Tricky things to handle these obsidian mirrors … but now the glass is clear again and I can distinguish the figure of Dudley Carew, peering, in turn, into his own crystal ball (in, as we have established, 1950, in the wake of two heavy (3-0 and 4-0) defeats by Australia and on the verge of another (by 4-1)). Let him continue …
” – the real question is whether Test matches, as they are played now, are, except in the financial sense, for the good of the game.
And that in its turn is part of another question and it is a question that is dividing the cricket-world and one which wants a decisive and immediate answer. Is the whole game of cricket, the grave and lovely ritual evolved from the days of the top-hats and the curved bat, the natural companion of summer and the sun, the happy, the easeful, the friendly, game – is it and all it stands for to be sacrificed so that eleven men wearing the lion of England shall beat eleven men who have the kangaroo for their badge? For that, it seems, is what it is coming to, and so knowledgeable a critic as Mr. Denzil Batchelor* can write, in discussing the steps that should be taken to beat Australia in the next series of Test-matches –
(at this point we see the figure of Batchelor appear in Carew’s glass, gazing into his own mirror to make out a mysterious Lord bearing a banner with the strange device “Every little helps“)
“The first thing to do, as I see it, is to make what competition we have far more intense than it is at present. A long and largely pointless county cricket programme can never do this. Cut the counties up into a league with three divisions, each containing six counties, institute promotion and relegation and you will have an organized game on its toes. You will have evolved a form of competition in which each side has something to fight for from the first ball of the season till the drawing of stumps. Each of the six sides in each division would, of course, play home and away matches with every other team in its class … ten three-days matches in all. There are two strong arguments in favour of this plan. First, the concentration and intensification of the programme would give our cricketers a taste of the game at high pressure, and they must have such experience to feel at home in Test-matches. Secondly, the scheme would reduce the first-class programme of any individual player to something like thirty days play a year, ten of these days being Saturdays.”
Carew concludes …
“Now these are not, it must be emphasized, the opinions of one of the revolutionary cranks who are always popping up in the world of cricket, demanding the abolition of left-handers or of maiden overs, but of a wise and discerning critic … and if he can bring forward such a scheme, then such a scheme is not without the bounds of possibility. Indeed, if the whole object of English cricket is to beat the Australians, a very pretty scheme it is, but is it the whole object?”
We can now see that Batchelor had succeeded, through the use of the black arts, in conjuring the spirit of Lord MacLaurin (of Tesco), who had relayed to him the substance of his 1997 report on the future of English cricket “Raising the Standard“. It may have taken another fifty years (give or take) for the recommendations (or a watered down version of them) to be implemented, but we now know that the “cricket-world” has answered Carew’s question with a resounding “Yes. The whole object of English cricket is to beat the Australians.” Yes to two divisions, yes to central contracts, yes to the whole of English cricket, primed with vast quantities of cash from an exclusive deal with Sky TV, being shaped from base to apex with the sole objective of beating the bloody Australians!!!
But I seem to see another vision. A nightshirted and nightcapped figure, roused from sleep by fearful visions (I cannot make out whether it is Batchelor or MacLaurin) gropes for his glass (or is it the radio?) and rubs frantically at it … could his nightmare be true, could the finest flower of reformed English cricket, hand-reared at Loughborough, shielded from the corrupting effects of the county circuit, attended night and day by therapists of every hue, fed on guava fruit for breakfast and programmed with the finest plans statistical analysis can provide really be on the wrong end of a worse drubbing even than Wally Hammond’s war-weary collection of old crocks or Freddie Brown’s troupe of travelling piss-artists?
“Oh Spirit! Are these the shadows …?”
*C.B. Fry’s secretary and “the wittiest man in London”.