Following the protagonist through the formats – players and audience in the T20 era

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We had an interesting (to us) chat to Charles Dagnall of Test Match Special (TMS) via Twitter yesterday. At one point he said something closely related to a number of our recurrent themes/hobby horses on this site and we were faintly annoyed with ourself for not having put the thought into words ourself.

We were discussing how people become cricket fans in the first place and more specifically where Test Match Special’s future audience will come from. In response to our comment that some people (not him) seem to think that it’ll arrive fully-formed, grey-haired in blazer and tie, Daggers said: “Much like the actual players who are playing tests via T20, expect audiences to do exactly the same.”

We immediately felt that there was a lot of truth in this; that a hypothetical fan might grow with a player and follow him/her through the formats. We’ve always felt that cricket’s shorter formats offer a route towards Test cricket and we’re also big on the following of a sport being about narrative and characters. Despite this, we’d somehow never taken this to the logical conclusion of one fan following one player to their five-day destination.

To provide some background to the conversation…

It came about after we had bitched and moaned about an article by Roy Greenslade in the Guardian. Roy basically thinks that cricket’s going to die because he sat a child down in front of a session of a Test match and they weren’t instantly enthralled.

He might as well have sat this kid down for episode seven of series three of The Wire. You need to work your way up to and then into these things and to draw conclusions without comprehending that seems almost wilfully wrong-headed.

This is almost certainly unfair, but it seemed symptomatic of the sort of person who became a fan of Test cricket by listening to TMS when they were 10 and who cannot comprehend that others may have arrived at the same destination via a rather different route.

There are many paths. As a 10-year-old, we struggled to sit and watch more than five minutes of cricket. We’d have much rather been doing something else. While that something was quite often cricket, it could also have been football or it may not even have been sport at all.

If that were today, there would doubtless be those who would despair at our impatience and lament modern society’s role in the slow demise of Test cricket. But it wasn’t today. It was 1988. In 2016 we write about Test cricket near enough daily and near enough for free.


Mike Gatting wasn't receiving the King Cricket email when he dropped that ludicrously easy chance against India in 1993.


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  1. Roy Greenslade has made a second career out of having opinions.

    Down with this sort of thing.

  2. Is this the bit where we all talk about how we got into cricket?

    I got into it through procrastination. My father was keen on cricket, and I had vague memories of him flailing around trying to find the score in 2005 when we were on holiday. It was the first half of 2013, England seemed to be doing well (erm), I was bored at work, and there was this wonderful site that gave you the details of what happened every ball. And a whole heap of stats. (I did a maths degree and work in numbers).

    Cricinfo’s live text was my gateway drug. The fact that cricket writing and commentary (in the form of TMS) seemed to be more humorous than many other sports fixed the addiction.

    That’s a big reason why Test cricket is best for me: five whole days of procrastination (in theory)! Of checking stats.! Of laughing with Miller/Gardner/Hopps/KC/KC’s commenters/Aggers and Boycott (possibly substitute “at” for “with” on the last one)! And, with time, I became able to appreciate the sense of narrative that KC talks about.

    Put me down in front of live cricket at a young age and I’d have been immensely bored and put off the sport for life. That’s what happened to church.

    1. I think I first got into cricket by playing when I was young. Even as a 30 something year old now I probably couldn’t sit down to watch a days cricket because of work, family and all that rubbish. And even if I had the time I probably wouldn’t – I think I prefer following it on radio/ background TV/ internet while doing other things around the house – I will rush back to the TV if something important happens.

      I remember going to test matches with friends at the Basin when I was younger – I think we only went to actually play cricket on the bit of grass out behind the old stand and then on the field at lunch and tea (this is something that has been reintroduced in the last few years much to my delight). We wouldn’t have sat down and watched much of the actual cricket. As we grew a older we still didn’t watch the cricket but we stopped playing our own games and started drinking instead.

      I have been to some of the test matches recently and from my observations of children they seem to be doing the same thing – they have their bats and balls and spend more time playing their own games rather than watching. Telling kids to sit down and watch someone else do something is a recipe for boredom.

      I dont know if this adds anything to the discussion – I think I am saying my consumption of test cricket is often down more through a kind of osmosis rather than anything active and this is how I developed an interest in test cricket as a youth. You can go to a game and not actually have to pay attention – you can run around doing your own thing, play with your mates and when you hit your late teens drink to much and get escorted out by the police.

  3. Very much agree, KC.

    Embedded in your/Daggers thinking is a counter-argument to the new (I fear prevailing) view that test cricket will die in places like India and the West Indies because the youngsters love T20.

    But surely there is room for test cricket as well as T20; if T20 cricket is capable of generating as much money and interest as people think, then there’ll be enough of those things to support test cricket in those nations where the direct commercial viability is not straightforward.

    An analogy with this is serious theatre in the UK.

    Of course there is far more money in TV and film; in the 30+ years I have been avidly following theatre, its demise has been forecast continually. Commercially not viable. How can it possibly survive?

    But over that 30+ years I have seen many great stars begin their careers on the stage. Some return to small theatres as big stars, perhaps through nostalgia, perhaps wanting to put something back in, perhaps because they genuinely love the format. Certainly those who put serious money in to small theatres are doing that because they know what an important part of the bigger system the live theatre is. Some people cannot thrive on the stage whereas they can on the screen; some only thrive on stage,

    But serious theatre (certainly in London) is stronger than ever in the last 30+ years, despite public funding being slashed and the demise of theatre being predicted even louder than before.

    I really do hope (and believe) this analogy applies just as well for cricket at the highest level.

    1. The analogy to “serious theatre” is very good.

      I think sometimes people want to protect serious theatre because it is”worthy”. I fear that a lot of people who want to protect Test cricket feel the same.

      But for me, the best reason to protect Test cricket isn’t because it is worthy but because a good Test is absolutely cracking entertainment, with a broader palette and greater depth of emotional involvement than T20 to boot.

      The best thing the ICC or boards or even individual grounds can do to help preserve Test cricket – even more so than making loadsa money from T20 and using it to keep Tests going as a piece of preserved heritage – is to ensure more Tests are “good Tests” and offer a decent level of entertainment for spectators. That means doing something about scheduling, mismatches and the state of the pitch. May not be enough to keep Tests financially viable but it would make them more worthwhile to preserve.

      (Remember when NZ played their first – I think – T20 match as if it were a novelty match, complete with retro nostalgia “beige brigade” kit? In 40 years’ time maybe every summer will feature a solitary test – no doubt at HQ for max heritage authenticity – played in “historical curiosity interest white” kits, watched by spectators in the same manner as curious tourists gape at the plays produced at at the Not Actually Shakespeare’s Globe. That’s just not the way I want to see Test cricket go. Though must admit I would pay good money to watch a recreated 1700s style match with the shepherd’s-crook bats and underarm “lawn bowls” bowling. )

      1. I agree with you Bailout. Quality is the key, not mere preservation.

        Strangely, you mention the “Not Actually Shakespeare’s Globe” – Daisy and I are going to see a production there for the first time this Saturday. There’s been a change of direction at the Globe; they are mixing in some more modern and quirky performances now along with the Shakespeare. So we’re going to see this modern piece about Chagall:

      2. Seems a waste, in a way, to use such a space for modern stuff when there are so many other venues in London while – aside from Billy himself – there are so many other long-dead scribes whose dramas were designed for such a stage, and a goodly few of whom must surely be worth a revival. But I can’t fault the enterprise.

    2. I can hardly relate to theater, but that analogy is quite apt. I agree with most commenters here that it’s silly to expect ten year olds to do anything for more than five minutes, including watching cricket.

      1. This would make playing cricket difficult for such people, however. Eventually, they would all come to resemble the Australian cricket team.

  4. I got into cricket during the 1991 West Indies tour – the same time Josh Widdecome became interested in the game, as I learned from TMS.

    1. Josh Widdecombe nicked one of our mate’s jokes. They used to work in the same branch of Waterstone’s.

  5. It’s also easier to follow cricket today than it has ever been, which I think will be a factor in hooking in the new generation(s). I have never played cricket and, with the exception of last year’s rained-off ODI between Ireland and England in Malahide, never been to a proper match, let alone a Test (it’s on the bucket list). My only exposure (matron!) to cricket when I was growing up was watching occasional BBC coverage of tests during the summers in the 1980s, where my lasting memories were of the WI being the only team allowed to win (some rule I obviously didn’t understand) and the way they used to superimpose a very shakey scoreboard over the TV pictures (probably very high tech at the time but I am sure it used to physically move on the screen). There was no press coverage in Ireland, and I never heard about overseas or winter tours or cricket played elsewhere (or in Ireland, for that matter). But even through that scant exposure, I was hooked. Then I moved with the times and graduated to tracking cricket through Ceefax (pages 340 et seq)! Now look how easy it is to keep up to date: Cricinfo (especially their Surfer page, which linked me to great cricket writing from around the world), ball-by-ball coverage on multiple sites, blogs and commentaries like this, etc. And it still all points to the fact that Test cricket rules because it just keeps on giving you more, for longer: more reading, more coverage, more stats, more distractions …..

      1. I did miss it at first, but personally, I’ve moved on from Ceefax now.

        I’d quite like the return of that cricket score service you had to telephone like the talking clock. Presumably it made all its money from people who were in working environments (e.g. offices) where they couldn’t switch on the radio. Must have made a fortune on 21 July 1981; not least from the office in which I was doing a holiday job. I hasten to add that it was the office manager who was phoning and calling out the score every 5 minutes – I was far too junior to have a phone on my desk.

  6. My brother was/is a big fan of The Wire. He tried to get our Mum into it, sat her down and watched an (early) episode with her.

    About 15 mins in…

    Brother: “Good, isn’t it?”
    Mum: “So… are those ones the policemen?”

    1. Were we in form then? 2010-11 was one of the few times when we’ve felt like we were writing well (probably because we were a bit wired and lost our critical faculties) but 2009 doesn’t immediately strike us as having been a purple patch.

      1. We don’t really think about it either.

        To be honest, most of us don’t really come here to read your stuff – we come here to have a chat with our e-mates, one of whom happens to be you, KC.


  7. I first attempted to understand cricket in the summer of 2005, when the Ashes series somehow entered my American consciousness and, with my beloved Baltimore Orioles falling from best-in-the-league status to just-another-bad-team status over the course of two weeks, I decided I needed a different sport to take my mind off baseball. So I decided that the best way to learn about cricket was to read first the Wikipedia page, and then the official MCC Laws of Cricket. I couldn’t make head or tail of it and gave up.

    Seven years later, I was mowing my neighbor’s lawn on a sweltering summer day and ended up with a nasty case of poison ivy not just on my hands, feet, arms and legs, but on my face, neck, and basically everywhere else on my body as well. That basically limited me to taking Benadryl and lying in bed for the next few days, during which time I read this article by a couple of baseball fans attempting to get into cricket, and decided to replicate their experiment. Except instead of an anticlimactic World Cup semifinal, I happened to watch the England/South Africa Test match at Headingley. I was hooked instantly. The rest of that summer, and into the winter, I watched every match I could put in front of me. I watched old highlight videos on YouTube when there were no matches on. I watched the Sri Lanka Premier League, I watched meaningless bilateral ODI series, I watched New Zealand/West Indies Tests, I watched every Ashes tour highlight video that was on YouTube. But Test cricket was then and is now my favorite. Everything else has always been secondary.

      1. As this kingdom’s font of honour (or honor in this case) is there nowt you can bestow, yet maj?

      2. In retrospect, that Headingley match was a magnificent example of Test cricket, even though it ended in a rain-hit draw. Masterful century from Pietersen, great bowling from the South Africans, an example of the necessity of a spinner, and it set up the series nicely for a third match that I absolutely had to see. And then that Lord’s match, where Bairstow scored 95, didn’t disappoint. A lesser first impression and I might not have stuck with the sport, or been as instantly enthralled with the long form as I was. Goes to show the importance of putting on entertaining Test matches, I guess.

  8. Interesting ideas from the ICC on an ODI League, potentially including Ireland, Afghanistan and Scotland – and with direct relegation/promotion to and from the WCL.

    My first thought is that testing this sort of thing out in the 50-over format is not a bad idea. If it’s a league format, there’s an incentive for Test nations to field strong teams against Associate sides, and nearly every match would carry significance.

  9. Should’ve shown him season two episode six, which is probably the only episode of The Wire that functions in a vaguely standalone way.

    1. Cheers Ged.

      Cricinfo commissioning editors are a tough crowd, but I finally got one to land.

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