(Warning: this post contains Socratic dialogue, and not all opinions expressed are the author’s own. n.b. I don’t like the taste of hemlock).
Here’s a useful word : aporia (or, in the original Greek, ἀπορία). It has several related meanings, some of which I only half remember or half understand, but all of which strike me as relevant to the current state of international cricket in the light of the ICC’s leaked “Position Statement“.
As I think I remember from my reading of The Odyssey many years ago, whenever the hero found himself facing some new, apparently insuperable, obstacle (The Cyclops, for instance, or Scylla and Charybdis) the narrator would point out that “Now Odysseus really was in ἀπορία“). He was doubtful, in perplexity, unable to see a way out of the impasse he found himself in.
As a figure of rhetoric ἀπορία refers to a (sometimes feigned) expression of doubt as to how to proceed. An aporetic dialogue is one in which one who previously thinks that he has a firm and sufficient understanding of a concept (“The Just”, “The Beautiful”) is reduced by Socratic questioning to a state of ἀπορία – doubt, puzzlement, uncertainty.
Then there is the most modern usage (associated with the revival of the term by M. Derrida) where a small contradiction in the logical structure of a text may be unpicked until the entire text unravels, in the way that a jumper would unravel if you were unwise enough to pick at a small hole too vigorously.
Setting aside the world of international cricket for a moment (I think the relevance of doubt, perplexity and impasse are obvious enough) I find myself in precisely this state of ἀπορία. I don’t know where to start writing about this subject, partly because it is so hard to foresee where I would stop writing about it.
I could begin by picking away at a small hole and see where it leads me. For instance, if all the Test playing countries other than England, Australia and India were reduced to – in effect – second class status, I would expect to see a migration of young talent (other than those who have the gifts to pursue the route of the T20 freelance) from the poorer countries to the rich. The simplest way to achieve this, from an English point of view, would be to scout promising young players from the West Indies or New Zealand and offer them a sporting scholarship to a compliant English public school (it would be better if they had England connections, but if not, bringing them over at the age of 14 should allow enough time for them to qualify by residence). The advantages to the player are obvious: an education, the hope of hitting the jackpot of an England central contract and, if not, the safety net of a career as an England-qualified player in County Cricket (c. £50-100,000 p.a.) – as opposed to, well, a sense of pride in playing for his country. We could eventually see an England side that was a) entirely born overseas b) entirely privately educated, thus annoying two groups simultaneously who are usually only alienated separately.
Well, to employ the crudest form of Socratic dialogue – so what? Surely no-one – apart from diehard reactionaries – objects to economic migrants in other contexts, surely national pride and identity is a dusty nineteenth-century concept with no relevance to today’s mobile, globalised economy, surely a multinational England side is to be welcomed a sign of our inclusive and diverse multicultural society? And if it means that West Indies and New Zealand are reduced to playing the odd 2 match series in England in April, with all of their best players playing for the opposition, then that is sad, admittedly, but inevitable (as people so often say in other contexts).
Or then again, to approach the matter from another direction, anyone who follows English County Cricket will have felt some sense of deja vu (and perhaps a batsqueak of shadenfreude) when reading the Position Statement. The demands that the weaker, poorer members must learn to stand on their two feet (and, if they go under, too bad) will be only too familiar to followers of Leicestershire or Derbyshire), as will the implied threats and the come off it Grandad get with the program rhetoric. For many years now (at least since the 1940s – see Dudley Carew passim) – the counties have been forced (and I mean through coercion rather than self-aware reflection) to answer the question “Why does County Cricket exist?”.
There are two answers to this, one (the majority view) is that it exists for the sole purpose of producing a successful England side, the other (my own) is put rather neatly here by Chris Waters of the Yorkshire Post
The question that has not been asked (or asked less often) is “What the point of International Cricket?”
The best players in the world playing each other on a regular basis to produce the best cricket? In which case abolish the idea of nationality in cricket altogether and allow national sides (or franchises) to buy players in from other countries. If Team Pepsi of India are short of fast bowling talent let them put in a multi-million dollar bid for unsettled wantaway Windies starlet Kemar Roach. Well, why not?
Sides who embody something, however vague (and possibly discreditable), about the character of the nation they represent? Surely outdated, only believed in by retired Colonels in Cheltenham, UKIP supporters and other undesirable mouldy figs?
Simply to make as much money as possible? For the broadcasters, the boards, the players, the shareholders, the team psychologists and dieticians, the advertisers, the sponsors, the owners of cricket-related websites and magazines …
Or perhaps, with a wonderful circularity, the real purpose of International cricket is to make enough money to enable County cricket (and other sub-international English cricket) to survive and thrive? Perhaps the sole purpose of these interminable Ashes is to allow Leicestershire (one day) to beat Nottinghamshire, for Market Harborough CC to bloom? At which point I find my sympathy for the oppressed peoples of New Zealand dwindling, and my poor old head begins to spin too fast even for Loughborough’s patent rev-o-meter to keep track of the speed of the revolutions.
But then, as I believe Kevin Pietersen once observed, it’s tough being in ἀπορία.