the mood of the support, changing the Laws for the worse and treating the players without due regard.

How can the cricket lover who is expected to pay out most of a week’s wage to watch a day at the Test have any respect for an organisation like ECB who sack their best player — nay, their best batsman of 50 years — and then decline to say why?

(Not surprisingly there seems to be a move to bring KP, “our Kev” or Kevin Pietersen back. He seems to want to return but in truth he might do them a favour if he said “not likely” and continued to pick up a fortune as he jets his way from India to West Indies to Australia and back in T20. Leicestershire want him, so it seems, but then Leicestershire, without a championship win since 2012 must want someone, indeed anyone. Unless they are more stupid than usual, England need him too but I guess they feel it would constitute a loss of dignity to recall him to the colours.)

Make no mistake about it, in 2015 T20 is the future although in the middle of one of the most successful World Cup competitions it is clear there is room for 50-over cricket which, if you listened to the pundits a couple of years ago, you might have thought would be dead by now.

No, the news from Australia and New Zealand this spring is that 50 overs is the new Test match and the crowds are loving it. New faces — in the teams and among the fanatical, brightly-dressed followers — are appearing, from Afghanistan, from United Arab Emirates and from Ireland and Scotland. At this moment they are babes in arms but one day they will rise up and clout the old firms from England, Australia, India, West Indies and New Zealand and that change of status will bring in the spectators.

A lot of tears will be shed, bitter words will be written — not by me, I hasten to add — and minor reforms will be suggested like the recent idea that four days is enough for any game before we see the end of Test cricket as we know it.

Too many vested interests, including television companies, sponsors, advertisers to name a few, will have their say. Tests have been around too long for the reaction to be otherwise but more to the point cricket fans are simply little boys grown older.

They repeat endlessly the words they heard from their fathers on the day they were first led to Lord’s or Sabina Park or the Gabba: Test cricket, they chant, is the highest form of cricket. It is, so they have been taught, the ultimate reward for a cricketer’s professional life, to be looked on like acquiring a seat in heaven and it must be maintained.

I think not.

Tests are, more to the point, where a hard-working, son of the soil, or the lathe, or the driver of a diesel engine relaxes in the sun, talks to his neighbour about the foolishness of the fielding captain, and compares Bell and Kohli, Australia’s old captain Clarke and the new boy Smith. As he has done for generations he wonders if we will ever see the likes of David Gower or Greg Chappell, Wally Hammond, Dennis Lillee or dear much-missed Fred Trueman, Kapil Dev or Richard Hadlee, Gary Sobers or Keith Miller again.

I know we will but the circumstances will be vastly different.

The new stars will be decked out in bigger helmets, gaudy shirts covered in advertising, fielding shorts (just wait until that gets to the high men at Lord’s but why not?), wider, stronger pads with even more slogans and adverts.

They will be wired for sound, ready to deliver a verdict on the last ball, the coming dismissal, the catch that has just gone to ground.

It will be just as much a test, but it will not be a Test and, thank heaven, it will not last in hours what the old fashioned Test filled in days.