Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A run-of-the-mill Heffer error

So, even though the last post wasn't really about Simon Heffer, his comment in today's Telegraph is so spectacularly wrong-headed that it's worth a little post all to itself. Taking as its premise the idea that 20-20 and other one day cricket is ruining the game, and that English county cricket is dull and unwatched he suggests a permanent and irrevocable split between 20-20 players and first class players, with cricketers having to choose between the two codes.
Heffer puts the blame for this terrible state of affairs on the fact that what we used to call the Third World took over the reins of the game. Fortunately there is a solution:
There would be two discrete groups of players. One would play first-class cricket. The other would play Twenty20. There could be a negotiation about which, or whether indeed both, would play the 50-over game. There would be little money in the first-class game, except from certain Test series.

The clubs that still engaged in it would have separate commercial entities that played Twenty20, would be the sole shareholders in those enterprises and would use the dividends to support the traditional game. Grounds could be shared between the two competitions: cricket grounds are among the world's most under-used resources.

This plan would enable some players to be Twenty20 cricketers and others to be first-class and perhaps Test players, with no possibility of a clash of loyalties. Within a fixed time period - maybe two or three years - no player who had appeared in one code would be allowed to appear in another. That would bring stability.
He further proposes that there should, since there will be little money in first-class cricket, be a re-introduction of the amateur game and pines for the days when men would come from the City to Lord's in time to turn out for Middlesex in the afternoon. It's a lovely idea, but I think I know where he got it from, and it doesn't quite support his vision.
One objection to it might be that the modern city is now far too fast-paced to allow its employees to wander off to Lords for the day. Perhaps more compelling is that, even in the glory days of the amateur, it still wasn't possible. Mike Jackson, schoolboy cricketer extraordinaire, and the greatest of the cricketing Jackson brothers, for example, found this out when he worked for the New Asiatic Bank.
'Look here, Mike, are you busy at the bank just now?'
'Not at the moment. There's never anything much going on before eleven.'
'I mean, are you busy today? Could you possibly manage to get off and play for us against Middlesex?'
Mike nearly dropped the receiver.
'What?' he cried.
'There's been the dickens of a mix-up. We're one short, and you're our only hope. We can't possibly get another man in the time. We start in half an hour. Can you play?'
So Mike rushed off to Lords and, despite compiling a beautiful 148 before being caught-and-bowled, his employers were not as forgiving as Heffer appears to predict. As Psmith says:
'No official pronouncement has been made to me as yet on the subject, but I think I should advise you, if you are offered another job in the course of the day, to accept it. I cannot say that you are precisely the pet of the management just at present.'
I suspect that, if something is considered too good to be true in a PG Wodehouse novel, then relying on it as the cornerstone of a new approach to cricket today might be veering a little bit on the side of optimism. On second thoughts then, this is a Fundamental Heffer error: he wants it to be possible so much that he ignores mundane reality.

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