Stanley Kubrik subtitled Dr Strangelove, his superb Cold War satire, How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. I really wanted to call this article How I learned to stop worrying and love T20 but I just can’t bring myself to do it.
I should be able to. After all, I don’t need sports to go on for days to be able to enjoy them. I am a passionate football and rugby fan, both of which complete an entire encounter before a Test match has even reached lunch on the first day. I am 33 years old, so not part of the over 50’s generation that we are consistently told makes up the audience of the longer form of the game. I am, however, white and male, a group that the ECB has made clear are not of interest to them. Perhaps that is unfair but it is certainly an odd move to go out of your way to alienate your main audience, something which it feels that the ECB and it’s spokespeople have done in recent years, particularly since the launch of the Hundred. When the captain of England, Eoin Morgan, says he is glad that this new competition is upsetting traditional cricket fans it is hard not to feel that your custom is not wanted.
I would love to be able to crack open a beer, sit down in front of the TV and enjoy all the razzamataz and “DLF maximums” of the IPL. A part of me even wants to enjoy the Hundred itself, especially since it is available on free to air TV. Perhaps I could even go on the New Balance website, buy a replica shirt and attend a game dressed as an oversized crisp packet.
However, I know that I will relish the England v New Zealand Test series, even if it is played with reserve teams, far more. Shaun Pollock put it best when he compared short and long form cricket to a fast food meal and a roast dinner. The fast food might feel like a treat and certainly requires less time and effort but at the end of the day the roast is more satisfying. Not just a great bowler,Shaun, but a keen intellect as well.
I actually attended a match in the first ever season of the Twenty20 Cup, as it was known then, all the way back in 2003. A lot of early T20 has been characterised as “hit and giggle” with players not taking it overly seriously but even then I sensed something in this new competition, something that would definitely not be a flash in the pan. The setting was very different from the cavernous stadiums of India with cheerleaders and fireworks. My county Surrey were playing at a quaint little place called Imber Court which was actually the cricket ground of the Metropolitan Police. Spectators sat on deckchairs and mixed freely with players. Future Strictly Come Dancing champion Mark Ramprakash was particularly happy to sign autographs. The whole evening had quite a village fete feel to it.
If T20 had remained a quaint little novelty, an entertaining break from the main course of the season then perhaps I would find it easier to love it.
I always enjoy cricket at outgrounds. My greatest pleasure every summer is attending the Guildford Festival, a treat I have been enjoying on and off for over 20 years.
There is something unique about county cricket. It is a hinterland for those of us who find the noise and fast pace of modern life confusing and sometimes threatening. It is “far from the madding crowd” as Thomas Hardy might have put it, a little time capsule of a lost England. One could walk into a small county ground such as Guildford, Chelmsford or Wantage Road in any era from the 1950s to the present day and not notice the difference. There is something quite beautiful in that.
However, this summer I will watch the domestic T20 Blast on Sky and really attempt to appreciate it for the first time since those simple sunny days of 2003. I will crack open a beer and watch Sunrisers Hyderabad take on Kolkata Knightriders in the IPL.I may even force myself to watch a game of the Hundred. Maybe I will enjoy it.
However I know that, Covid rules permitting, if I am able to sit on a deckchair at Guildford sipping a pint of the local Hogs Back brew and watch a meandering day of county cricket I will be so, so much happier.