These first few words are being written as Jason Roy faces the opening ball of the second game of the T20 series against Australia. It’s 8.40am on a random Wednesday in early February 2018, and only about four hours of sleep has been managed so far; somehow, it seems a reasonable amount. Outside, the early morning sun is shining brightly, even if those ambling past the window look like they’ve taken a trip into their local butcher’s walk-in freezer.
I love the morning light at this time of year. The snowdrops are ready to bloom, and finally it seems like the long dark of winter is drawing away. Best of all, this coming weekend sees the first net session of the new year — that wonderful mixture of the dreams of the impending summer and days spent wistfully wandering around a boundary, and the expectant agony of turning a shoulder over for the first time in months.
Roy out for 9.
I am just about old enough to remember when cricket used to be played in the summer, with the occasional sound of TMS to keep you company under the sheets in the depths of December. That was it. Tours were long, summers were longer, and Octobers were full only of Saturday afternoons and the classified football results.
Cricket now never ends. I am, for my sins, a Lancashire member (my younger self would be mildly horrified, but life takes you in strange directions — in my case, over the Pennines) and have had numerous emails from the club in the last week alone reminding me of ways to watch Red Rose players in their various tournaments. BT Sport and TMS mean I’ve missed barely a minute of the winter’s Ashes series — despite the untold misery it’s brought. In the few moments it’s been fallow, the BBL has filled in. If both are off, there’s been untold hours of YouTube highlights of David Gower innings in which to indulge.
While the mood is low here, and the days short, cricket is, for me, a glimpse to a brighter time. The sunshine is real, the sound of never-met friends on the radio a beckoning into the spring and summer of old mates and familiar frustrations at the crease. It is the light at the end of the long dark.
Hales gone for 22.
The new membership card for Lancashire dropped through the letter box the other day — another reminder of what is to come. One of the aforementioned emails tells me that Jos Buttler is about to start for the Rajasthan Royals in this season’s IPL. He’ll play (in theory) alongside his England colleague Ben Stokes. Another England man, Chris Woakes, has made more than £810,000 with his purchase by the Royal Challengers Bangalore. It all starts in April, and sometimes, I have to admit, I think less might just be more.
Woakes was part of the England squad for the Ashes. The all-rounder managed 25 on the first day of the tour, in Perth. That was back on the 4th of November, against a Western Australia XI. I don’t have access to his itinerary, but given he plays in all three formats for England, he may have spent more time in the air around Australia than at the crease in the last three months. His tour down under — as far as I can tell — is scheduled to end on day five of the second Test at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch. On the third of April.
Morgan goes. England are collapsing.
I do not feel particularly sorry for Chris Woakes. He is an international sportsman. He’s worked particularly hard to get where he is. He’s representing his country at the top level, and spending his permanent summer reaping the rewards, both on the pitch and in his bank balance. But I am concerned for him, and for his colleagues. I am concerned that there is simply too much cricket, and not enough Chris Woakes to cope with the demands. I am not sure I can keep up with it, and more importantly, I doubt the poor lad remembers his address.
It seems sometimes that there have been complaints about the cricket calendar since the game was invented. You think the situation when Australia played a Test in India and a T20 at home against Sri Lanka in the space of 24 hours in 2017 is unusual? In January 1930, two England sides managed it on the same day — one in Christchurch, one in Bridgetown:Playing two Tests in a day1930 In the first month of 1930 England found themselves playing simultaneous Test series in New Zealand and the…www.espncricinfo.com
For what it’s worth, I suspect even WG Grace probably moaned about having to face a few pie chuckers around 1890, when he’d much rather have been chucking down a few lunchtime pies.
That said, I have a nagging suspicion that today’s version of ‘too much cricket’ isn’t healthy for spectator, player or coach. Players cannot recuperate, coaches are burnt out, and fans have to try to fit in their lives around keeping up their interest in the game. The genie, though, is unlikely to get back in the bottle. TV money is too appealing. Gate money too necessary. Schedules — and seats — must be filled. More is needed… always.
I love cricket. But there’s too much of it for me, and I’m not sure any of it matters any more. Why should I care about the Kolkata Knight Riders in the upcoming IPL if I don’t recognise any of the players — as the team’s changed so much since last year? I’m currently watching David Willey rip through the Aussie top-order, and the utter frisson of joy that should bring is missing. The game is only worthwhile if it brings meaning. If there is no value, no story, no drama… there is only a fleeting excitement, a cheap trick… a meaningless flirtation. Oh, and while the customers are being rinsed for every penny and waking moment, the players are being put through their paces again for every last sinew of effort in exchange for a few coins.
Sometimes there are too many sixes, and not enough nurdles into the leg side. Cricket — perhaps for its own good — needs less, not more.