Sport: A Man with a Sense of Metaphor, Poetry and Even Grammar Has Joined TV's Cricket Commentators -- but Can the Old Pros Cope with Him?

By Winder, Robert | New Statesman (1996), July 22, 2002 | Go to article overview

Sport: A Man with a Sense of Metaphor, Poetry and Even Grammar Has Joined TV's Cricket Commentators -- but Can the Old Pros Cope with Him?


Winder, Robert, New Statesman (1996)


The fantastic one-day cricket final between England and India at Lord's, when two vibrant teams shared 650 runs and India won with three balls to spare, almost had the pundits throwing aside the aspersions they usually cast at one-day cricket. Almost, but not quite. Most one-day internationals are turgid affairs, went the typical grudging summary, but this one was a bit special.

There remains a deep schism between cricket's professionals -- players and commentators -- and its fans, who flock boisterously into one-day games while leaving huge spaces at Test matches. The reason is obvious: to most fans, one-day cricket is cricket -- the game played at school or on Saturday afternoons. But to the purists, one-day crickets success in filling stadiums is in itself proof that it is inane.

This is chiefly a protest against vulgar commercialisation, but there is a genuine cricketing mystery here: how come a side that routinely struggles to score 250 in a 90-over day of Test cricket can career past 300 in half that time in the one-day atmosphere? And if an intimidating array of close fielders can restrain batsman in Test matches, why doesn't it work in 50-over games?

It was tempting, as the ball scorched around Lord's, to wonder how the day might have unfolded had it been the first of five. It was doing a bit early on, as they say, so there would have been lots of exemplary leaving of the bad ball, and a fair amount of playing and missing. Trescothick would have been marooned on 9 for 40 minutes, would then have angled one to Fourth slip; Hussain would have been picked up at bat-pad, shaking his head disgustedly as he marched off. Thorpe would probably have calmed things down with an adroit half-century in the late afternoon, as the pitch settled down and batting became easier. England would have ended on 219 for 5. Everyone would have agreed that it was good, tense stuff, all nicely set up for tomorrow.

This being a one-day match, however, Thorpe wasn't playing. England's best batsman of recent years announced that he is retiring from one-day cricket to keep himself fresh for Test matches. It's a sad if understandable decision, a gloss on the hazards of cricket's never-ending season, on which the sun never sets. Richie Benaud admitted, in a recent interview, that he hadn't seen winter for 40 years -- his entire adult life has been spent in hemisphere-straddling summer. No one can be surprised if the monotony claims a few victims, though whether one-day cricket is the villain is another matter. …

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