SHOOTING YOURSELF IN THE FOOT
A teaching colleague of mine was fond of clichés. So fond that he could not pass one by without saying hello. For one reason or another, he felt that the school was perpetually in danger of ‘shooting itself in the foot’. We would spend the whole day hopping around the campus in an effort to avoid that calamity. I was reminded of the phrase during the recent Test match. No, I am not referring to England’s dismal batting (that was shooting oneself in the temple) but the inner workings of the ECB. Indeed, so wild and inaccurate has been its recent aim that it rivals the record of the least experienced and shortest-lived gunslinger in the Wild West.
And for once I am not about to sound off about the little loved – at least by me – Hundred. I just don’t see the point of it. What was wrong with T20? But that is for another time. Around six o’clock on Sunday evening at Lord’s, the light started to deteriorate. On came the lights. Root enquired whether it was too dark to bowl his seamers. He was told yes it was, so he persevered with his spinners. King Kohli, at whose feet all in authority sit, was jumping up and down on the players’ balcony, making plain his displeasure that the game was continuing. In short order, the umpires ‘conferred’ and duly took the players off the field.
Two points arise. First, Kohli should not have attempted to influence the umpires. The decision whether to stop play for bad light resides – or should reside – solely with the umpires. In actual fact, I found Kohli’s antics quite funny. His gesticulations would not have looked out of place in any Bollywood soap opera. His thinking was that it was not in India’s best interests to continue batting at that time in the day. He got his own way, his team won the match, the ends justified the means and he cannot really be blamed for that. Which brings me neatly onto my second point. The umpires should never have curtailed play for bad light. England, in the forms of Root and Ali, were bowling gentle spinners, for God’s sake. The batsmen could see the ball perfectly well and the conditions were not ‘dangerous and unreasonable’. So what on earth was the umpires’ justification? Club cricketers play in much worse light and must laugh hollowly at the wet and feeble conduct of their professional counterparts. And why did England so meekly accept a decision that was clearly not in their interests and manifestly spineless? If I had been Joe Root, I would have kept my players out there on the outfield in order to register my disapproval of what was going on.
Perhaps it is not the ECB but the ICC that should be the target of my ire. The umpires are under the jurisdiction of the ICC not the ECB but this is a home Test at Lord’s with a full house and surely the governors of the game in England would want right seen to be done by their customers. You might say that a few overs is neither here nor there in the context of a five day Test match and it certainly had no direct bearing on the result of the game. But that is not the point. For too long, the paying customers have been short-changed and nobody does anything about it.
Many years ago, I attended a Cher concert. She was in fine voice, her act was polished, the musicianship was impeccable and the spectacle was dazzling. But after what could have been no more than an hour and a quarter, she took her bow, disappeared from the stage to appear no more. When the house lights went on, everybody realised that was the end of the show and many were the sardonic mutterings of departing fans who felt they had not had value for money.
Tickets for Test matches are not cheap. In fact, they are very expensive. I doubt you could get one for under £100. Yet, on a consistent basis, the supporters can justifiably complain that they are being short-changed. There are supposed to be 90 overs bowled in the day. That rarely happens, even with the extra half-an-hour claimed. Why? Because everybody on the field dawdles going about their business. The conduct of the match on the field of play is the responsibility of the umpires – or should be – but they are as complicit for the slow play as the players. It baffles me why they do not put a rocket up the backsides of the players to get a move on but they don’t. There are times when they are just as responsible for hold-ups as anybody, with their constant deliberations, conferences and referrals. They wander about at no more than a strolling pace, with little or no sense of urgency about their work. And they let the players get away with needless interruptions instead of commanding them to get on with the game. Is it the umpires’ fault or are they beholden to a higher authority, who are themselves in thrall to the real powerbrokers - the players? If they are, they shouldn’t be. The players, unsurprisingly, want everything to be perfect - the underfoot conditions, the light, the sightscreens, the ball, the pitch, the field setting, the rehydration, the tactics, the dry gloves…ad infinitum. But that is always a practicable impossibility. They should be reminded – forcibly – that they are entertainers and people are paying good money to watch them perform, not to dilly-dally the day long.
When I was playing – and I hate to hearken back to mediaeval times but the point has to be made – we had to bowl nineteen and a half overs per hour and if we did not, averaged out over the season, we were heavily fined. In those days cricketers were poorly paid so it was in everybody’s interests not to have to fork out. It can be done. It was done. So 90 overs in a day’s play is hardly a herculean task. It just takes willingness on everybody’s part to get a move on and provide the fans with ‘value for money’. If the players and umpires do not play ball, the sanctions should be stringent and effective. Otherwise, the fans, dissatisfied with the spectacle on show, will slowly disappear and watch the Hundred. At least they can be guaranteed they will see 100 balls. And if that is not shooting yourself in the foot, I don’t know what is.