Reviewed by Clayton Goodwin
Cricket was once at the centre of my life – and now I can barely bring myself to watch or hear anything about it. The decreasing number of fans cannot admit to themselves that others, the great majority, do not want to know anything about the game. The problem is not essentially making cricket accessible to those who want to play it, but in making it so relevant to the public that they would be interested in wanting to take it up in the first place. Cricket is as relevant to sport in this country as the Liberal Democrats, another entity whom I have supported over a life-time, are to meaningful politics at a national level – even though they have deluded themselves that every member of the public is just looking for an opportunity to vote for them.
The supporters, indeed worshippers, of respectively the traditional code and The Hundred argue their faith, to the detriment of the other, with the fervour of splinter Marxist cells or schismatic religious sects – without the outside world giving a toss. The toss? Cricketers are even arguing the toss about that. I’m not talking about cricket in those countries where the game has developed a different cultural course, outside, or subservient to, the Anglo hegemony, but to England and the West Indies, two regions to which I belong, love, and have spent sixty decades reporting their successes, sadness, the joy and the sorrow, development and personalities. The game is parading itself now in its costly, very costly, finery as the Emperor displayed his new clothes in the match-report by Hans Christian Andersen.
Cricket was the centre of social life in my childhood. Our village had a pub and a cricket ground, in either/both of which all meaningful transactions were conducted, and nothing else except the dwellings and a convenience store. For school and church we had to go elsewhere. From the day Dad taught me the game with the ball and the walking-stick, when he was demobbed from the army, I sensed immediately its connection to the play I saw the adult men enjoying on the “green”, and, more significantly, that described in the radio commentaries to which we listened. More than anything else it was relevant to every aspect of life as we knew it then, and continued to know it until ……
Cricket brought me a wife, a way of life, and a career. Impressed by a meeting with Frank Worrell, then West Indies captain, I sought more information about him, his colleagues and their homelands, from the embryonic UK West Indian press. This brought me an offer to contribute articles, the opportunity to move within the West Indian community, meeting the lady to whom I have been married for well over fifty years, and selection as the only white player in the Brockley (West Indians) cricket team. Cricket, cricket, cricket …. was the rhythm to my existence. Alas, no more. I still write about sport, but editors, and their public, want track-and-field athletics, netball, boxing, football – anything except cricket. I cannot get my children or grand-children, the majority of whom live in Brixton, interested in cricket. Boxing, athletics, judo, basketball – yes. Cricket? Sorry, Grandad.
I was delighted and proud when the Black Lives Matter momentum showed its light on cricket and old injustices were righted or recompensed. Now, however, as a catechism of soundbites is issued whenever anybody dares to express a contrary opinion, it is in danger of becoming a parody of itself, and that parody would be a tragedy for its commendable aims. Of course, people of Caribbean heritage in the inner-city have other interests than cricket. The class, the race, the status of the person who said it doesn’t matter. Cricket is totally irrelevant to many sectors of our community (whatever the ethnic complexion). Even the cricket field in the Kentish village in which I grew up has been closed several years ago. It is time that those of us who love cricket do our best to make it relevant – and stop the battle of self-justifying soundbites.
Cricket enthusiasm can be catching. Though I didn’t appreciate the point when it happened on the last occasion that, through the intervention of age and Covid, I covered a serious international competition. The Bangladeshi journalists who crowded out the pressbox for their country’s World Cup match against in West Indies at Taunton in 2019 were as moved by the spirit as any religious devotees. As their country achieved an upset victory one of their compatriots raced heedlessly in delirium along the back of seats just in front of me. In doing so, he knocked a cup of coffee over my newly-bought computer. It ruined the machine and my day’s work. I couldn’t see the funny side at the time, but in retrospect I can almost admire and envy the man for his enthusiasm.