Broad, at the end of the fourth day. Slightly playing to the admittedly rather small Brit contingent. Aware of the cameras. A tad self-consciously gesturing and twitching and rallying himself. Knowing the moment – knowing and relishing the import of this thing. Doing what you would want, in fact; revelling in the sport; in the knowledge that this, right now, right this moment, is the gather of a great session. Getting off on that.
Some of my own highlights come carouselling through. Dramatic spits and bounces and lurches off of the pitch. Engaging chaos. Stoicism. Young lads. Reviews, romance and a fair bit of competitive spite. Action that builds uniquely.
Yup, it’s time to re-wax the waxing lyrical thing – the waltz-along with Test Cricket. Because we need to. We must defy and we must celebrate… because we are the custodians.
Who are? And custodians of what? Maybe we need to think about this?
Forgive me – divert. I have this picture in my head of a ‘Journalism School’ where some dry old git is lecturing about sports. He is joyless and the purpose of the talk appears to be to remove the sparks of life and colour from that which is ultimately to be written. Because these are reports, not columns!
(Divert 2. Apols.) Let’s be clear: I’m a middle-aged nobody and I know that on the one hand this ‘frees me up’ to pontificate about many things -including writing – whilst fatally undermining any truisms that might, streakily or otherwise, emerge. If I ‘say stuff’ I’m waaay past worrying if it appears ludicrous, plus we all know it doesn’t matter. So relax. Relax but see this thing out. There might be a point, eventually.
Ok so on writing about cricket, or pretty much anything, my in-first retaliation is going to need to be the following statement; that of course I know indulgence is a real danger… but (nevertheless) the scribe’s early duties include being entertaining and loving words. I mention this because I find a fair lump of sports writing to be dull. Dull because okaaay – it’s a report; dull because it’s allegedly sticking to the facts.
I’ve said it before but I’m with David Byrne on this: facts are not just useless in emergencies but sometimes hopelessly boring and figurative in a fabulously abstract world. Thus even writing ’bout sport becomes a diabolical underachievement when all we do is passively (and let’s say it, unimaginatively) regurgitate events.
I can’t, in fact, believe my own fear that journo’s are routinely taught to abhor indulgences like mood and sense when tapping out their copy. But I am struck that lots of what’s published avoids the question of what it was like to be there so completely. I assume this is because stuff like that is necessarily personal – and therefore surplus. Great.
All this waffle is George Dobell’s fault. He wrote, in that genuinely fine manner of his, about the first BangvEng test and then stepped right forward and beyond, to say something unashamedly beautiful and arguably sentimental, about Test Cricket. (Go find out – easily done.) I’m merely shuffling in behind.
George was supporting, making a point. Echoing and re-inventing the poetry of the cricket to send a message to the universe. Bearing witness. Bringing us back, arguably, to our custodianship.
It may not be entirely melodramatic to suggest that longform of the game is flapping in the morgue. Not given the violent prevalence of arguments towards allegedly more vital and more sustainable species. The thrust for change feels murderously powerful (to some) – as though more erotically-charged than considered. If this Horny Blokes Wiv Knives scenario has any basis in truth, then some real brilliance must emerge to counter, to make civilised the carve-up. That’s a job for the custodians.
How then, to oppose beautifully and skilfully and with invincibly good thinking? How to be practical, as well as unashamedly proud of the games’ slow movements? What does The Plan (our plan?) look like, that makes sense of the opposing needs, cultures, life-forces at work? This is the tough stuff, for all of us.
Personally I can simply enjoy and maybe express some of the weirdly, wonderfully incremental pulses within Test Cricket, or the wider game… but I’m not that good at restructuring the whole bloody shooting match. I take huge pleasure in both experiencing and being some (inadequate) conduit for skills and understanding – through either writing or coaching. I get most of the richness and the subtlety and I’m absolutely prepared to wait for that quiet magic to unfold.
The problem is they’re telling us that most of the universe ain’t. Things have to be faster.
Apparently in Chittagong, with excitement running high and ticket prices low, folks weren’t that bothered – or not enough folks were bothered. When a plainly magnificent and possibly historic test is going off but still fails to attract a crowd, those of us in the custodian camp may have to do some pretty smart talking.
Now really is a Big Moment. The alarming, polarising blur of the current T20 developments is just one of the manifestations of the game’s stampede away from the old. That’s not the only Supercharge in town, though. There’s energy brewing – nay massing – within and around the recreational game. We’re in the pre-surge phase of something powerful here too.
Having signed up to a dramatic re-boot, the ECB is fine-tuning strategies around ‘the battle for the playground’ – the significant re-positioning of cricket closer to the forefront of the national consciousness. The aim (I believe) is to massively increase the profile and relevance of cricket to children and young people, thereby transforming prospects generally. The challenge will be to engineer change, in this peak-testosterone moment, which is both dynamically impactful and serenely wise.
Somehow we must find a way. To both re-invigorate the game in these islands and secure the future for Tests. If this means cricket becomes some outlying bastion against dumbness (and is exposed as such, as the know-all and the reactionary), then fine. Take the flak. In fact wade into it, waxing lyrical. Do that for Test Cricket and make changes too.
In Chittagong, Bangladesh, a young lad bowls spin. Seemingly nervelessly – though he has no experience and the England skipper opposite has just got the record… for precisely that. Young fella name of Duckett watches on. What proceeds is delightful, traumatic, nerve-shredding, complex, simple, beautiful. And not without its ironies.
Mehedi (who is 18, and on debut) torments the England openers. He does it with an absurd comfort – as though it’s just a game! When it would be so-o easy to tighten up, just a touch, and therefore lose his flow, or the freedom of hand so essential for his craft, Mehedi flights it. The seam does its wonderful, enchanting, revolutionary thing. It’s technical but mainly it’s something pure.
Duckett seems struck-down by nerves, but both he and Cook, largely, are gorgeously flummoxed – as though they’ve never encountered anything like this before. It’s hypnotic and almost funny that this off-spin lark seems so new to them…