Beyond the #100ball – bigger than.

Okaay. Here comes my oar on the you-know-what: briefly in. But it is followed by something altogether more real, more human, more inspiring, I hope. So swerve the next eight paragraphs if you’re fed up with clock-talk.

It’s been an extraordinary week. That dynamic cricket administration-scene I’ve been banging on about – yes, the ECB, essentially – has out-done itself and outstripped our humble imaginings. The Century Cricket/#100ball/Clockwork-in-Maybe-Orange bombshell has dropped.

There’s been an explosion of coverage but here’s something: I don’t know anybody who was simply excited by the news – it was a bombshell, after all. I think many of us don’t know what to think, or perhaps are awaiting markers from those who influence; such is the level of consternation about this.

Others are wowing but smiley-positively; almost horny with the charged nature of the proposals. However it does feel like most folks I know are still trying to process the merciless-brilliance of the plan. For the ECB to so-o utterly separate out – out and away – the traditional cricket supporter, as a bi-product of The Next Big Thing, is huge. Monumental.

#100ball, or whatever we call it, is a magnificently bold concept. It’s a sexy, marketable, distinctive format. It’s transformative, accessible, it has potential in ways that longer-from cricket may not. But most obviously – and herein lies some of the brilliance and all of the received malignity – it absolutely flicks the vees at the County Championship or Long-form Posse.

The screaming subtext is that Century Cricket is not for you…and we know it. This is another cricket, for another crowd. That is how the proposal was received, generally, by many traditional supporters – supporters that will mostly never come round to accepting it.

The ECB know this, they’ve factored it in and they move on, in the firm expectation that Clockwork-in-Orange will be a revelation, will actually win over some folks from the shires but (mainly) will be about a Total Refresh, a new game, a new experience – a New Concept – fit for contemporary sporty-family life.

I was quite shocked. I resented, initially, the ruthlessness at work, here. I still can’t get entirely past this idea that the game has deliberately been separated-out… but I can see this may work, i.e. the #100ball experience – live or on the telly – might reposition the game in a good and necessary way. What I think concerns me is the impact on the hows and ifs of red-ball cricket: the hierachy, the scheduling, the value of. I love all that old stuff.

Now I have to be discreet about the following, for reasons that will become pretty swiftly clear.

Recently, I was coaching in a local Primary School – first session. As a ‘way in’ – that is to get the children moving, giggling, but listening and used to my voice – I often give them all a ball and set them off on ‘journeys’ around the space. (Mostly, the space is a playground and the journeys are a number of lengths or widths, or maybe circuits).

The ball may be different from player to player; often I encourage them to swap so as to experience a different size, shape, feeling.

I think I may have started this particular group off by asking them to make a particular number of catches, over two journeys. Before the off, I asked the children how high we should throw the ball, before launching one forty feet up.

That high? (Giggles).

Why not? Exactly! Because it would be chaos! Because we’d kill every passing seagull or hit Sara, Fred and Tomos on the head and we don’t want that, do we? (Giggles and inevitable contradictions…)

Okaaaay. Maybe we do that seagull stuff later. But first, how many catches? 

After having agreed to throw them about three metres up (max), the children set off, choosing their own kind of catch, as instructed. There are 30 children, which is a few more than the ideal number. I mingle / get in the way, because this too, can be fun and because this way I can check on things and get some encouragement into nearly everyone’s face, immediately.

There’s a boy in tears. I see him early but go past so as not to draw too much attention and then watch a little as I interact with other children – most of whom are unaware of the issue.

Ok. It’s clear the boy is tearful because he ‘can’t catch’ – because he’s frustrated but mainly because of the shame. He’s probably eight. He’s not the only one struggling but he’s the only one who can’t bear the weight of his own ‘inadequacy’. It’s actually the most heartbreaking thing I’ve seen for years, in a school situation.

(Later, whilst considering writing this, I think about how this boy might be described. Obviously I’m not going to detail anything about his appearance in a way that might identify him but there are other difficulties here. Privately, I might (we might?) describe him as ‘looking like a rather sensitive sort’. He was paleish, thinnish. Thirty years ago I might have said he was ‘a bit weedy-looking’).

These feel like grossly pejorative terms, now, to the extent that I may yet cut them.  If I persist it’s because I think the feeling I had after the event that this boy should never have been allowed to get to his age without being comfortable with a ball in his hands was a) kinda legitimate and b) as complicated by my own worldview as his alleged lack was (and is) by where he finds himself.

He is in a place that has denied him that particular physical experience – or the few words of encouragement or guidance that might transform that awful fear-fest into an easy, pleasurable life-skill. I think it’s fair – whilst in no way searching for scapegoats – to note the possibility that  the world has failed him.

In the here and now, though, I have to help. As discreetly as possible, right?

I could have found a bigger ball… but this didn’t feel discreet enough, given the level of sensitivity, given the ongoing tears and the boy’s pitiful explanation that he ‘just can’t do it’.

I am in emergency mode here, in a way. I cannot halt the session to offer this boy a one-to-one… and yet I must. I’m simply not having this level of hurt, over something so do-able.

So I flit to and from the individual, whilst dolloping out the encouragement to all. We have to move on and forward. The challenges actually should get incrementally  more sharp – more fun – as we proceed but clearly now I have to offer choices.

Whilst the class in general are more-or-less coping with adding claps into their catches, or bounces, or inventions of their own, I’m looking to grab a few seconds here or there with The Boy Who Can’t Catch. I do. The others are loving it, they are in their own world of adventure.

Firstly, I encourage and I sound friendly. Second, I really get him to listen. Thirdly, I put in there the idea that maybe the ball becomes the only thing in the whole wide universe for one minute… and that we just have to watch it ALL THE WAY IN.

And then I’m gone to bawl

Wadda catch, Sara! 

or

No waaay did you just get EIGHT claps in there, dude?!? That’s unREAL!

A few discreet returns and one or two repeats later… and we have a Boy Who Can Catch. Maybe not every time – but most, or many.

I move through a zillion swift catching challenges, every time repeating to all that we can choose to stay with our own practice if that feels good to us. Nobody takes a blind bit of notice of that offer but one individual; the rest are finding other, theoretically more ambitious avenues – getting comfortable with that next diversion.

Later in the session we are throwing. The boy has partnered-up with a girl as they throw underarm at a hoop on the floor, opposite each other, stepping back one pace if either one of them hits that target. They do hit. It is evident, in a lovely, quiet way, that both of them are enjoying this.

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The dawn of another county season does bring that slight relief; that things roll on, without *too much* change. Sure, it’s crazy and unsustainable and the apocalypse may well be coming but somehow we made it through. Unwrap your sandwich – coo, beef, there’s posh! – unfurl your paper; get the gloves and the spare jumper(s) out a-and smile.

Re Yorkshire playing 2 home games in April, two in September and one back end of August… don’t go there. Re the stampede of ‘city-based action’ about to swallow up the shires… don’t go there. Enjoy the glorious understated present in that unique, cricketty way: block the rest.

Okaaay you won’t be able to unthink the universe and probably somebody will want to talk but you could – you could – find a refuge in Row Z. You could be that island.

You don’t have to acknowledge that as with everything, there are the two choices: fight like hell or render yourself immune. In this moment (damn right) you’re entitled to enjoy the uncluttered, beautiful, peaceful, restorative now for what it is.

It is precious. It’s maybe an indulgence but hey – no guilt. Going to County Cricket (and obviously by this I mean the longer format of the game) is a kind of political defiance anyway. Being there at any stage, for a four-dayer, marks you out as a soulful sort. You are silently strident, even when choosing not to (yaknow) campaign. You – unlike most – are there. This is your banner. You – unlike most – are defying the drift to dumbness.

Good shot, son. Four.

Hmmm. Tad smug-sounding? To be clear I mean the universal drift or slump, via gaming/crap tv/the instant hit of faux, colorific joy/the short format everything for the (allegedly) submissively unintelligent. The spawn of Education-by-Numbers crunched by Estyn & Ofsted… and Mackie Effing Dee’s. Erm… is that clearer?

Did I say that out loud?!?

‘Cultural’ dumbness, then. The sort you don’t have to be smug about opposing to oppose… but you may finish up sounding that way, eh? The sort that County Cricket fans defy with every fibre, with every no-ball they note, with every paper they rustle.

Hello mate. Yeh good, ta. 

To be clear I mean precious in the joyful, innocent way and political in the philosophical sense: seeing big pictures, feeling the value of things.

Yeh – heard that. Crazy. Can’t see it, myself – let the man write.

But the world conspires against – and you know it. The ECB is broadening access, demystifying stuff. Understand that, but in the process – or possibly by design – the market (which may never have really sustained County Cricket) has shifted, is diametrically opposed, is storming away.

Just don’t know what the thinking is. That’s why I’m hiding back here – not sure I wanna talk about it!

Nothing personal! Have a good day, mate.

So, if the universe can see no further than family-friendly boomathons which leave Proper Cricket exposed – because an indulgence, because ‘a relic with no real audience’ – what’s to be done? What’s the argument?

Will join you for a pint, later. Watching and reading, first!

Firstly, maybe this idea of the market as god might be unpicked, somewhat. The Market is a woefully unintelligent concept, especially if thought of as Actual Bums on Actual Seats. (That is, even if we accept that County Cricket attendances at grounds are somewhere between poor and pitiful, this does not entirely describe support for the game).

Secondly, crowds do not (either) entirely describe the value of the sport. Things aren’t always either simple or measurable.

Thirdly, how does The Market assess the link between four-day cricket and Tests? Critical? Fascinating? Irrelevant? Does it even recognise the eight zillion technical, tactical, psychological, philosophical step-changes up from one to t’other? Does The Market care?

Eighty-ninethly, surely there are multiple markets and things can be monetised in different ways? And/or parts of the game that are bouyant can support parts of the game that are not – make them better, even – so that they move towards a) being more watchable, maybe and b) being sustainable within the whole?

But… hang on. I swore blind I wasn’t gonna get into any of this! Dave… pass the sandwich. Pass the sandwich.

And County Cricket is already broadening, demystifying, shaping up! Okay, the T20 Blast is not perfect, but it’s good! It’s a strongish revenue stream and it’s county-based – and therefore important to existing supporters. I slightly fear all this spectacular dynamism – all these Spectaculars – are an over-reaction, given the progress that was being made.

Did I say that out loud again?

Here’s something: warning, it may be kinda subtle.

Many of you attending County Cricket on this opening day will not be wholly involved with the cricket… but you will be wholly involved with the experience. I wonder if Ofsted or the Ministry for Sport have an algorithm for that?

Wrong mustard, mate, for me…

In the ether.

Update: questions remain, following this extraordinary, garish, polarising Trauma of the Now. The role of the much-loved Boof may be chief amongst them, even if we accept that his six, soon-to-be-iconic words (“wtf is going on?!?”) are accepted as key to his innocence in the moment of ball-tampering. 

What  I’m wondering is – given the obviousness of Warner as a long-term arse – why no sense that he, at any stage, has been reminded of his responsibilities, reined in, by his coach, fellow players… or anyone else?

Fans have hated Warner (strong word but justified in this extreme case), for aeons. His cheap, unnecessary malevolence has been plain to followers of the game around the world. So in the whorl of emotions and reactions around the powerful conclusions from Sutherland’s enquiries, perhaps it might be wise to reflect some on that ‘environment’ thing? Again, this may bring us back to Boof… and to the Cricket Australia hierarchy more widely.

 

Here’s wot I wrote as the story was breaking…

 

So the world’s exploded into a rage that we really don’t need to add into. But we will anyway… because #sandpapergate.

The thing is hatred is a strong, ugly, unhelpful emotion and it can’t be good that there’s so much of it about: and yes this applies generally but let’s stick to cricket – to the cricket ether. 

Warner. Raw truth is Warner has been hated pretty much across the globe for some years. Ye-es, there is an argument that he is feared by opposition fans because he’s a threat, a player but let’s not be so daft as to think that the hatred is arising solely or even mostly from that; it’s not. It’s stoked by the persistent, cheap, boorish-aggressive behaviour of the player – of Warner. Warner carrying the flag for a country (or maybe just a squad?) who pride themselves on being the toughest.

Davy boy is the attack-dog, the snarling soul, the little big man, leaping and punching hysterically, hatefully sending all-comers off. He is Aussie Toughness personified.

Forgive us our feebleness but some of us don’t think real toughness is the same as Davy’s loudness, as his crassness, as being most-intimidating-in-a-foul way. We reckon the essence of real toughness is often a kind of quiet.

So this Aussie notion of ‘going to war’ and getting into the heads of your opposite numbers through erm, a game of cricket feels pitifully weak, as understandings of toughness go, to us. As a concept it feels weak, indulgently, incriminatingly weak, weak intellectually, morally and in terms of modelling.

Hang on, did I say morally? Haha! Yes! Because however hilarious and pompous these, my concepts are, I’m going to plant a flag round this baybee:

there is always a moral and/or behavioural dimension to sport – particularly at the representative level. It may even define the thing… as sport.

So, no surprises that an evidently persistent – and therefore presumably coached and intentionally ‘confrontational’ approach – has blown up in the faces of the aggressors. Whether this is traceable to a sort of natural justice, righteous sports-karma or simply and only to Bancroft’s exposed intervention is for you honourable sleuths to decide: I’m less interested in the timeline of events than the haul towards progress, here.

Aus cheated and were caught. And hoisted.

Previously, South Africa and their fans have been guilty of ugliness, belligerence, foul sportsmanship. (This may have been the spark but #sandpapergate is, we all agree, inexcusable, irrespective, yes?)

Before these guys… well, again, make your own chart. Kohli may be guilty, Anderson may be guilty, Broad, Atherton, Henry VIII: the video, the betamax, the whisper, the quill records the mortal wrong. Blimey. Where do we go from here?

Maybe we gather our wits. Maybe we penalise Smith, Warner, Bancroft and (after further, prompt enquiries), their coach. Maybe then we have an intelligent review of the strengths and weaknesses of where we’re at, with a view to legislating and/or recalibrating the Preamble to the Laws? Or we scrap them and determine to be contemporary in our judgement.

Said many times I fully accept that the volume of guffawing around the Spirit of Cricket means we have to be ver-ry careful of anything that sounds or feels like historic posturing. Like it or not, the universe will not blithely accept stuff that feels preachy, sanctimonious, archaic. Even if that stuff reflects good.

The Aussies cheating should be the catalyst not for Furious of Fremantle to scream ‘but what about?… but for calm reflections on effective ways forward. In the blur around this one despicable act, there must be a way to account for or prepare a response to (for example) Warner and Rabada’s ill-discipline – to cultural over-zealousness, to the prevailing macho-mania.

It could be of course, that the necessary weaponry is in place. That umpires and match referees, never mind the ICC or individual national authorities can sort this. Let’s hope that in the inevitable charge towards Decisive Action, we don’t fall into the trap of demanding consistency, when the situations demand intelligent, individual appreciation. (I say this in the knowledge that high profile former players and pundits alike will bawl out for that comforting c-word – naively, in my view).

This won’t be easy. We’ve heard too many braying about the stifling of characters in the game or ‘sanitising’ the great confrontations for this to be straightforward. But anyone with more than a handful of braincells must surely see that a) plain cheating is wrong and b) bitterness and x-rated conflict are not essential to the drama of great sport. Yes that sense that feelings are running high can be exhiliratingly present… but no, no, NO, this is not the object, the pretext for indulgence.

There is tellingly little sympathy around, for Smith, Warner and Bancroft. Even on their home patch, apparently. Whatever happens next – and there will be somebody, somewhere, right? – this is one of the great, self-inflicted booboos in modern sport. Outsiders view it as the biter bit, par excellence, relishing the fall of these particularly prickly protagonists.

We need to convert this relish over to energetic renewal. If Australia at large really is mortified, then the onus may be on them to start the ball rolling on the cultural education front. But when the immediate concern is for #sandpapergate, will Cricket Australia be bold or generous enough to make the link between broad (but weedy, but spiteful) confrontationalism and hollowed-out sport? I hope so.

 

KP; a brief wallow.

KP. Gone. Gone to save the rhinos, with (perhaps for the first time?) a coalition of goodwill behind him. But previously…

Flamingoing god. Revolutionary genius. Caresser, counter-attacker, take-the-contest-by-the-scruff-of-the-necker… or utter, utter tosser? Mincer and moaner, delusional with with his own greatness, bigger than everything. The Maestro Who Would Not Listen. KP.

This wee column ain’t gonna change how you feel about Pietersen. You sorted that yonks ago. When you saw him unpick Ingerland’s chief oppo’s or re-calibrate the do-able as a mid-order bat. You either surfed that bore with him, or did the uncomfortably surly thing – turned away, to enjoy stuff later, when the blokes you felt you could really back jumped in. Or maybe found a mid-position, where you were pleased by victories but neutral about KP’s role – however central?

With the South African’s brilliance there was that tidal surge of baggage. For the bristling xenophobes, that stuff about origins and authentic britness, or otherwise; perenially relevant of course to half the flipping squad but particularly so to Pietersen because of his extravagant profile and that feeling that he might turn Afrikaaner at any point. The non-relationship with the ECB and their coach(es?) seemed unhappily in thrall to this feeble idealogical wrestle.

More legitimately, for many, the *relationships issues*. Our Kev as a prima donna of the highest order, who (though we fully accept might have/should have been managed better) refused the throw-downs, denied or actively undermined the Team Culture. (It may be a complete irrelevance but I think I just dreamt about Pietersen on an All Blacks training camp. He was being drowned, so it appeared, in a cattle-trough, for flagrant contravention of the No Dickheads rule).

KP was either a) years ahead (again) because he knew what he needed to practice b) a mardy, irrespectful git or c) poorly managed. Or something else. Certainly it was messy and both sides of the KP / ECB/Moores/Flowers/Strauss/whoever divide may need to (in the contemporary committee-speak) ‘reflect on their behaviours’. Nobody comes out of this well, I think.

I’m bit lost and a bit anxious almost. Many of the voices I know and/or respect are pretty much besotted with KP. I’m really not. I can’t quite get past the refusing to join with the team thing – not entirely.

If I felt that brash young bloke with the partly-blue barnet really was a deeply rebellious, big-hearted genius I’d be more in his camp. But too much ‘happened’: whatever KP Legacy there is feels surely so much about poisons arising around his selfishness, his arrogance, that a durable argument can not be made based on the player’s ‘fierce, individual commitment?’

For me, that barnet seemed more a signal of something rather dumb, rather naff: something estranged from real, legitimate, subversive-in-a-good-wayness. KP the private school prat. KP who maybe thought Nik Kershaw was punk and that Celine Dion is the Queen of Soul.

What I mean by this is that for me, Pietersen was a tremendous cricket player but a vain, cardboard cut-out of a bloke. And in my view of him, this counts.

I’m not so naive I fail to recognise the rivalries and personality clashes within every team ever: of course I see that. Sport is often about egos and how they are revealed, managed, sacrificed, expressed. The KP story is something of a classic and an epic, in this wonderfully cod-psychological regard. Hence my wallowing. Briefly

It’s surely telling and probably boring that much of the actual cricket is squeezed out, here. Thank god, elsewhere there will be zillions of folks writing or reminiscing about KP’s batting, over this, his retirement weekend. I only saw him live three or four times. I missed the truly great moments: I truly hope you loved yours.

 

Rocket Science.

The snow may be piled up against the iconic Pembrokeshire hedgebanks but I’ve already done about a month’s worth of cricket sessions in our primary schools. Sure, on the one hand this feels crazy-premature – and inevitably most of the delivery has taken place indoors – but a) I/we have a lot of ground to cover and b) there’s a different time-pressure, this year.

My 2018 Cricket Wales brief is shortish and sharpish in the sense that I’m almost completely committed to All Stars Cricket-related action. Sessions for 5-8 year-old children, to be completed before about 11th May, when the  clubs will begin to roll out their own programme of guided, cricket-based fun.

The gist of this is guys and gals like me will offer a bundle of weekly sessions – typically 6 per class – from a genuinely smart curriculum which runs parallel to (and I suppose leads to) the summer romp in the clubs.

You may have mixed feelings about any or all of this, including the revelation that us Community Coaches have received a whole lot of training so as to deliver something which is not only engaging and sporty-cricketty but also a great prompt towards creative, cognitive and co-operative learning and (actually) a shedload of other meaningful objectives. We may often coach by instinct and continually adapt – even in a heavily-designed situation such as this. However this particular mission has ‘we don’t throw this together, right?’ written all over it.

I wrote in early January about my confidence and indeed pride in the quality of our Community Coach work. I’ll spare you that here, if you promise to accept the following: that a lot of kids are really being enthused for cricket and a lot of teachers/headteachers are respecting the educational as well as sporting value of what we’re doing. This matters – in particular if we want to have a sustained influence in schools.

So, the Chance to Shine resources that we base our delivery around are almost inviolably excellent. The theory is that the holistic brilliance of our side of the project will translate into powerful transfer across into All Stars ‘proper’. Families do have to pay to sign their kids up to All Stars: £40. But as I wrote in ‘It’s huge’, in Jan, it’s not about the money. The ECB, Chance to Shine, the game, all of us… we need new blood and a higher, broader profile. We’re driving that objective through the schools/All Stars link.

As coaches we have pretty stiff targets (hate that word!) in terms of numbers of children entertained, given the relatively short window of opportunity and the practical difficulties (for schools) in presenting groups of both (for example) Year 1 and Year 3, one after t’other. (Often, when speaking to schools, it becomes obvious that they would love it if I delivered more sessions but they simply cannot juggle to accommodate. Frustrating – especially as I am conscious that my own ‘numbers’ may be lowish due to the relatively small size of some of the local schools).

There’s no easy way round this; true, ECB investment in Chance to Shine has doubled, but I am still flying solo re- the delivery of sessions. No complaints; the new money means that for the first time we do have other staff backing up what I do but they are doing one-off visits – All Stars Roadshows – as opposed to mirroring my weekly ‘courses’.

But enough of this strategic nonsense, what do the sessions feel and look like? I hear you ask.

They vary – a lot. Year 1 and 2 are young, (three and four, I think) so there ain’t much in the way of forward defensive. It’s often as much about storytelling as sport. Being a rocket to the moon, landing carefully. Miming the ‘spaceman’ together; climbing into a suit; plopping that helmet on with a smile, before setting out to explore the universe.

I think I told Pembroke Dock Community School that the Proper Spacemen Who Landed on the Moon celebrated by playing a game that looked… like… this. Golf! So why don’t we celebrate at some of the stars (cones) in our galaxy by playing any game we want… with a ball? Then we can go rocketing on, to the moon (yellow crescent of cones) and then home to earth (blue circle of cones). It was a story, a game that built towards catching games; it was rocket science!

Those children just wanted to have fun, to move, to feel a game and maybe a ball in that wonderfully naive, amorphous, explorative way. So that’s what we did. They almost got that we were going around a galaxy and yes, they could make rocket noises and the rocket cost a fortune so they really should rocket carefully and land beautifully and softly. 

Some things were understood, some followed. The rest was environment, goodwill, freedom to find.

Year 3, meanwhile could aim at targets ‘properly’ and have some sense of measuring and maybe tallying. I adapted Chance to Shine’s ‘Brilliant Bowler’ into a game where children bowled different sized balls on different length pitches, whilst scoring on a whiteboard at the side of the hall. (The shortest of the three pitches put the target within reach of every child; the longest was a pret-ty serious challenge. Players (teams) rotated through the tasks, to make it fair and to give them some understanding of distance, weight of shot, degree of focus etc etc).

I am pleased to note in passing that the teachers were bloody impressed at the breadth of the activity; the kids loved the tallying – which of course was literally a record of their success.

This game is endlessly re-calibrateable and provides the opportunity for questions around technique(s). I often ask the kids to tell me how they made their throwing (or bowling) work. Their answers – I looked/ I aimed/ I went like this – prompting brief further questions, until something simple and appropriately memorable emerges. We aren’t looking to get bogged down in anything here, eh? We just want to have an enjoyable experience and drop in a couple of friendly markers.

In a nutshell, this is how the sessions are: anarchic but friendly, guided but free. They are way more than cricket, despite the apparent lack of high elbows, levelled eyes, stilled heads. We’re playing, we’re building – towards All Stars.

Holding out for something.

Rashid. Hales. T20, *I*T20, or not? Fifty overs, forward defensive, The Olympics(!) or not? Spin bowling – or not? Everything Changes & it’s all, frankly, a worry. Or not.

I’ve been living and maybe living off the adrenalin and alround crest-of-a-wave newness of all this for what feels like years. The tumbling towards, the surge and the grasp. Sure I know and have felt the awesome weight and quality of the strategies in place but I‘m nearly ready for some quiet, some relief from the centrifugal force; from the barrage of opinions & corporate messaging; from the sense of divergence.

These cricket revolutions, eh?

Where are they taking us?

It feels clear that we may gain a new audience; this, plainly, is the thrust of the white ball/city-based/All Stars/Cricket Unleashed agenda. But what are the costs, in what I’m tempted to call ‘human terms’, arising from that? In gaining new fans, new families, do we lose diehard county cricketpeople? We would, certainly, if in five years there is no county cricket to watch.

We would, too, if the game retained its longer form but in a way traditionalists received as insulting: if it felt irrelevant in a swashbuckling matrix of colo(u)rific slashes and carves. The protestors would walk.

That, of course, is the extreme case scenario. Maybe there’s no way, despite the widespread fears, that either the County Championship or Test Cricket itself are really threatened. In extraordinary and polarising times, though, with what some feel to be ominous lumps of energy behind the gathering carnival, you can understand the angst and the vituperative urgency.

Part of me wishes we could have our infuriatingly sleepy processes back: decisions after a snooze, maybe? The relentless contortions of today’s tag mud-wrestle (and yes I am talking about the administration of cricket, here!) seeming as incongruously anarchic and therefore un-directed as they are stirring. Nobody seems to know where we’re going or how things might be resolved.

This can’t entirely be true, of course. There is strategy which will survive the clammy interference from Furious of Bodmin.

To be fair, despite the undeniable charge behind white ball action, plenty of ‘ECB Men’ do love county cricket and surely are looking towards the ideal scenario, whereby boomathons co-exist with (or effectively make viable?) the four day game. The lack of clarity is perhaps inevitable; a function of unknowable stuff resulting from accelerating change – from revolution itself.

What feels key is a) whether loyalties to county cricket will persist sufficiently or, more painfully and controversially b) whether it’s already been decided somewhere that County Cricket must be sacrificed.

I don’t think that’s happened… but I don’t know. There is after all, a pret-ty convincing case that County Cricket cannot sustain itself – crowds very often being shockingly meagre, for professional sport. (Ok, I get the argument that crowds in grounds aren’t the only measure of a game’s state of health or value but it would be borderline delusional to deny the issue here. Not enough people are watching live, at most fixtures).

The Big New Telly Deal and better attendances for short format fixtures could theoretically and surely will in practice subsidise red ball cricket. But… for ever? We can only imagine a reckoning must come – sometime.

In short we need a plan and I’m sure there is one and also not sure at all.

Will we/they conclude that County Cricket is a lovable financial nonsense which can and must be supported – by white ball cricket, if necessary – despite its own, fundamental failings? Or will Independent Directors – all the rage in administrations for the modern, accountable era – shorn of a lifelong love of cricket, bring a sharp, fatal dose of fiscal realism?

I may personally be hanging on to some quasi-religious dream, in which the holistic, historical and magnificently amorphous value of four day cricket wins out, triumphantly, against the shallow grain of the day. Certainly I’m holding out for something.

All of which brings us to Test Cricket.

Almost universally accepted, even now, as the *theoretical* jewel in the crown, Test Cricket may be unthinkable without County Cricket: that may be the saviour of them both.

How could players prepare for the epic grandeur of five days at Lords without four at Taunton, Old Trafford or The Oval? How does any batsman get into Test Mode, without first occupying X hours at the crease, honing (amongst a zillion other deeply specialist qualities) the patient brilliance essential for the task?

In brief, in other words, no Tests without County – and vice-versa.

This, though, despite the comfort it may bring to purists, is surely a dangerously brittle notion?

The time may come, for example, when four day cricket is cut completely and players and coaches simply have to engineer a way across that great divide between short forms and Tests. The unsympathetic or independently-minded – in or out of the game or in other sports – might argue that this is tough but do-able; just another elite-level skills challenge. If County Cricket is mad-disfunctional, it goes: players just need to flick that switch between the formats and get on with it.

There’s scope, let’s be honest, for a whole lot of hurt. Partly because people really love this game… and because not everybody (obviously) gets the finer/dafter/more ‘symphonic’/whatever they are points of attraction enough to slap a preservation order on it.

Lots about liking cricket is untranslatable, unexplainable but the deep reservoir of understanding for and loyalty to the game amongst long-term, long-form fans is a phenomenon. That feels undeniable. Mostly.

I personally know some truly outstanding and genuine people in places of real influence in the game. People who are ambitious but also deeply conscious of the uniqueness of Proper Cricket. Currently, the drive is on towards bursting the bubble, breaking the boundaries, bringing new blood into the sport. (The people I know are right behind this; they think we do need a new, ‘broader’ audience).

That drive is where it’s at at the moment. And I find little to argue with on that All Stars/Cricket Unleashed front. The ECB are going really BIG on raising the profile of the game – with youngsters, with new families. It’s the links that are understandably being made (by diehard fans) between this monumental investment and the incoming T20 that are problematic.

County Cricket People fear a betrayal, a dumbing down. I think they can tolerate All Stars (and expansion) but they fear the age of the boomathon for what it might bring to their beloved four day/five day cricket. None of us are sure; revolutions are happening – yes, plural!

While life continually throws up the most appalling examples of Morons in Power, I am hopeful. 1. County Cricket fans have and are giving a good account of themselves. 2. It’s obvious that Test Cricket is unique and powerfully influential in a way that goes right past mere fascination. It has a historic weight that must mean something. 3. There are some Good Guys at the top. 4. Change is gonna be challenging.

I am hopeful. As well as concerned.

 

The Federal Activity Project: more mad ideas around the Movement movement.

I get that some of the following is random, or ill-thought-out. Fair enough. But I’m going to relish the role of agent-provocateur and airer of the daft and unthinkable, if only because we need, surely, to break open the debate around  health? Tinkering with the ageing, sedentary population thing or the obesity issue feels pitifully weedy – insulting, even. We need to think big and broad and radical.

To get started, maybe go read my previous blog; then we can race in to the brainstorming about stuff that might really make a difference. Then join in, go loopy or protest, or write your own manifesto for Wales/the UK/the world and call it Have a Cuppa Tea Good Days Ahead. Or something. I’ll be back here, foaming, writing about sport, or more broadly, ‘Activity’.

Here I propose a list of ‘measures’ (lol) for getting us moving, for inspiring and/or practically enabling the Movement movement. They start here, with politico-philosophical jousting which I insist *is relevant* – indeed it provides the necessary context through which the delivery of the Project becomes possible. So;

  • Elect your government – local, national – around their actual commitment to green issues, to public health, to sport and culture. Insist there is nothing more important.
  • Make your voices heard. Do not accept either economic austerity or austerity of the soul. Vote for people who are open and generous and who (ideally) have Tom Waits or PJ Harvey albums… and ride bikes, run, or go watch the Scarlets. Or paint.
  • Follow and/or support those who would actually consider levering the social/economic debate right open, because they will never accept that The Market is God.
  • Maybe first, foremost and most specifically, demand that money be found to fund a massive Activity Project. (Political choices have and are being made, to make it seem as though there is no money available – and never will be – for indulgences of this sort). Refuse to accept that; this is no fringe agenda; the Movement movement is central to the mental, physical and holistic-economic health of the nation.

Ok relax. That’s the Loony bit done. Now, comrades, let’s all grapple with the radical-possibles: we need to get stormingly brainy here, to stir up the idle, the cynical and the unaware. What can we do, to get everybody moving?

I don’t have answers, but I do have questions – none of which imply any criticism whatsoever of our health professionals. *None of which*.

In a zillion ways, I contend we have to provide masses of opportunities for Activity, whether or not this is in or on schools, parks, mountains, rivers, shopping malls or housing estates. To be clear, these opportunities must be free, or cheap as chips – as the unfortunate saying goes.

Some folks will literally come running but others, for a whole host of reasons – some of which are valid – will not. Clearly the vectors of Not Running-in, Helpfully and Those Likely To Be A Burden (With All Due Respect) To The NHS show a certain common outline. These folks – young, middle-aged or old – we need to engage with: bigtime.

We need great ideas, new and novel adventures and an open, feisty debate about mental and physical health, responsibility and compulsion.

What’s do-able, given the consensus around urgent improvement? I don’t see how we can address this without a profound look at the role of the NHS.

  • Doctors are effectively the front line, when it comes to the ill-health/must change interface. Of course it can be argued that it’s not their job to fight for Activity as well as fight against illness, but…
  • Might we train/authorise/empower/coerce doctors into actively persuading/compelling patients into better diet and more movement?
  • Could we not, in some way – with appropriate training and remuneration – develop the (patient-) transformative side of the NHS, so as to empower/compel/educate staff towards offering great ideas and opportunities for activity, post the surgery/hospital fix? Clearly I know some of this aspiration is in place but I’m talking about a real shift in terms of expectation. Doctors (or somebody at the place of contact) guiding or bundling Patient Z into doing something. I fully understand the complex issues around this but still feel we need to wrestle with them: openly.
  • I guess I’m wondering what more can be done – culturally, practically – through government, through the agency of the NHS, to get unhealthy people not just immediately better, but long-term well and into wellness? Into lifelong healthy habits. Because a) surely more could be done, b) we need more impact on the thinking (or lack of it) from patients, following contact with the NHS. Which sounds like a criticism.

Maybe I’ve gone with this first because it seems most challenging? Maybe I’ve made shocking assumptions about many things. Maybe the shocking obviousness of the need for more coaches, trainers or sporty teachers for schools or youth clubs or community groups or spaces has meant I’m ‘targetting’ other, less obvious things. Whatever, this difficult stuff, where we eyeball issues across public health to civil liberties is unavoidable.

Let’s get back to ideas. Other avenues we might joyously, leaf-hoofingly race down.

  • Play. As well as transforming levels of activity in schools by increasing time for Physical Education, we could (and should) increase the amount of learning through Physical Education.
  • A finer understanding of what Physical Literacy is and what it means, is developing. Primary Schools in particular are getting comfortable with the idea that Activity can assist or lead development in academic terms as well as holistically (and of course physically). Many of us will argue that activity should lead more extensively.
  • Inter-active rooms are a fabulous extension of the notion that children might often experience learning through their senses, through movement, through participatory action rather than just passive ‘listening to teacher’. Sports coaches (believe me) can develop childrens’ social, creative, cognitive, personal skills as well as supporting their physical health and fitness. They don’t just teach sports skills; it’s way more sophisticated than that – it’s a richer experience.
  • It’s about all-round growth: Physical Literacy means building a pathway, understanding and promoting development through considered, appropriate activity.
  • (I’ve just gotten the tee-shirt on this, having spent two days training for Cricket Wales coaching duties with Create Development, who specialise in lubricating those six ‘cogs’ in the young child. I am clearer than ever – and more importantly, it is widely recognised in education – that skilful, guided physical activity in early years can be truly revelatory in broad, broad terms, as opposed to merely good for sports/agility/co-ordination).

But where else, how else do we change the world, other than by flooding schools at all levels with enlightened coaches, teachers, leaders-of-activity? Get thinking.

I’m going to give you a couple of final thoughts, which maybe epitomise my sense of crazy-open dialogue… and urgency.

I’m taken by the idea of re-wilding not just nature but also ourselves. By that I mean getting our hands in the soil, on the trees, in brooks, on frogs. If you’re familiar with recent work from either Robert MacFarlane or George Monbiot or both, you’ll get where I’m coming from. (If not, shame on you – get reading).

MacFarlane has been big into the ideas around spaces to play: how the range of a child now is criminally smaller and less worldly and adventurous than twenty years ago. Why? Because we parents don’t trust society around us. We think it’s stacked with paedophiles and rapists and junkies and thieves.

Cobblers, of course but this perception means we drive Jonny or Sarah the forty yards to cricket or football and they simply don’t go ‘out to play’ like we (middle-agers) did.

It’s cruel, it’s stifling and yet completely normal and responsible parenting. We don’t, in our busy lives, allow ourselves time to think what they’re missing: the bluebell wood, maybe, the stack of hay-bales. MacFarlane mourns this and calls for a debate, for some action to reclaim the possibilities and the words we are losing because of  this appalling shrinkage.

Apart from hugging the man and supporting, wholeheartedly, his campaign(s) I wonder if we can go further. Time for a bulletpoint.

  • Could we reclaim some play-spaces, in and out of built-up areas? Designate them as Play Spaces (or something) and employ DBS-checked, trained Rangers (or something) to a) lead play b) keep out the psycho’s? Let – indeed encourage kids go absolutely (relatively) wild! And, as with the Activity generally, go really big on this?

This is absolutely a conversational hare; a wild one, gamboling away, down the field. As a symbol of the kind of free-range thinking I reckon we need, though, I’ll go with it.

We need a change of mindset; us, the government. We need some inspiration – some great ideas enacted. To start, let’s go with a massive ‘Federal Activity Project’, to develop our selves, our physical and mental fitness, our capacity to wonder and to grow. There is nothing more important.