Roger Alton

Can cricket go on like this?

Can cricket go on like this?
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‘Fifty years from now Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers, and — as George Orwell said — old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist.’ Thanks to John Major, former prime minister and noted cricket lover, for those words uttered in 1993 — and that are not worthy of the derision with which they would almost certainly be greeted today. The beer may still be warm, the suburbs nearly as green, and dog owners as dottily doting as ever, but these days the shadows on county grounds are as likely to be cast by floodlights as by the sun, and any old maids are most probably tanked-up middle managers in drag.

Since Major’s speech, cricket has shattered into a thing of so many varieties it is only just possible to pick out the game of my Hornby and my Barlow long ago. The atomisation, which began gradually in the 1960s, has accelerated at such a rate that only the most assiduous students of the game can keep up. Since the middle of last month we have had Test matches, county championship games, limited over internationals, limited over county games, T20 county games and The Hundred. Pass the smelling salts, nurse… Can it go on like this? And who will be the winners and the losers?

First though there is a more immediate, closely related problem: with India outwitting, outplaying and even out-sledging the home side, how to fix England’s Test team after the Lord’s debacle and in time to assemble a squad with a half-decent chance of regaining the Ashes this winter. The white ball monopoly of the fixture list at the moment means there are no four-day matches for players to show they can shore up the Test side’s batting, which — apart from the incombustible Joe Root — is collapsing like a house on fire. The brutal humiliation at Lord’s was so rapid it made the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan look as long-drawn-out as the Thirty Years’ War.

It would be no disrespect to India if England used the last three Tests as trial games for the Ashes, because whoever is brought in could hardly do worse than the current bunch. If Ollie Pope is fit he should be picked, and others such as James Vince, Liam Livingstone and Dawid Malan should be given a chance.

What is the Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain for? In fact, what is Qatar for? Signing Lionel Messi and (don’t forget) Sergio Ramos proves one thing: Qatar is rich. PSG might well win the Champions League and the marketing men in Doha will celebrate Qatar being relevant in sport and something to be proud of.

So what? The real shining light of PSG is Kylian Mbappé who is French, just 22, and will be out of contract at the end of this season. That makes PSG the retirement home of European football. They could sign Cristiano Ronaldo to replace Mbappé and boast a front three of Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar (average salary: approximately €40 million; average age: getting on). That’s not a long-term project or a decent plan. It’s just being rich.

Brentford have a project and a plan that is exciting, refreshing and admirable. If they’re still in the Premier League when PSG play in a Champions League final, it will be a major achievement. I doubt the two sides will ever meet but let’s hope they do; let’s hope that Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar run out at the Brentford Community Stadium in September next year at the start of the Europa League. Thursday nights in Hounslow will never have been better.

Written byRoger Alton

Roger Alton is a former editor of the Observer and the Independent. He writes the Spectator Sport column.

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