First, thanks to my esteemed editor for pointing out on last week’s Letters page (MW July 20) that I know what the initials MCC stand for. I ought to: I’ve been a member for 20 years. In any case, I could have sworn that Middlesex County Cricket Club had an extra “C”.
That said, I suspect that John Read, director of corporate affairs at the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB), whose letter appeared on the same page, would have felt on surer ground had he known of my membership.
He would have been able to point out that when I joined it was still the 20th century. The primeval mists had barely rolled away down the slope at Lord’s; pterodactyls screeched and swooped over the old Mound Stand; and brontosauruses hatched their young at the Nursery End. In short, I am one of those fossils who goes to a Test match to enjoy cricket, not to have any prospect of conversation annihilated by the musical equivalent of an exploding gas main.
Cricket, he says, does not have a divine right to be popular. He is right. Even those of us who had supposed that God was an Englishman have had our faith questioned by the performance of our national team in recent years. He would do well to remember, however, that the Church of England, which has a greater claim to a divine providence than the ECB, has also dabbled with gimmickry – trendy vicars, pop music, a hideous modern liturgy – and been rewarded not by a new following, but ridicule.
Research, he says, shows that the public wants an “all-round entertainment experience”.
Clip-boarded researcher to New Brit respondent: “Excuse me, sir, We are a conducting a survey.”
“We would like to know what you would like from a cricket match.”
“My preference would be for an all-round entertainment experience.”
“Thank you. Would that be in a leading edge, multi-faceted, outdoor scenario situation?”
Cricket, unvarnished, unadorned, is an all-round entertainment experience. But you have to take the trouble to understand it. You don’t like Mozart? Well, never mind, we’ll change the notes and dress the orchestra in salmon-pink leotards. Puccini not to your taste? Suppose we throw in some belly dancing? (Not that that would in any way devalue the intrinsic nature and spirit of the music.) People who want an all-round entertainment experience of the kind envisaged by the ECB and Channel 4, should go to Alton Towers, or, if we are going to be really sadistic about this, the Dome.
Read ridicules my assertion that marketing and sport do not mix. Yet the history and antecedents of most sports in this country, and certainly of cricket, predate notions of marketing by centuries. And whereas a packet of crisps or a pot of noodles may brush with marketing and come away relatively unscathed, sport is diminished by the experience. Who can look upon modern football and say that all is well? Is cricket really so desperate that it must woo the forces of oikdom and to hell with the consequences? Far better to accept that this wonderful game, much of whose appeal lies in its aesthetics, its accretion of history, is a minority sport and best left that way. I am not talking about the one-day game, which is a no more than a parody of the real thing. Here the forces of marketing have been let loose and have produced something that resembles a distant, disreputable cousin of cricket. Worse still, whenever this unwanted relative pops up, he comes in the guise of a colour blind cross-dresser with a taste for noisy music. When the ECB boasts that its “marketing initiatives” are aimed at attracting new followers of the game, it is to this freak that they are effecting an introduction. Nothing wrong with that, provided it is understood that what is on offer is a version of the game so far removed from the original that the former Australian captain Allan Border said it should be called something other than cricket.
If there is anything of value to be found in the limited overs game it is that it may attract young people who will then go on to understand, experience, enjoy, and, best of all, play cricket. That is fine and to be welcomed, with the proviso that the integrity of test match cricket is respected. When it comes to “marketing initiatives” there should be no blurring of the border between the limited overs knockabout and the longer versions of the game. The reggae concert at Lord’s, mounted at the behest of C4, which is no stranger to tackiness, was the first sign that the boundary may be breached. That is why I, and others who love this great game, were so alarmed.
However, I now know the name of the culprit for whom the drums will roll and the tumbrel call. He is the ECB marketing director “Terry” Blake.
As for Mr Read, he should be taken to a reggae concert, dressed in colourful garb and strapped to the bass speaker. But only, of course, as part of an all-round entertainment experience.