I was listening to Geoffrey Boycott the other day filling in during the Test match against New Zealand. He was talking about 20/20: how exciting it was; how entertaining; what a good day out for the family; how good it was for the economics of the County set-up and so on. But I didn't actually hear him refer to it as cricket.The reason being of course is that it is not cricket.It's no more cricket than 5-a-side is football.It contains elements of the proper game but it is a very limited version.
Now proper cricket has a problem that football doesn't have.It's great to play but not that great to watch for a mass audience except on T.V.Here you can have replays and complex analysis and a great view which is difficult to reproduce at the ground.Much of the delight is in the technicalities of the game. 20/20 solves all these problems at a stroke but doesn't enhance the game proper.It props it up financially whilst undermining it in terms of technique and in creating an audience for the real thing. If you've got the time you can have a good day out at a county cricket match, weather permitting, but you need to take a radio with you for the ball by ball commentary.You can stroll about in the sunshine, have a drink and a meal, sleep, watch the replays on the big screen, but the actual game is too far away, takes too long and is only intermittently interesting except to the purists who delight in every ball and afterwards in the statistical analysis.
Is cricket about to go down the road that football went after the creation of the Premiership? The pursuit of riches for the few at the expense of the game as a whole.In football's case we have not had to alter the actual game yet but it will come. So far,apart from ludicrous money making ideas like the 39th game masquerading as a bonus to fans, the game remains intact.
To be honest it's probably too late. As soon as money becomes the driving force things accelerate out of control very quickly.In football the impact has been felt at the lower levels,and lower levels start at the Championship. Chelsea's annual wage bill is more than twice the cost of the National football centre at Burton on Trent which was first planned in 2001. It was mothballed in 2003 and the current plan is to have it open by 2010. The original cost was put at 20million but the funding has yet to be approved.We live in hope. Premier league clubs currently spend 3 million a year on their Academies. Chelsea and Manchester United spend twice that per year on one of their star players' wages. Increasingly teams outside the Premier league face financial problems and with no promise of profits the big backers are not interested.
Is the modern game better than the old days? Foreign players have raised the skill and interest levels of the Premiership and the County champioship but because it is not a European matter they can legislate the levels of foreign recruitment. But in football this has been carried to extremes and foreign players dominate many top level clubs.On the final week of the 2007/8 season less than 40% of the players in the Premiership were English.Can it be right that an English Premier club can field a team with not one English player? It is no coincidence that 3of the 4 teams in the Champions' league were English but England did not make the finals of the European cup.Opposition to the proposed 6+5 rule which attempts to ensure greater parity for English players and the 'homegrown players ' agenda which will likewise force clubs to pay attention to growing their own players rather than buying them from abroad off the peg, will be opposed all the way by clubs looking to profits and not at the requirements of the English game.
Will the fact that cricket has a different form to be exploited save the proper version or expose it to the chilly blasts of commercialism and thus hasten its demise.City teams are already being proposed which will effectively end the traditional structure of the game.Meanwhile 20/20 will thrive in the fetid atmosphere of hype and money and in ten years might well be the only form except for five day 'Heritage' games sponsored by the Dept of Education. I notice that Duncan Fletcher is promoting a variation of the four day game designed to protect traditional cricket by changing its format But will this in fact be the beginning of the end for proper cricket. He says himself that the impact of 20/20 is uncertain .
Football has only the one viable form to be exploited commercially. We are seeing the increasing gap between the top level of the game and its supposed supporting structure.Can we go on supplying our needs from abroad both in terms of money and players.Sir David Richards is likely to lose his job for arguing the detrimental effect of foreign players on the league and ultimately the England team. If we wreck the current organization we have no fall back position. European super leagues beckon with backing of the club chairmen and the rest will end up in local leagues like the old Third Division South and North to cut down on expenses.Is it too late to stop any of this happening?
As the gap between rich and poor widens in the wider society even under a Labour government, what safeguards are there that the traditional structures, in the case of football, and even the very nature of the game, in the case of cricket, will be preserved under the commercial pressures on both games and players.