Would English Cricket Benefit From A Franchise System? : Or, The Perils Of Necromancy

Back to the future again … (Part 3 of The Visions of Dudley Carew).

(This week’s episode was directed by the late Ken Russell.)

Necromancy

Dusting off my trusty glass once again, I see Carew,  after dinner, slumped in his over-stuffed armchair, reading The Times.  Pensively, he reads the latest news of Mr. Attlee’s government and the latest schemes for post-Ashes regeneration.  He throws the paper down, charges a tumbler with some whiskey he’s managed to obtain through a friend of a friend (filthy stuff, but it will have to do), fires up the last of his stash of pre-war Sullivan and Powell Turks, gives his mirror a wipe with his sleeve and sees …

… a small bald man, dressed in what appears to be a demob suit, seated in an austerely decorated office.  The man rips off the latest to come in on his tickertape machine, wipes his glasses, puffs at a filthy pipe and begins work on a complex series of calculations and diagrams …

Carew swills his whiskey down, grimaces and writes …

“Production? That is in danger of being of being the whole aim now, the production of eleven players to fulfil the demands of the export target to Australia.  Lay down concrete pitches, not so much to give pleasure to poor children who have little opportunity of enjoying any form of organized cricket, but so that one stray boy of talent may be discovered, conditioned and exploited.  Turn all cricket into a kind of laboratory experiment with the microscope trained on it so that the gay, the careless, the happy may we weeded out and only material suitable for the Australian market be left.  The men must be produced, or Test-matches will continue to be lost – and where will cricket be then, poor thing?”

Another splash of whiskey (no soda this time).  He looks again into his mirror and sees a figure that bears a strong resemblance to that dangerous radical Freddie Brown standing at the gates of Wantage Road, enticing in an endless line of Special Registrations (he thinks he can make out the Lancashire fast bowler Bert Nutter and the Yorkshire wicket-keeper Ken Fiddling) to join his “New Look” Northamptonshire with the promise of 10 bob a week and a guaranteed benefit.  Brown and the little bald man swim before his eyes and begin to merge into one … he throws back his head, empties his glass and writes …

“Besides, the remedy is so simple.  The transfer system and the MCC’s special registration scheme have pointed the way; let cricket show itself enlightened and advanced and go one step farther.  Pool the players.  That’s the idea, neat, economical and very much in fashion.  Pool the players, chuck them all in a central pool and then dole out to each county in turn five batsmen, one all-rounder, four bowlers and a wicket-keeper.  That wouldn’t give any one side any advantage, would it?  That would do away with privilege and any old-fashioned notions of heredity.  Besides all the matches should be excitingly even and, indeed, if things worked out to the proper plan, they should all end in ties.”

He wonders fleetingly whether he shouldn’t start taking more water with it, decides that, on the whole, he shouldn’t and downs the rest of the bottle.  Taking his courage in his hands he peers again into his mirror and goggles at the vision …

The little bald man-cum-Freddie Brown has morphed into a plump Indian businessman, lying in a bath of rupees and rose petals.  A line of half-naked Temple dancers jiggling their pom-poms sashay into view.  An auction of some sort is taking place (oxen? precious stones? valuable spices?).  He has a fleeting view of  a game of cricket being played at night by men wearing crash helmets and pyjamas.  The batsman takes a wild swing, gets a top edge and the ball flies high into the stands (some kind of fakir’s trick?).  The crowd, understandably incensed by this fiasco, prepare to riot.  A colonial of some description (a New Zealander perhaps?), half-crazed on pep pills, bellows an incessant stream of gibberish like some kind of manic street preacher.  The batsman aims another wild heave at a half-volley, misses and the New Zealander screams “A DOT BALL!  THAT JUST DOESN’T HAPPEN IN CRICKET” …

… the vision begins to swim before his eyes … Bert Nutter and Ken Fiddling are standing in a cattle pen in their pyjamas, circled by dancing girls.  Freddie Brown, dressed in one of M. Dior’s latest A-Line creations, has bid $1,000,000 for the pair of them (plus a fish supper apiece every Friday), the auctioneer bangs his gavel and shouts “sold to the man with the pipe and the 200 yards of tulle in his frock” …

Carew seizes his mirror, raises it above his head and prepares to dash it to the ground …

In the morning he wakes, and once he has dispelled his thick head with a few cups of chicory coffee and the nearest thing he can manage to a prairie oyster, he writes …

“Now, that, of course, will not happen. In this chapter I have deliberately played the part of the Fat Boy and tried to make the flesh creep by pointing out what might happen if the hidden tendencies in English cricket at the moment were to get out of hand and sweep to their logical conclusions.  I don’t think they will get out of hand and I don’t think that cricketers, thank heaven, are very good at logical conclusions.  And yet dangers exist, and if doctrinaire materialism is allowed to get hold of the nation for another five years the worst forebodings of the 1945 pessimists may be fulfilled for something in England and the English way of life will for the time, at any rate, be twisted out of recognition.”

But his mirror was not broken (obsidian mirrors cannot that easily be destroyed) and, later in the day, heavy in heart and in the head, sensing that dark forces might be gathering again, he gazed into it again.  And this is what he found http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/cricket/25702462

“La lutte continue!” …

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