Though this is not the place to say it, there are certain subjects which are best left free of marketing – chiefly religion, funerals, and that blend of the two, cricket.
Repeated applications of marketing will have the same effect on cricket as tourism has on a country’s beauty spots; it will, by its very presence, destroy the thing it purports to admire.
True, cricket is out of kilter with the modern age. It is a subtle, unhurried, contemplative game, with changing moods, rhythms and textures. It is best appreciated through half-closed eyes on a sultry English summer evening, a glass of something cooling at one’s elbow and deckchair canvas beneath one’s contented fundaments.
Cricket by its very nature, could not be further removed from association football if it tried. Perversely, however, it is trying very hard indeed to mimic the appeal of the winter game. I am not talking about the limited-overs knockabout, an inferior version of cricket (described by the fearsome Australian spin bowler Bill “Tiger” O’Reilly as a “Sheilas’ game”) and largely the creature of marketing, but test match cricket, which is perfectly healthy and not in need of the violent pick-me-up of populism.
That is why I, and I suspect many other armchair cricket followers, await the coming season with trepidation. The BBC, a risible organisation in many respects, covers sporting events far better than its rivals. Though its test match coverage was imperfect (the deft touch of Ritchie Benaud alternating with the tiresome banality of David Gower) it did not deserve to lose the TV rights. Channel 4 promises cricket followers all that they do not wish to have – zip, zing, ballyhoo, and Sybil Ruscoe.
I have already warned my nearest and dearest that if, from time to time in the months ahead, they should find me cowering behind the sofa, wearing the stricken, haunted look of a man who, embarking on a blind date, suddenly imagines his partner will be Vanessa Feltz, it will be all down to Sybil, she of the hysterical demeanour, flat vowels, and shrill girlish giggle.
I was astonished to discover that she is 38; on Radio 5 she sounds like a 15-year-old schoolgirl with her knickers on fire. If Sybil is to be the face of test match cricket, marketing will have a lot to answer for when the last trump is sounded, eternal judgment passed and the season tickets to perdition handed out.
But I digress. To go back to the beginning, marketing can seem incongruous, laughable even in some contexts. Take healthcare. Perhaps half a century of socialised medicine has made us look upon the treatment of sickness as something too important, too sacrosanct, to be sullied by the jostling, sweaty clamour of the market.
Could that be why we suspend rational judgment where medicine is concerned, refusing to accept there is no such thing as a free meal, believing instead in a bottomless pit of funding?
You need not, however, be quite that daft to find the economics of the supermarket strangely jarring in the world of medicine. I recently received a mailshot from the North London Nuffield Hospital announcing that it had just completed an 11m investment programme and was throwing its doors open for business.
On the cover is a picture of the building and in the foreground a nurse and a man in a white coat, whom I take to be a doctor. They are sharing a joke (maybe the one about the new series, Medical Hints By Well known Actresses, tonight, your very own Googie Withers – and what to do if it does). Either that, or they’ve won the Lottery or discovered that Persil washes whiter. At any rate, they are grinning like loons, which made me feel uneasy.
But it was only when I turned to the back page that I became deeply unsettled. It was full of special, introductory, money-off coupons.
“Osteoporosis screening reduced. The normal cost of a scan is 90, but until July 31 1999, the cost is REDUCED TO 75 if mentioning this advert.”
“Discount physiotherapy. The first half-hour treatment, normally costing up to 33 for just 25, if paid on the day when mentioning this advert.”
And how about this? “Ear correction 2,000 (normal cost 2,500), eyebag reduction 2,480 (normal cost 3,000).” The list goes on: cut-price nose correction; breast augmentation; breast reduction; breast uplift; face lift; tummy tuck; liposuction. Hurry, hurry, hurry, buy now while stocks last, won’t be around tomorrow.
Seen in the light of cold logic, there’s nothing exceptionable in this. So you want your breasts lifted? We normally quote 3,500 the pair, but for you it’s 2,800. But better book now, this offer can’t last. OK, your ears stick out like taxi-cab doors.Tell you what I’ll do. One ear for 2,000 and I’ll throw the other one in for free. Can’t say fairer than that, can I? Here is a selection of our silicone implants. All brand new, no previous owners, guaranteed good for at least 100,000 miles or your money back. Oi! If you don’t want the goods, missus, don’t muck ’em about!
Come to think of it, I could do with a tummy tuck and much else besides, as a glance at the picture on this page will confirm. I am, however, waiting for the clubcard membership and a free digital camera with each eyebag correction.