The Cricket Paper - - OPINION - MARTIN JOHN­SON

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?”

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