Cameron Ponsonby argues cricket’s gluttonous administrators need to put down the fork.
In Roald Dahl’s children’s classic Matilda, Bruce Bogtrotter is a boy who loves nothing more than eating chocolate cake. He loves eating cake so much that as punishment for eating someone else’s cake when he wasn’t meant to, he is presented with a cake roughly the size of planet earth to finish by himself. What’s the problem Brucey? You love cake.
And Bruce does love cake. So he tucks in. Enjoying it at first, then eating a bit more than what’s healthy, and then a bit more that makes him feel a bit queasy before eventually hitting the wall. This is too much cake. It’s at this point that his adoring classmates in the room leap to their feet.
“You can do it Brucey! Finish the cake! Eat all of it!”
Drunk off a combination of e-numbers and adrenaline, Bruce battles through and finishes every last bite. The crowd goes wild and Bruce lifts the empty plate that has no discernible value but means everything to him above his head in celebration. As he starts his lap of honour the cameras cut to the pundits.
“If there’s two things we know about Bruce. It’s that one, he’s a warrior. He won’t give up. And that two, he loves chocolate cake. Actually, here he is…Bruce!….Bruce! Well done out there today, can you tell us how it felt?”
“Yeah nah, I mean it got really tough out there for a bit. Credit to Miss Trunchbull she’s a hell of a competitor. But I just had to dig really deep and…look…I have to remind myself I’m really lucky to do what I do. I love chocolate cake and just want to get better everyday and give these fans what they deserve.”
But, as the lights in the arena go off and Bruce begins to head home. He starts to wonder why he doesn’t feel lucky. His passion is becoming a burden and the short term highs are being replaced by long term lows that mainly involve diabetes.
For too long, the answer to all of cricket’s problems has been to simply have more of it. Test matches sell out so let’s have more. Day out at the ODI? Yeah, go on then. T20s? Love T20s. Gimme ten.
Cricket fans love going to cricket and cricket players love playing cricket. It’s a combination that has seen governing bodies that are financially reliant on the international game schedule more and more and more of it. Let them play cricket and let them eat cake. Strategy sorted, money made. Back of the Marie Antoinette.
In truth, breaking point had been reached long before the news of Ben Stokes taking an indefinite break from the sport came out yesterday. Top international players have been spending 250 nights a year in hotels for yonks now. That’s 70 per cent of your life in the glaring spotlight of elite sport and 70 per cent of your life away from the comforts and stronghold of your family and loved ones. If anything, being an international cricketer should come with a health warning as much as a paycheque.
As Rory Dollard of the PA points out, “administrators *occasionally* flirt with grasping this nettle and then run a mile when they see the numbers. Well, now what?”
Also: England play too much cricket.
Sorry sponsors, grounds, commercial partners. It doesn’t work, it’s broken and it’s got to stop.
Administrators *occasionally* flirt with grasping this nettle and then run a mile when they see the numbers. Well, now what? https://t.co/ndKzsfIUiZ
— Rory Dollard (@thervd) July 30, 2021
England won’t have picked a full strength Test XI for a year when the India series begins due to a rest and rotation policy that is admirable in its intention but is also in and of itself an admission of the problem at hand. By taking players out of the firing line whilst still scheduling more and more fixtures the ECB are furiously bailing water out of a sinking ship whilst also holding a hose into it and filling it up at the same time. Something has to give.
We’ve known the schedule has been unhealthy for players for a long time but there is an economic argument to be made too. At what point does the financial value from England fixtures start to decrease if the first choice side can never be picked? More cricket played by players of lower quality dissolves the quality of the cricket and will eventually do the same to the financial appeal.
It would be unfair to place this wholly on the ECB’s door. It’s a problem within world cricket that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The IPL has now earmarked September 20th as the date the competition will resume and October 15th as the day of the final. As a starting date it is just six days after the end of India’s tour of England and as an end date it is just two days before the start of the T20 World Cup. For any England player playing in all three it is then straight off to the bio-secure bubble of Australia for the Ashes where, as it stands, families may not be allowed to join.
The game is acting as if it is not in control of the root cause of the issue. Games have to start being cancelled and fixtures reduced. As two potential examples, The Big Bash and the IPL currently play double round-robin, 54-game group stages that take the competitions from eight teams down to four. This is elite sport. If you can’t be in the top half of a table after playing every other side in the competition once you don’t deserve to progress. On the other hand, going around again makes the big bucks. So get that cake down ya Brucey.
The game as a whole knows the current situation is untenable. And yet the sad truth is that until it becomes financially problematic a change is unlikely to come. The game needs fewer fixtures being played and only then will cricketers finally be able to have their cake and eat it.