Sorry, Matthew, 20-over game has always been here
The editor of Cricket Statistician analyses recent events
Matthew Engel recently wrote a highly pessimistic article for The Guardian in which he suggested that the game of cricket is “rotting” and that part of this is the decline in weekend recreational cricket.
Sunday club cricket is (arguably) dying out, and he suggests that T20 may become the main – or even the only – format at this level, because people do not have enough time. T20 as the only format would of course mean the end of longer forms of the game, because there would be nowhere to learn the requisite skills.
But that does not seem entirely logical – 20-over games are not new. I am not certain about pre-War days, but by the early Fifties the format was being used for evening games, suiting the length of the evening in the English summer months very well. Where I came from, the local knockout cup had begun – in 20over format – in 1952, and continues to this day.
In pre-floodlight days this meant playing from about 6 to 8.30, which meant June and July mostly, which was enough to run a knockout competition.
That suits this part of the Northern Hemisphere, but that sort of time everywhere else cricket is played involves a plunge into darkness, so evening play needs floodlights.
But for daytime matches 50 overs a side is far more logical, and given that people have to travel to and from matches, the time saving is less than you think. In the Fifties in the South of England, the town clubs (though not the villages) were members of the Club Cricket Conference, and the CCC had since the First World War regarded league or cup cricket as anathema. CCC clubs played friendly matches on Saturdays and Sundays.
Before the First World War league cricket had been a common format across the South of England, usually at a level below that of the top club sides. After that it withered away in most places as the CCC attempted to freeze the game in what it took to be the Victorian shape. League cricket was northern and hard bitten.
Villages in the South played cricket, but not league cricket.
But evening cricket – in league or cup format – settled round the 20over format (or sometimes 15 8-ball overs). I played for some time in a thriving inter-firm league. But this slowly changed as the number of young men who had played cricket at school and wanted to play again declined: although immediately after WW2 many secondary modern schools played the game, the numbers began to fall.
When the switch to comprehensives came in the Sixties, many still played, but the selling-off of school playing fields, the increasing demand for good exam results, and the resulting loss of spare time for teachers, all gradually told, and cricket at state schools began to slip away. And there is a connection between playing and watching, and those who had never played were less interested in watching as well.
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