Saturday and rain. So maybe we are in the cricket season? Maybe all that Johnson-ing and Cummings-ing and mask-wearing and deathly, transformational stuff I think I’ve been aware of is a dream. And everything is normal… because it’s raining when it should be cricket?
Sadly no. That gruelling, catastrophic plague, with its increasingly bitter hinterland of incompetence, untruth and division really is part of who we are. If we aren’t personally grieving we find ourselves raging; ardently defending our tribe in the unseemly clamour COVID-19 has hurled upon us.
Gah! I need to stay away from the political/philosophical arguments here – though I have some, believe me. (Go to @bowlingatvinny if you happen to be interested in any of that).
What I want to do instead is unashamedly dart clear, or from those deeper, darker challenges and ask some questions: not entirely out of cowardice, although I concede that what follows might feel a tad lightweight for swerving matters of a materially more urgent and significant resonance. In short I want to get into what this means for cricket – or rather what we might usefully learn.
By this I think I mean both specific lessons or learnings for particular areas of the game and also (for want of a better word) cultural notions.
Little of this will be entirely thought-through: a) because my brain tends to storm rather than analyse at the best of times and b) because we’re in the grip of a monster that may yet re-gather against us. So forgive the bullet-points: I’m drafting whilst hiding – whilst waiting for Amazon to deliver the family masks.
In no particular order, then, questions:
- How do we make the game more DURABLE? At pro’ and recreational level?
- Is TV Money a (ya know) narcotic? How do we lessen the reliance/spread the risks?
- Is it OK that the women’s pro’ game has *inevitably* been cast as the ‘natural’ second priority, after getting ‘more financially important’ blokes’ internationals and/or Blast action going?
- For clubs, could the idea that ‘we’re all in this together’ – Cummings notwithstanding – be turned into a significant positive?
Let’s be clear at the outset that I have few answers. Patently none of us, pre- about February, were contemplating much less planning for the hellish void that fell upon every home, every workplace, every activity: we’ve all been scrambling. The closest I’m gonna get to the Blame Game is to opine to no-one in particular that would the Cruelly Forensic Truth be briefly allowed to intrude, it might understandably take the opportunity to bark at us about the quality of our contingencies – in and out of cricket. We’ve all been scrambling.
Regarding the durability or otherwise of the game, it feels like the professional cricket in the UK will pull through – whatever that means – especially if the internationals currently being fixed up go ahead. TV money and ground revenue will be reduced, naturally but ECB reserves, despite being depleted, should hold out, we are led to believe.
England games are BIG – hence the rammed schedule. This may be unhelpful in multiple respects. Certainly part of any meaningful post-trauma review must surely consider the *level to which* England fixtures prop up our cricket, generally. After this episode – assuming there is an ‘after this’ – we need to have a Plan Z as well as Plan E, yes?
Ditto re- the TV Money. The druggy, near-sexual thrill of that last TV deal may have obscured the potentially precarious nature of the relationships. In my admittedly relatively narrow experience, post-coital highs may not be the most opportune moments for judicious strategic-thinking. We need a basket of eggs (oh-oh, this a dangerous metaphor?) not, erm, a single sperm – no, EGG – to whisk up a wholesome, game-wide, risk-averse omelette. Yeh.
The recreational game, despite being indisputably contingent upon ECB support – is that fair? – feels an island apart. There’s a contradiction-fest going on between the reliance on funded this-and-thats and the irreplaceably central volunteer force of three magnificent but superannuated club legends who ‘keep the whole bloody thing going’.
Therefore arguably hard to square the facts(?) of both umbilical reliance on ECB and the proud tradition for independence, grit and battling against insurgent circumstance. (On that, with the game allegedly “awash with money” – and yes that is a quote from a notable C.C.C. C.E.O. – we may wonder why any strife anywhere, any time? But we are where we are).
As I write cricket clubs in Wales have been bailed-out to the tune of almost a million pounds, from ‘streams’ funded by the ECB, Sport Wales and the Welsh Government. And yet there is and will be hardship due to lack of subs/bar takings etc.
My best guess on this is that few clubs will actually fold, even if there is no competitive cricket this season, primarily because they have always fought a way through against something: shortage of money, coaches, players and/or members who will actually tend the strip, chase the subs, collect the fox shit. There is a culture of gorgeous, selfless, ridiculous, wonderful, defiant obduracy, partly because even on a sun-kissed July evening there tends to be a sense that a plague is a-brewing.
Strikes me making clubs bomb-proof or even more bomb-proof might be like battling the time-warping matter-swallowing supra-gravity around yer average black hole. And yet of course we have to go there: in our Ford Anglia and wellies; swearing and waving a stick.
The Genuinely Sustainable Club is a concept that makes no sense; defying capitalism, ‘reason’, likelihood and history. Clubs just tend to go on, because character, because community (or individual), because love. This is not, however, an argument for inaction: on the contrary, it’s a call for lateral, radical-but-also-respectful, massive-scale, not-to-say cosmically enlightened thinking.
I have concerns about the ‘inevitable’ relegation of the women’s game. Firstly it feels morally dubious – even if it makes ‘commercial sense’. My soul yearns to prove beyond argument that this latter concept is not just ethically repugnant but simply untrue but I concede this may be a stretch. I’ll duck that one, for now, then and fall back on a statement of support. Cricket for women and girls is powerfully on the up: it must not be stalled or undermined because tough decisions have to be made. Leadership – real leadership – is often about doing things that are right as well as doing things that are prudent.
Finally (says he, as though drawing together a thread) back to clubs under the cosh.
On my twitters I’ve been seeing a certain amount of inter-club support – not just in terms of communal bantz – but also in respect of clobber/equipment/machinery. Club A struggling to get on top of outfields/strips after the floods (remember those!), Club Q pitching in to clear or offer an industrial-strength scarifier. Where sometimes the urge is to be protective or even competitive, generous streaks have been emerging.
Like that. Could we not build on that?