‘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.