The greatest trick cricket ever pulled

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!

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. Jeff Dowsing says

    I’m with you Sean – I’ll always love cricket but the single biggest deterrent to actually playing imo is the long periods of not being actively involved when your team is batting. It’s probably the main reason I gave it away in my mid-20’s, it took up too much time and too much of it involved sitting around watching. For kids invariably hyped up on sugar with ever shortening attention spans it’s even worse!

    I reckon athletics has a similar problem, long periods of waiting for events that can be over in as little as 15 seconds or a few jumps.

  2. Danny Russell says

    I get the point, Sean – but …

    I think you’ve described exactly why we love cricket, BECAUSE of its eccentric nature. Its organic, like a reef of coral or a flightless, ground-nesting bird. Who can begin to understand how it came about or why? But we can still admire and embrace it on all kinds of levels.

    A review of a symphony is unlikely to bring a tear to your eye. A description of the beauty of a painting won’t tug much at your heart. And – as you have demonstrated – you can’t ‘pitch’ cricket.

  3. Terrific stuff Sean

    Cricket would never have got started if sports were invented from scratch. It’s wholly preposterous and the last thing anyones imagination could come up with

    I always imagined cricket at its most seminal being a leisure activity designed by aristocrats looking to keep the lower classes in their place. I imagined Earls and Barons designing the game to suit them in a way that they could bat all day against the blacksmiths and coal miners they commanded to bowl. They started the pitch out at 15 yards, and when that didn’t do it, they took it a to 17 and so on. Once they got the pitch to 22 yards they finally found a distance that enabled bat to dominate the ball, and off they went. They then invented hitting 4’s and 6’s as a way of saving themselves from laborious running.

  4. blacksmiths and coal miners they commanded to bowl … conscripted to bowl!

  5. Sean, interesting article. But you missed an important point.

    You don’t learn to play test cricket, or even 20/20. You learn to play in the driveway, backyard or park. And you learn with rules that actively encourage participation. No teams, retirements, one-hand-one-bounce, tip-and-run, automatic keeper, six-and-out… all designed to turn over the batsman, so people don’t spend all day waiting to bowl or bat.

    Cricket’s fundamental element is as basic as football’s. A bowler bowls at a wicket, a batsman hits the ball and runs. Cricket is laden with many things, but it is a simple game at heart. Indeed, most laws are there to prevent one side or other of that essential contest from gaining undue advantage.

    That is worth remembering too, and not just when trying to introduce people to the sport. Like Jeff I don’t find the time to play proper cricket. It would be nice to see a form more conducive to a busy schedule – the closest is indoor, but I miss the grass and space.

  6. Great stuff, Sean. You encapsulated something I have been grappling with for a long time. I grew up loving 4 and 5 day cricket. It was of its time – a cultural and socially reinforced apprecieation. I rhapsodised over its subtle nuances.
    I was totally obsessed with it for the first 30 years of my life – but my practical expressions of love have steadily diminished over the last 20+ years. We are now in a loveless marriage out of habit. Our patience with each other has grown thin. We smile at each other occasionally, remembering the passions of our youth and happy times past. But the flame is now a wan ember.
    To me, long form cricket is like opera. The purists love it, but it is completely disconnected from modern life and modern lives. I have tried to appreciate opera a couple of times, but it always ends up in the too hard pile for my next lifetime.
    I think the next generation will feel the same about test cricket.

  7. Andrew Starkie says

    Great article, Sean. Most, if not all, of the sports mentioned were born in the GB, the cradle of modern day sport, including Australian football which can be tenuously linked to Rugby school. A major reason for these sports spreading across the globe is the imperialist policies of successive monarchs. Where Britannia went so did her culture, including sport. Would cricket thrive if introduced today? Probably not as it wouldn’t suit modern tastes. However, I love Test cricket for countless reasons, including its quirkiness, history and old world look. Rugby is in a similar boat. So British, antiquated and complicated, but continues to survive with only a handful of countries playing it seriously.

  8. Andrew Else says

    You could easily have mentioned:

    The game could start at 10:30, and after 20 minutes of play it could rain for nearly 80 minutes, where play is not possible. When the sun then comes out at 12:10, the players then play for another 20 minutes, until a 40 min break is taken while the crowd sits in blazing sunshine.


    A combined crowd of 14,419 attends a match over a total of 3 days yet it still commands national radio/TV coverage and the majority of column cms in the major metropolitan daily sport pages.

    I am a huge test match fan also, but all it would take is for another summer sport to get its act together (and some decent free to air coverage) and it could be in big, big trouble.

  9. Sean
    Real passion for anything – sport, culture, you name it – rarely has a logical basis, and it certainly doesn’t stem from marketing hype. I think you’ve nailed the dilemma confronting those trying to promote the game in the 21st century. I believe the technical terminology among such folk is “polishing a turd”. It simply isn’t a sport that fits any of the modern notions of a marketable product, which in the world of sport means plenty of action and a limited timeframe. The eccentric nature of traditional cricket is simply inexplicable to marketing people and therefore they are unwilling or incapable of promoting it. Instead, T20 is their response to the requirement to “grow the market”. Conceptually, T20 has a certain logic. But to me, the combination of cliched marketing gimmicks, bolted onto a shortened but otherwise unchanged version of olde worlde cricket is clunky. It is undoubtedly raising temporaryinterest in the game among some otherwise ambivalent consumers of sport, but it’s hard to see it generating the passion for the game that has sustained it for 150 years to date.

  10. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Sean and yes as a guy bought up on cricket had never really thought how weird and different it is and can be perceived to be and you describe some of the problems and so do the posts . I love the idea of juniors of playing , Friday night and the social aspect of that also as soon as seniors finish on a , Saturday out rush the juniors which is a important way of trying to get both sides of a club to work as , 1
    Cricket is a different quirky game we can only hope re it’s survival and hopefully growth
    Thanks Sean

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