Sorry, Matthew, 20-over game has al­ways been here

The editor of Cricket Statis­ti­cian analy­ses re­cent events

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

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.

Packed: County T20 cricket pulls the crowds in

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