I occasionally break the rule about all of this blog having to be new writing, but as we move towards the end of what has been a glorious summer in many ways, and at risk of alienating those who read this who don’t understand cricket nor have an interest in, I wanted to put into the public domain a piece I submitted to this year’s writing competition in Wisden (the cricket bible for those of you not familiar with the name of that annual almanack). I do so for two reasons – there is a lot of talk about test cricket being critically endangered (which I would agree with), and the piece didn’t win (though publication here is not a bunch of sour grapes, nor one single sour grape; I just want it read).
THE GAME THAT WAS OURS
In 1976, when I was 16, there were no gates at the top of Downing Street, and I used to regularly jump up onto the wall opposite that famous black door of Number 10 to spend entire afternoons watching the comings and goings. It felt like I was in touch with real power, as if, even though I couldn’t yet vote, I almost had a seat at the table with all those important and famous people. And when I took photos of the then Prime Minister and whoever his visitors were, nobody stopped me, or asked me what I was doing. That wall, that street, felt like sanctuary to the young me, before I had to start the long trek home to Yorkshire. And then someone put up some gates, and power and politics became remote.
This is how it has gone with cricket, too. Wall-to-wall coverage of the game on terrestrial TV and radio in 1970s made my existence, in the back-of-beyond that Doncaster felt like, easier and more interesting. On Sundays, I’d even sit in front of the telly with a scorebook I’d bought for myself and score the John Player League games, listening to Arlott and Laker, spellbound by the ease with which they wrapped their words and voices around the action I tried to get down on paper without making any mistakes. Test matches were massive events for me, especially during the summer holidays, when I’d pop to the sweetshop just round the corner from our house to get a quarter of lemon sherbets, and suck one of them every half hour during the game. Cricket was everywhere, and everyone watched it, and everyone played it, and everyone wanted to play test cricket, or so it seemed. We thought it would last forever. And then, at the end of 1989, the gates closed on widespread public access to cricket on TV just as they finally did, permanently, on public access to Downing Street. I felt betrayed. Still do.
So here we are now, and lament the falling participation in the game worldwide, and fear for the future of test cricket, when, despite the gimmick of The Hundred, the flash Indian Premier League, and other global T20 leagues, there is still no regular mass access to cricket on terrestrial TV. At a time of global crisis, when we want something to encourage our young people to play the best game of all games, there is nothing to inspire them, because cricket on TV is no longer free (in all senses of that word), because cricket has become a commodity, because the money brokers won’t allow cricket to heal in more ways than one.
Covid-19 or not, the time has come to open the gates on cricket again, and to fully deprive the paid-for broadcasters of their monopoly on the game that was ours.
I wrote that back in October last year, and it still holds. You may think it’s a minor issue, but the fact is, and we see it with the Tory leadership election, the fact that Boris Johnson is not yet being held to account for all the illegal acts he committed while he was (and still is, at the time of writing) Prime Minister, that the large media companies are holding countries to ransom, that those media companies are actually the driving forces behind politics, behind politicians, and that those media companies are overwhelmingly right-wing and dictating the agenda. It’s their fault, as much as the politicians’, that we are heading into the worst cost-of-living catastrophe in living memory.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 198