‘Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine’, said Henry David Thoreau. He said lots more about civil disobedience, but just hold on to that one thought for a second or two.
First, let me declare an interest. I run a cricket team, write cricket articles and the odd book on the sport which I adore, from the last of which I make a tiny living. I am also 60, and can see that my cricketing career is in that dappled sunlight stage between tea and stumps, when the end is in sight, and John Major’s hilarious maidens are heading off to Evensong on their bicycles. Meaning each season has just that little bit more significance than its predecessor.
But, when the Prime Minister announced on Monday that recreational cricket was not free to go ahead, when we were all free to go into pubs to get pissed, shops to get coughed on and churches to pray in, I must admit that something in me broke. It had threatened to do so for some months, but now it just did. It was not so much that this announcement was being made by the same man who let 256,684 potential spreaders get up close and personal at the Cheltenham Festival in the second week of the pandemic, as it was the levity with which he passed off his excuse of the ball being the ‘vector of the disease’, as if it explained everything. He was talking rubbish, and I think he knew it, even as he uttered it.
I have a different explanation to his ‘vector’ one. The sin is not that he doesn’t care about sport, even though it is a pity he doesn’t, but that he has no comprehension of what sport does for the physical and mental welfare of people who are less privileged than him. Furthermore, because he doesn’t care, he has no idea of the sheer fragility of a sport that has lost 20% of its remaining players just between 2016-2018, before the World Cup last year magnificently, but temporarily, halted its long-term decline. And, because all he has ever wanted in life is to be Prime Minister, he has failed to understand the part that recreational sport plays in the sheer survival of so many.
I cannot prove it, but I would make it odds-on that the government has already decided that there will be no recreational cricket at all this year. It doesn’t pay taxes, doesn’t employ more than a handful of people, doesn’t produce many votes and therefore doesn’t count. Throw them all a few platitudes, and some expressions of regret, and then ignore them. Chin up! It’s for the greater good, and all that. Stay alert. Save lives, Protect the NHS. Then by all means have a skinful in Wetherspoons if you’re sad about cricket, but try not to sneeze over anyone when you’re off your face.
And if and when that suspicion is confirmed, they will have taken a giant step to killing off the sport for ever. Because the truth, unfortunately, is not that it and we will just rise elegantly from the ashes next Spring, and shake the dust from our Corinthian bags and bats and drive to the waiting grounds to take our metaphorical guards again. That will happen for the privileged few, of whom I am probably one, who will find a ground whatever the cost, but it won’t happen in most places. The waiting ground simply won’t be there any more. The reality is one where a good, cash-strapped, local cricket club is at once a pillar of mental health for young people, a focal point for the community, something for the old to come and watch and a provider of business for the pub. And they were folding thick and fast before this; does anyone seriously think that more than 60-70% of them will survive this? Talk to anyone involved in keeping a village cricket team going: it was hard enough before, but this is the final straw.
Cricket, as you know it, will simply not survive a non-season.
Ask not, if you are a non cricketer, whether that matters all that much; just about every physical experience is better than any virtual one, and you can dimly see the day coming when these marginal activities just belong in museums. And that matters.
Every decision the government has to take at the moment involves a risk balance, and we all get that. But to tell us, without even so much as a hint of irony, that 22 incompetent people running around a couple of windy acres for a few hours represents a bigger infection risk than throwing-out time at a city centre pub is one for the birds.
So back to Thoreau. I suspect the long-dead philosopher would say: ‘cut the crap, and just play.’ I’d make a pathetic and half-hearted revolutionary, but you have to start somewhere. So, respecting anyone who would rather not, or who buys the ‘vector’ argument, and oppositions who would rather not, but I fully intend to run a cricket season for my team this year, however much a pale imitation. and to do so from July 12th, irrespective of whether we have permission. We will take all the precautions that the ECB have presented to the government as sensible for preventing the spread of Covid, including giving the teas a miss, if that is what it needs But we will bloody well play cricket if we physically can.
It is simply not the Prime Minister’s to kill.
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