PINK BALLS? FIERY FRED WOULD HAVE CHOKED ON HIS MIC...
If, as appears to be the case, the ECB are leaning towards making pink ball Test matches an annual event, they’ll need to find a new captain. Day one of the Edgbaston experiment might have ended with the scorecard entry Root b Roach 136, but once Joe’s mum gets wind of what’s going on, future Wisdens might read: Root retired 74, fish fingers getting cold. Or Root retired 56, maths homework to do.
It’s high time cricket lovers were made aware of the most scandalous ECB captaincy cover up since Mike Gatting was bribed into apologising to Shakoor Rana with the offer of an extra helping of jam roly poly for lunch. Namely, that the current incumbent is actually only 13, and far from directing operations under the evening floodlights, the lad should be taking in a bedtime story, or putting a tooth under his pillow for a visit from the fairy.
Leaving aside the suspicion that an England under 13 team – whether using a pink ball, a red ball, a white ball, or a purple ball with yellow spots – could give this current West Indies side a good seeing to, Root’s place in history as the first man to captain England in a home day-night Test is another example of how much cricket has changed in a relatively short time.
Pink balls? If you’d have suggested that to Fred Trueman when he was snorter in chief for Test Match Special, you’d have heard the kind of choking noise of someone who’s just swallowed a chicken bone, followed by a bout of prolonged wheezing, and finally, an apologetic voice informing listeners that it might be a good idea to head off to the Shipping Forecast until normal service has been resumed.
Of all the things in the game that have changed in recent years, none has been quite as dramatic as the way people watch it. So much so that tradition demands that a cloth cap and a cheese sandwich be ritually incinerated, the ashes placed inside an urn, and put on permanent display – alongside green spiked batting gloves and other ancient relics – in the MCC Museum.
Sky’s television director seemed fairly disinterested in the actual cricket in the three days at Edgbaston, preferring instead to home in on the various sections of the crowd who had come as Fred Flintstone, or Donald Trump. At one stage play was interrupted by an American football being returned by an England fielder to a group dressed up as grid iron players, and it was no great surprise, as the cameras panned around the ground in the final session, to see that half the seats were empty.
It was partly down to the fact that it was bad enough having to pull on the anoraks and bobble hats to ward off the evening cold, although having an innebriated Roman gladiator land in your lap and slur: “I give up, what have you come as?” might have had something to do with it as well. When the fancy dress novelty finally wears off, all the real cricket fans will have gone forever.
It’s the same when England go abroad. There was a time when an Ashes tour to Australia had an air of romance, and a whiff of adventure, but not any more. The ground will be full of Barmies, with their monotonous chant about the people wanting to know who they are and where they come from. Blissfully unaware that all those who’ve come to watch the cricket really don’t care where
Tradition demands that a cloth cap and a cheese sandwich be ritually incinerated, the ashes placed inside an urn, and put on display – alongside green spiked batting gloves and other ancient relics – in the MCC Museum
they come from, but certainly know where they’d like them to go.
The game has changed on the field as well, not least in fielding positions. Take vanishing fielding positions. Maybe it has something to do with health and safety, but gone are the days when Brian Close used to stand at short leg, take a full blooded pull on the forehead, and just have time to instruct cover point to “catch it!” before keeling over.
He certainly never called for an aspirin, much less a glass of water to go with it. Nowadays, though, presumably on the advice of rehydration experts, a game of cricket is unable to proceed much beyond half an hour without someone running on with a multi coloured selection of salt replenishing fluids. Which partly explains why Test cricketers are totally unable to bowl their overs in anything like the allocated time.
If short leg is an endangered fielding position, then two more are virtually extinct. Firstly, that vacant area between second slip and gully, and secondly, the position that once prevented the outside edge between second slip and gully going for four.
It would be interesting to know how many boundaries are leaked to third man in the course of a Test match summer. If modern day scoring rates are well up on what they used to be, then the absence of a fielder at third man – where captains used to send their most useless fielders and instruct them to at least try and stick out a boot if a snick came their way – is certainly a contributory factor.
Third man also used to be a position employed by a captain for corrective punishment, when a permanent deployment there involved having to travel vast distances between overs. Although when it happened to Keith Pont of Essex back in the 1980s, he neatly got around it by borrowing a spectator’s bicycle.
Other notable changes include playing on in a downpour, batsmen not leaving the field until the umpire has checked for a no ball, the umpire wearing fashionable jackets rather than coats long enough to cover their boots, batsmen taking a fielder’s word for a low catch, and number 11s slogging. Nowadays, No 11s even have a reverse sweep in the repertoire, a shot that – when played by Gatting in the 1987 World Cup final – prompted Peter May, as chairman of selectors, to mutter that he couldn’t recall seeing it in the MCC coaching manual.
In another ten years time, cricket will have changed again. Albeit not where Root is concerned perhaps.You can see him now. “Excuse me barman. My chaps have just won the Ashes, so champagne all round if you please.”
“Certainly sir. But could I just see some ID?”