To paraphrase the great line from the movie The Usual Suspects, perhaps the greatest trick cricket ever pulled was convincing people to play it.
A reasonable test of a sport is, in my mind, the question of would we be interested in it or take up the chance to either play or follow it if we were introduced to it for the first time.
Remove the hype, the history, the background, nationalism and the momentum of information you may have about a particular sport, what would happen if you stumbled across it.
Better still, what if it was being launched for the first time?
Whilst I only take a passing interest in soccer and that tends to be superficially at World Cups or with the EPL highlights, I have always admired its amazing simplicity.
Regardless of whether you have passion or disdain for the game, you have to respect the way it is accessible to so many, which explains its appeal around the world.
In its base form, it offers everybody an opportunity to participate, with its equipment being just a ball, and something as simple as a rock, sticks or pile of clothes to indicate a goal. Say to any child anywhere in the world that the aim is to kick a ball through two posts and anyone can do it.
If that game was offered to you for the first time, whilst it could seem a little dull initially, it would definitely be something you could attempt to do, or watch and pick it up remarkably simply and quickly. It’s a reason it is so appealing to a child, as one of the first things they learn or know how to do is to kick something.
In a similar way, other sports that are widely played, like golf and basketball, are reasonably simple in their base form. With golf, you explain to someone they need to hit a ball with a stick into a hole in the ground in as few shots as possible. With basketball, throw a ball through a net.
The vast rules and science of golf aside, the basics are pretty hard to argue with, if it was being offered to you for the first time or you were launching a new sport on the world.
Running and swimming operate purely on speed, first to finish being the winner, and archery and shooting are games of accuracy, as are darts. Hockey asks people to hit a ball along the ground with a stick towards a goal and avoid being stopped by the other team, who are trying to do the same.
Football, in various forms such as Australian, US, or the two rugby variations, get a little more complex, but in essence are all forms of trying to get a ball to the other end of a field using different formats, like kicking, throwing, punching it or running with it, without being stopped. Sort of like British Bulldog with a ball.
On that basis, it’s worth looking at cricket and asking if it was invented today, would many of us take up the chance to participate?
This isn’t about modern marketing, short attention spans or what to do about the game. Rather, it is taking a step back, conducting a ‘fresh eyes’ analysis of what most of us would think if the game of cricket was offered to us for the first time.
So, if we were invited to play or follow something (or invest in something) that we’d never seen or heard of, that was based on and sodl to us on these principles, what would we do?
- A summer sport played in long trousers, which takes place from 11am to 6pm over 5 consecutive days standing in the sun. Teams comprise 11 players.
- As a spectator, you will be a long way from the action. Players are not easily identifiable or distinguishable from a distance when they are fielding and are virtual clones of each other when batting under heavy protective equipment.
- Most of the play takes places in the middle of a large oval, about the same size as a football field, with most space on the ground unused for the majority of the game.
- As a participant, you could either be heavily involved, or spend all day either fielding and not touching the ball, or being on the batting side and waiting your turn. Your turn at batting could last as long as all day or just one ball.
- You change the direction of the game every 6 balls, but ostensibly do the same thing as what you did at the other end.
- Neither team is doing the same thing at the same time.
- It offers a batsman the chance to have someone run as fast as they can from a long distance away before hurling a hard ball as fast as they can at you. (Some say this is the reason Ireland enters the World Cups as it gives them a chance to repeatedly throw hard objects at Englishmen.)
- The game, which as we said is played potentially over five days and in some forms four, also may not produce a winner. It has 9 ways for batsmen to make a mistake.
- Over time, there will be 3 formats of the one game developed, played over different periods of time, with different rules and potential outcomes depending on the version you are playing.
- Nothing can happen for long periods, with the batsman not even required to hit the ball if he doesn’t want to.
- Scoring is done by running to the other end, but runs can be made without this occurring at all, such as if the ball thrown is too far away from where the batsman is standing or the man running in at pace steps slightly in front of a line.
- Then there’s the small issue of this being a game where a batsman being able to continue to be involved is based on another person making a decision over what might possibly have happened had something else not happened first, i.e. what would the ball have eventually hit had it not hit you first.
If you were inventing a sport, would you come up with this?
I absolutely love cricket and always have. I love the history, passion, skill, courage, writing and culture. This isn’t about defending or being critical of this or any other sport
But you don’t have to look too hard to appreciate the absurd. Maybe that’s why we love it.
The administrators of the game are currently looking for ways to put life back into cricket and finding ways to market it to attract new interest.
Perhaps the greatest marketing statement and achievement that could or should be made by the game of cricket is that it is played at all!