Alex Massie

In search of a Golden Age...

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When I saw that The Atlantic had a feature on "The Greatest Sports Book Ever Written" in its October edition I thought, well, that's nice but I daresay they really mean "The Greatest Sports Book Ever Written That Isn't About Cricket." Be wary of your assumptions. turns out I underestimated the Atlantic's taste and perspicacity. For, lo, there it is: a fine piece by Joseph O'Neill explaining why CLR James' Beyond A Boundary is an important work - though a mystifying one should you have no knowledge of the greatest game of them all.

O'Neill concludes that it's sad that Beyond A Boundary is off-limits to Americans. But I'm not so sure that's the case. I'm generally a fan of globalisation, but I draw a line in the sand when it comes to cricket.

In this instance big bucks means worse sport, corrupting the very attributes that make cricket cricket in an effort to turn it into just another leisure activity or commodity. The rise of Twenty20 cricket is the latest threat hailed as cricket's saviour. The Economist explains the commercial opportunities available in the light of Twenty20's arrival, here

Foreign Policy's Prerna Mankad agrees that

Americans certainly don't have the patience for five days of regular cricket, but Twenty20 might catch on. Watch this space.

Let us sincerely hope this is not the case. I am an unabashed cricket snob and thus cannot accept that Twenty20 is proper cricket. It's a bastardisation of the game designed to appeal to people who don't like cricket. Americans baffled by the idea of a five day contest in which there may be no winner will doubtless be amused that a form of cricket that lasts as long as the average baseball game might be considered an improperly abbreviated version of the noble sport but there you have it.

The best one may say for Twenty20 is that it may prove a gateway to an appreciation of real cricket for some fans; much more likely, however, is that it will further erode the viability of test match cricket which is already in trouble everywhere outside England and Australia.

This is not merely a question of money, but ones of technique, discipline and mental fortitude. One day cricket alters the way batsmen and bowlers approach the game. How many batsmen now have the patience, let alone the technique required, to bat all day on a difficult wicket? Precious few. How many bowlers, used to being smashed off a length in hit-and-run cricket, now possess the ability to stick to line and length? Precious few.

It may be silly to think there was once a golden age - Cardus after all mourned the pre-1914 game even as he was writing about Bradman and Hammond and Woolley and Headley and all the rest  - but skills once considered integral to the game are disappearing and part of the blame for that must be apportioned to the proliferation of one-day cricket.

That's the modern world, of course, but that doesn't mean one must rush to embrace every element of what's laughingly called progress. CLR James asked "what do they know of cricket who only cricket know?" but we might ask the games' custodians (ie, the accountants and marketing executives): what do they know of cricket who only television know?

Do we really have to kill cricket to save it? Apparently so and all in the name of spreading the sport to people who for perfectly good reasons of their own have shown no inclination to be persuaded of its many merits. That's their prerogative and I've no desire to persuade them of the error of their ways if that means that cricket must be changed to accommodate these newcomers. If that makes me a reactionary then so be it.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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