Cricket Should Celebrate Its Accessibility
You will have to forgive me for a moment if I pick up someone else’s baton, but David Hopps recent piece for ESPN Cricinfo (‘English cricket must reach out and touch its public’) struck something of a personal chord with me.
In particular it was the post-match ‘game’ at Southport which stirred up nostalgic feelings within me as Durham’s players to engaged in an informal knock about with local youngsters on the outfield of an opposing (out) ground.
It may be a little bit ‘please like my sport’, but this kind of accessibility is becoming somewhat unique to cricket among the major sports. And it should be celebrated and protected.
As I previously hinted towards, there is an element of nostalgia here.
My first County games were both Sunday League matches at Trent Bridge – against Jack Russell’s Gloucestershire and Sussex to be precise (though I am hazy on which came first) – and though I enjoyed both, it was the informal games that broke out alongside the old scoreboard/Fox Road car park which helped to further cement a love for the domestic game.
Said scoreboard has since been replaced by a more modern equivalent, the Radcliffe Road stand significantly redeveloped and a complete new stand built along the Fox Road side; but the memories remain. It’s not always what happens on the field that makes someone a fan of a given sport, particularly at a young age.
Numerous and somewhat disorganised swings of the bat I engaged in on various county outfields during lunch and tea breaks, as well as expeditions to nearby nets, punctuated my cricket viewing as a young teen. And that’s without mentioning the numerous teens that crammed themselves in to a small concrete walk way behind a stand at Scarborough to play, complete with dustin wicket. Well, until the ball was lost over a wall in to a neighbouring garden anyway…
Where my father (and uncle) had planted a seed, it was the above experiences that helped things grow. Just assuming sitting and watching a given game will make someone, particularly a youngster, love that game is folly – a point The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade seemed to miss recently.
A connection needs to be built.
Things took a further step for me in the summer of 1996, as Nottinghamshire took on Glamorgan at Worksop.
There are always four things I remember from the game:
1) The rather good local Indian restaurant seemed to be the only redeeming feature of the town to my 12-year-old eyes
2) Steve James scored a double century for Glamorgan
3) A number of Notts fans sarcastically clapped Greg Mike’s ‘100’ – 100 runs conceded that is
4) Warming up Ottis Gibson along the boundary
Point four is the relevant part of this somewhat misty eyed retelling of an otherwise innocuous August game from my youth.
Gibson had made his Test debut the previous summer, and although his international career was fleeting, to a young lad busily patrolling the boundary to watch ‘the pros’ warm up, he was one of the biggest names involved in the game.
In my eagerness to retrieve one of the throw downs I sent the Barbadian all-rounder’s way, I took a blow to the mouth as the ball darted up off the boundary rope. It mattered not, the ensuing fat lip a badge of honour and a memory which stays with me to this day.
I went on to fill autograph books with star names such as Tendulkar, Ambrose and Gower, I tried my hand at photography, finding Michael Vaughan to be a more than willing subject for some close ups, and watched some of the game’s greats do their thing. All very happy memories of a life along the boundary.
Whilst this has been a very personal tale, the salient point remains the same – cricket, and cricketers, do a wonderful job of making themselves accessible, most notably to young fans who will carry those memories through to adulthood, a life long love of the game forged.
It’s hard to imagine Delle Ali hanging around for a kick about following an FA Cup tie in Oxford, or Chelsea’s players working their way around the edge of the pitch to sign autographs, as Pakistan did at Lords.
The young man who bowled to Ben Stokes along the Southport boundary will never forget that moment.
And that’s something to be celebrated, cherished. While the ECB chases some sort of Big Bash style franchise cricket, which carries with it some financial benefit, there is the risk that this more homely element will be lost.
Wanting such things to endure is not backwards, it is not ‘standing in the way of progress’. It’s wanting one of the things that makes cricket so endearing to continue.
In a world where many other things feel increasingly impersonal, cricket’s human touch could yet be the ace up its sleeve.