It would be all too easy to get the impression that cricket is in decline. Cricket has always been in decline.
An idle glance at an old Wisden will tell you that. Over Wisden’s 152 years, the editor’s notes have often been tinged with anxiety at the game’s shifting sands, and the fact that this is an established element of cricket’s emotional narrative is confirmed by one of Giles Clarke’s many memorable (for almost entirely the wrong reasons) contributions to Death of a Gentleman. At one point, he responds with customary irritation to a line of questioning from Sam Collins by telling him that his concerns about the game’s future are ‘straight out of Wisden 1909’.
While it’s somewhat newer than the old game itself, there is also a constantly prevailing sense that cricket blogging isn’t quite what it used to be. This feeling was touched upon and largely dismissed in this column last year, but there can be no denying the way that it lingers. Indeed, the fact that one of the original siren voices of the cricket blogosphere, Jarrod Kimber, is now employed writing about the game and collaborating on Death of a Gentleman, exemplifies the way in which the foundations of the cricket blogosphere are also fluctuating. Writers such as Kimber and the peerless Jon Hotten increasingly write in places that guarantee them a wider readership, while others find it hard to weave writing into crowded lives.
But, for all this, the output of cricket’s amateur writers still comprises many finely crafted views on the game’s past, present and future. They reflect their authors’ knowledge, dedication, intelligence and humour, and, before the last decade, they may not have found an audience at all.
Another essential element of cricket’s internal dialogue is nostalgia, and, in the writing of Peter Hoare (mylifeincricketscorecards.blogspot.com), there is nostalgia for the sights, sounds and experiences of an upbringing in Kent in the 1970s which was infused with county cricket. Hoare’s fine portfolio included a timely and often sublime appreciation of Derek Underwood on his 70th birthday (‘Swiss-clock accurate’, feeding on the New Zealand batting ‘like a whale at a plankton convention’) and his recollections of the day in 1975 when his Kent team beat the Australians. You were not there, you barely remember the player, but, reading Hoare’s description of Colin Cowdrey and his hooking of Dennis Lillee, you feel like the boy on the St.Lawrence Ground boundary which Hoare once was. Elsewhere, Hoare wrote with feeling about the way in which his adopted country, New Zealand, embraced cricket during a great World Cup:
‘New Zealand’s two World Cup games at the Cake Tin have been two of the best days I have ever spent at the cricket. Years hence I shall remember them if I can’t recally my own name. The nation has become consumed with cricket. You ear people talking about it as you walk down the street. I have always wanted to live in such a place’.
In this, Hoare encompassed the longings and desires of those of us who love the game and want others to love it with us. In New Zealand, March 2015 was cricket’s time in the sun.
Understandably, nostalgia also greeted the death of Richie Benaud. This was the end not just of one of cricket’s great lives, but also a central part of the consciousness of virtually anyone who became interested in the game, anywhere in the world, in the closing decades of the twentieth century. With his customary sureness of touch, Gary Naylor, at 99.94 (nestaquin.wordpress.com), wrote about what Benaud meant to him, and later touched with feeling and understated lyricism on the various ways in which his love affair with cricket has developed, including the evolution of his reading about the game, and how he has come to appreciate the architecture of cricket grounds.
But nostalgia is far from all that the blogosphere has to offer. Blogs continue to provide pungent contemporary comment from a variety of viewpoints. As in 2014, the fortunes of someone who, it soon became apparent, still had no future in the international game, occupied the thoughts and writings of many. Christian Drury (adomesticghost.wordpress.com) wrote a typically descriptive piece marking Kevin Pietersen’s tantalising return to Surrey colours at The Parks in April (‘He scooped a delivery from a medium pacer for four, like a man shovelling dirt over his shoulder’), while the indefatigable Dmitri Old, latterly at beingoutsidecricket.com, and Maxie Allen at thefulltoss.com made sure that KP’s virtues were unable to be forgotten, even as his career at the highest level, for good or ill, faded into the past. Neither, though, with their prolific and varied outputs, were one-trick ponies. Along with Peter Casterton (aka ‘Tregaskis’) at dropinpitch.com, another of their virtues was the way they fought to keep the mainstream cricket media honest.
Allen appeared to have reached the end of the road in the autumn. But then we thought that about Old last year.
The writings of Chris Smith, at Declaration Game (chrispscricket.wordpress.com), interweave a range of themes, including personal memories, cricket’s vocabulary and statistics, and youth cricket in England’s north-west. His highpoints were two vivid similes in one post in July (Allan Border’s walk to the crease, richly familiar in the memory to those of a certain age, was ‘like a meerkat looking out for airborne predators’, and Jonny Bairstow, ‘in the field, works his limbs like someone unfamiliar with cross-country skis trying to escape a polar bear over snow’).
Even in a sphere of activity where anyone can write anything and have it read throughout the world, William le Breton, of Down at Third Man (downatthirdman.wordpress.com) remains something of an outlier. His writing is often studiedly oblique, but his considerable strengths lie in his understanding of the game and his willingness to kick against cosy consensuses. During the Ashes summer of 2015 he was one of few to raise doubts about the way in which Test pitches were prepared to suit the England attack. In a similar vein, he also highlighted the malign influence of a brief shower shortly before play which, coupled with inadequate covering, left the Trent Bridge track virtually unplayable on the game’s first morning. Everyone knows what happened next.
As the year closed, his tribute to the retiring Mitchell Johnson was written with characteristic individuality: Johnson’s ‘physique and deportment were those of an Olympic athlete. His approach…delivered him to the crease like a piston driven engine, and then there was that curvy flick of a drag from the trailing leg that appropriately each ball wrote a question mark in the air an inch above the bowling crease’.
It is tempting to compare the relationship between blogging and Twitter with that of Test cricket and Twenty20. In an age of shortening attention spans, Test cricket feels vulnerable to the more superficial attractions of the shortest format of the game, but there is enough depth of regard for its qualities, laid down over countless years, and enough new talent replacing that which leaves, for it to feel as though it will be around for many years to come.
This feels less true of blogging, but the blogosphere’s strength is that it represents so many things to so many people. For some it is a valuable repository for individual memories and an aid to solitary reflection, while to others it acts as a collective focus for hopes, fears, concerns and antagonisms.
In cricket, things are never quite what they used to be, but the game, with all its glorious contradictions, will always endure. The strong suspicion is that blogging will do the same.
Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, 2016