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NOTES BY THE EDITOR
Baxter’s Road leads out of Bridgetown past Kensington Oval. Buses throatily engage second gear; an old man sitting on the wooden veranda of his shack nods appreciatively at the sea breeze; a young man walking along the pavement offers “weed” for sale, unthreateningly. In Barbados the weave of traditional society has not unravelled.
During the last World Cup a sports bar on Baxter’s Road contained about a dozen customers and three televisions. One was showing the game between West Indies and Bangladesh a few hundred yards away at the renovated, half-empty Oval. But none of the customers was watching the cricket. None was watching the second television either: a recorded football match between Liverpool and PSV Eindhoven. Or the American football game on the third screen. All male, and young to middle-aged, the customers sat at tables and talked or chatted up the waitresses.
Then a wicket fell and the bar burst into life, even animation. Everybody turned as if on a string and watched the replays, switching on to the cricket. West Indies were going to defeat Bangladesh in the Super Eights, if no one else. Cricket, after all, was their game. Liverpool scored, and a hulking quarterback threw an oval ball, without gaining their attention. Conversation gradually slowed; the tropical afternoon took over. The bar filled with languor, and the waftings of an okra stew brought by a waitress for a late luncher, and the sounds of the street and buses bound for Speightstown.
Shorter, shorter everywhere Twenty-over cricket in India is shifting the tectonic plates of the professional game as never before. In the late 1970s Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, while reshaping the international scene, left the domestic game untouched. Until now, the best cricketers have earned most of their money by representing their country, whether in an official eleven or a rebel team in World Series or apartheid South Africa. This period in the game’s history, of primarily representing countries, seems to be ending, suddenly.
Leading cricketers can now earn more by representing an Indian city, whether in Zee TV’s Indian Cricket League or the officially sanctioned Indian Premier League. City-based cricket has arrived and will surely spread, annulling the player’s traditional relationship with his county, state or province. The day has lurched closer when England’s best cricketers, in addition to representing England, will play for an English region in a firstclass tournament at the start of each season; for an English city in the 20over competition in mid-summer; and for an Indian city. County cricket will then become a relic at amateur level, like the county championship of English rugby.
Cricket administrators in Test-playing countries around the world should be prepared to ride this Indian tiger, to keep the 20-over game in proportion
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and not let it swamp all other forms. I am not convinced they are ready, because the standard of administrators is not high enough. For a start, they took ages to understand what baseball discovered in the United States several generations ago: that the majority of people want to watch their sport in a package of about three hours. Twenty20 cricket is making up for a lot of lost time.
The ninth World Cup should have been last year’s highlight. But it was made joyless and long-winded to the point of tedium, sanitised and stripped of any local flavour or carnival atmosphere by the imposition of western corporate culture. West Indians were alienated by ticket prices – in effect “tourists only need apply” – long before the tournament began. (I felt alienated when I stood in a stand without a single spectator, and a security man ordered me to sit down.) The organisers had said an aim of the World Cup was to revive cricket in the West Indies, and manifestly it did not. Then, after a build-up all too long, the World Cup final was all too brief, and rendered farcical by the incompetence of various umpires and the referee. The consequence was that the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa later in the year caught the public imagination, precisely because the 50-over World Cup had not. The game in its longer versions laid itself open to a takeover by the shortest format.
I am not against Twenty20 cricket. Some matches in South Africa, notably the semi-final between Australia and India, had most of the ingredients that any cricket match with a time limit could offer. (Australia had no spin bowler worthy of the name, and they lost because of it.) The ICC has stacked its tournaments with one-sided matches; the IPL has realised that drama depends on competitive games and has shared out the stars. But, in the course of time, what 20-over cricket lacks – if only a change of tempo – will become ever more apparent, by comparison with Test cricket.
Hail Fellows, well hit The tournament also spawned a game within a game: to see which batsman could hit the ball furthest. It was amusing that the biggest hitter, Yuvraj Singh, could manage only 119 metres. Why are today’s batsmen so puny? In 1856, at the Christ Church ground in Oxford, off the bowling of a man called Rogers, Walter Fellows drove a ball 175 yards, or 160 metres, “from hit to pitch”, which Wisden has listed for years as the world record (see page 464). In our obituary of Fellows (Wisden 1903), we reported that the “length of the drive [was] carefully measured by E. Martin, the ground-keeper”. One may question the measurement of the hit, or wonder if it was wind-assisted, but amateur batsmen of that period like Fellows – described as “a hard slashing hitter, and a tremendous fast round-armed bowler” – played more sports involving wrist-work than today’s players. Or maybe it is the modern bat that is puny because the wrong wood is being used. Many bats were made out of red willow until the 1930s when, for purely cosmetic reasons, white willow or salix alba became universally preferred.
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