Monday, May 21, 2007

Where it’s just a game

Mike Marqusee has been writing the Level Playing Field column for The Hindu’s Sunday magazine for as long as I can remember. In this week’s piece, Mike dwells on English county cricket, and while a lot has been said and written about the ills of the county cricket scene, there is definitely an unmistakable charm to the game in the countyside (and countryside) of England. And the key to that is perhaps the wholesomeness of the experience – the settings, the atmosphere, the tea and scones, the chilled lager, the colourful costumes of the spectators contrasting the pristine white of the players, the pace (or the lack of it)… ah, county cricket sounds like an idyllic Sunday afternoon!

May be there is a clue here for administrators – can we woo the spectators back to the game by creating a wholesome experience around play day rather than just the game and the players? May be Twenty20 is attempting something like that, albeit on a frenzied note. (But it is that frenzy that takes away from the charm, isn’t it?)

Apart from painting a (deservedly) charming picture of the county game, Mike raises a point that has been the bone of contention of many a former English (and non-English) cricketer, commentator, coach and administrator.

County cricket has long provided a handy scapegoat for England’s cricketing failures. An influential school of modernisers would like to do away with it altogether, and slim down English cricket to some half a dozen sides. The argument is that the comfort zone in county cricket is too great. What’s needed is fewer and more competitive games. But that would require un-doing a great deal of history and up-rooting long-established loyalties. It also presumes that the principal function of domestic cricket is to act as a nursery for the England squad.

Note the last sentence. The key argument here is that county cricket is not a means to an end; it is an end itself. Club football in Europe has pretty much been that way for quite a while now, and shows no signs of changing. So why shouldn’t county cricket be likewise? May be cricket should also explore the international league system a bit more deeply than it has done so far? Fancy a cup final between New South Wales and Transvaal at Lord’s? I’ll be there I reckon.

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