It seems churlish to be having a bitch just when two enthralling Test series are being played out in Australia and South Africa. And how enthralling they are too, by the way, the SA-India series being if anything even better than the Ashes. The sight of South African bowlers really having a go at Indian batsmen is the most pulsating drama in world cricket. And as for the Ashes, wasn’t England’s 517-1 declared one of the most astounding stats from last year? And that was scored not in Chittagong or Bulawayo, but in Brisbane against the Aussies. It’s a score that properly belongs in a battered Wisden from the 1930s. Both these great series, with their largely packed grounds, have been a fantastic advert for the five-day game: not surprisingly, the first two Tests this summer between England and India at Lords and Trent Bridge are already sold out.
But it’s not the five-day game that’s the problem. In case you hadn’t noticed, the cricket world cup is about to unwind itself before a less than adoring audience. The sport’s governing body, the ICC, has always had an unerring eye for the best way to bore the daylights out of us, while trying to rake in as much cash as possible, and this is a real cracker. It kicks off in midwinter, on 19 February, and finally staggers to a close in the spring, 2 April in fact.
I have never quite got the point of the cricket world cup. Football, rugby, yes of course: they represent the culmination of something and generally tell you who is the best in the world. Cricket’s version is just another round of limited-over matches, among many, and on the day anything, as we all know, can happen.
And spreading this one across three nations — India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, half of a vast continent — won’t do much for its sense of identity, though it should help Paul Collingwood’s air miles. It will take 42 games to reduce 14 teams to eight. Can’t wait. Endless one-day games will become as ever-present as Owen Coyle’s shorts on the Bolton bench, and rather less appealing. Would anyone really mind if the cricket world cup disappeared? I can just about remember the first three, in 1975, ’79, and ’83 — won by West Indies, twice, and India — but not much else. The last one was in the West Indies and was a shambles.
Otherwise this is a bit of an in-between year, though expect pre-Olympic fever to start really ratcheting up. There will be lots of coverage of home-grown sports people you have never heard of and never thought you would be interested in but suddenly are — skeet shooters, small-bore hopefuls, whitewater kayakers — and you might even start to care about the difference between the foil, the sabre and the epee. And unknown young weightlifters will be making the headlines.
One already has: the admirable Zoe Smith, who I last came across when she chatted entertainingly at the Sports Journalism Awards last month. She’s just 16, doing her GCSEs, has broken countless weight-lifting records, and won a bronze at the Commonwealth Games. Now she’s been given a bollocking by her sport’s governing body, and told to get her weight down. Hell’s bells, don’t any of these numbskulls know about teenage girls and weight issues? Zoe is just the sort of girl British sport needs, though I fear she might be a bit banjaxed in 2012 by those beefy Bulgarians.
Meanwhile at Anfield they like to sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ — but what a load of phooey. Just keep your eyes on the home gates at Liverpool these days now they’ve turned against poor Roy Hodgson, who admittedly hasn’t helped himself much either. More like, ‘You’re On Your Own, Pal.’ Scousers, eh, doncha just love ’em!
Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.