(Photo: Getty Images)
By Martin Johnson
Tt was hard to get a drink at the golf club bar last Saturday, as the barmaid kept disappearing to grab another ten minutes by the telly coo-ing at the Royal Wedding. “Make the most of it,” I warned her. “By the time the next one comes around the bride will hurtle down the aisle on a pair of roller-skates for a brief “I do”, and the happy couple will speed off in a top-of-the-range Lamborghini for a quick slice of cake and Prosecco before heading for the airport. It will all be done and dusted in half an hour.”
If it can happen to cricket, it can happen to royal weddings as well. With the human attention span now officially less than a goldfish, the days of long- winded pomp, ceremony, and horse- drawn coaches are now as numbered as cricket matches lasting longer than an episode of Coronation Street. Even Twenty20 will be passé long before they’ve sold the last Harry and Meghan mug.
As for Test cricket, we’ve just seen yet more evidence that they’ll eventually have to throw pom pom girls, flamethrowers, and 20-yard boundaries at it to keep the life support machine switched on. Jos Buttler’s selection, after four red-ball games in a year at an average of 17, moves us a bit closer to the day when Test cricket does away altogether with the block and the leave, and replaces them with the ramp and the helicopter.
One day perhaps we’ll all pine for the return of the Boycott and Barrington era, when you only attempted to hit a ball outside the off-stump when you were 150 not out, and you started playing for stumps ten minutes after tea. But the game has moved on, with blinding speed, and in so many different departments.
Take the TV coverage. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Garry Sobers hitting Malcolm Nash for six sixes in an over, although you couldn’t see the ball on the grainy black and white BBC Wales picture, and the sole commentator Wilf Wooller, at one stage lost count. “Where’s my glasses?” he said. “Somebody’s pinched my glasses.”
And along with the single commentary, there was also a single camera. Which meant that when a batsman got hit on the pad while batting at the camera end, and there was an appeal for lbw, all you could see were two posteriors. One belonging to the batsman, and the other to the wicketkeeper.
For the current Test match at Lord’s, on the other hand, there will be cameras everywhere. Cameras to zoom in on lbws, cameras for close-call run outs. Cameras trained on potential ball tamperers, and cameras to capture instances of nose picking on the balcony. Cameras to pick out giraffes and traffic cones in the crowd, and cameras aimed at the big screen to enable spectators to watch each other waving at it.
There will even be a camera to bring us pictures of a thick edge racing towards third man, although there won’t be a fielder down there to stop it going for four. Lord knows how many Test man runs have been scored to third man since it was abolished as a fielding position at round about the same time as telephone boxes and AA patrolmen, but so vast is the database of the modern cricket scorers that someone should be able to tell us.
Scorers, once upon a time, confined themselves to joining up six dots with a fountain pen, and telling us that this was the third maiden in a row since lunch. Then came Bill Frindall, who could tell you things like how many balls a batsman had faced to reach his century. Today, though, the Bearded Wonder would be a complete fossil, in a world of statisticians who could tell you that this was the first century ever made at Lord’s since the war by a man batting lower than six, wearing blue underpants, who’d had sausages for breakfast.
Umpiring has moved on just as fast. Once upon a time they carried six marbles for counting, in the pocket of a white coat which was longer than Meghan’s wedding veil, and never gave a team captain out lbw because it was the team captains who marked them (out of ten) after every game.
On the other hand, Nos 9, 10 and jack were given out at the first available opportunity, especially if it was mid afternoon on a Friday, and a late finish meant a motorway traffic jam.
Nowadays, though, they all have light meters and walkie talkies, and never actually have to make a decision. Well, they do after a fashion, but only after consulting with someone in front of a television set. Neither do they have to call a no-ball for overstepping. They simply tell the bloke that’s just had his middle pole removed to halt halfway back to the pavilion while they check with their TV chum on the legality of the delivery.
They’re also responsible, along with the players, for the fact that bowling 90 overs in the time allocated for the day has become a total impossibility. This is because the modern player is apparently incapable of going more than five minutes without a drink, which means that every time someone’s shoelace becomes undone, or a batsman calls for fresh gloves, a small army of rehydration wallahs charge onto the field dispensing flagons of Gatorade, or some other isotonic reviver.
Add this to the DRS referrals, and there are times when you could take the dog round the block, or mow the lawn, without missing anything.
If the 12th man is pretty fit, what with all this running on and off, then everyone is fitter now than they were. You won’t find too many Colin Milburns, or Colin Cowdreys out there, and fast bowlers who once declined to even stick out a foot to stop a four, will now hurtle round the boundary and clean up several cameramen and a couple of stewards in an effort to turn a four into a three.
It’s no good living in the past, of course, but if there’s one thing I miss from the old days, it’s the extinction of the genuine number 11 batsman.
There is no greater pleasure in the game than watching a truly hopeless tailender, and cricket was never more rewarding than it was when you could watch Viv Richards and Les Taylor batting on the same day. In their entirely different ways, both were capable of moving you to tears.