News David Robbins

Thursday 18 September 2014

Coloured strips and dancing pom-pom girls? It's just not cricket

David Robbins

Published 13/06/2009 | 00:00

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My uncle Eugene was old school. For him, the passage of time meant an inevitable deterioration in conditions. The past was always better than the present, and the future was a wasteland too tragic to contemplate.

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Take rashers. For Uncle Eugene, there hadn't been a good rasher in the country since before the Emergency.

Or teabags. A needless fandango, according to Eugene, made from the sweepings of second-rate tea plantations.

Eugene, a lifelong bachelor, was suspicious of innovation. He held the view that everything had gone to hell since the British had left in 1922.

His intercourse with the opposite sex was rare, limited to the annual mixed foursomes at his golf club. Indeed, an incident in that competition seems to have put him off the fair sex for life.

He played a masterful stroke on the 6th hole in the Castle Golf Club, which ended just short of a small stream. To his horror, he saw his female partner take out her putter, with the intention of laying up short of the water.

Of course, she over-hit it and the ball dropped into the stream. "I wouldn't mind," my uncle used to say, "but it was the only putt she sank all day."

Any sign of modernity was to be resisted: Sky television, natural gas, double-glazed windows and Alex "Hurricane" Higgins, who he regarded as the epitome of all that was wrong with modern youth.

In later life he took up bowls, but I have always thought he was more temperamentally suited to cricket. He had the cricketer's respect for tradition, and displayed that nostalgia for golden summers past common to many followers of the leather-and-willow game.

Of course, were he still with us, Uncle Eugene would no doubt regale us, his cowed and acquiescent nephews, on the evils of Twenty20, the new form of cricket which is taking the sporting world by storm.

Real cricket, say the traditionalists, is Test cricket, played at a steady pace over five days.

Its sheer length rewards doggedness and application. The flash and brash are discouraged.

The fact that former England captain Kevin Petersen sports a diamond stud in his ear caused paroxysms in pavilions all over the Home Counties.

Test cricket harks back to Victorian and Edwardian times, when gentlemen, free from the constraints of having to engage in the grubby business of earning money, could play a game that lasted the best part of a week.

In a way, it is a form of nostalgia acted out in the present.

But there was one problem with Test cricket: no one was watching it. Okay, the famous Ashes series between England and Australia in 2005 caught the public imagination (even here in Ireland), but audiences for the classic form of the game have been falling for years.

Enter Twenty20, a fast, compressed version which encourages bold shots and athletic fielding. There's music (whenever an Australian batsman came to the crease the other evening, I Come From A Land Down Under by Men at Work blared from the PA system), there is colour (teams wear coloured strip, rather than the traditional white) and, most radical of all, there is action.

The "twenty" in Twenty20 refers to the number of overs each side faces. Each team faces 120 balls, and the side which hits the most runs off their 20 overs wins.

It's easy to follow, and easy to work out who's winning, another departure from Test cricket, where actuarial skills are needed to work out the result.

And, surprise surprise, we turn out to be rather good at this form of the game.

The Ireland cricket team, which has been steadily turning into a competitive outfit over the past few years, has already qualified for the knock-out stages of the Twenty20 world cup.

At the time of writing, Ireland are taking the field against India. There are pom-pom girls, music and spectators in fancy dress. Some of them are actually drinking, and giving every appearance of having a good time.

Perhaps it's just as well Uncle Eugene isn't around to witness such depravity.

drobbins@independent.ie

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