A Modern Paradox

Published: Sunday | October 7, 2007

HITTING OR kicking balls are amusing diversions that should never be taken too seriously. But the compressed dramas of sport often illuminate real-life dilemmas. The 20/20 cricket World Cup final was one such parable.

It was everything the 50-over Cricket World Cup wanted to be but wasn't - a well-organised month of pulsating action that engrossed billions worldwide. Advertisers licked their lips. ICC bosses talked of 20/20 at the Olympics - and it does offer more consistent excitement and variety than baseball.

Finally, the entire planet will learn to appreciate the first and best of organised team ball games, or so dreamt cricket obsessives.

So more money, more fans, more global exposure - win, win, win all around surely. Yet amidst the jubilant celebrations, a plaintive voice was heard. Sure 20/20 is the bomb for youngsters and new fans. But is it the death knell for what aficionados consider the finest form of the game - perhaps of any sport - namely Test cricket?


The contradiction at the game's heart is now laid bare. Limited overs attracts far more spectators and produces nearly all the income. Yet players, commentators and serious fans insist that only five-day Test matches really matter. Limited overs are forgotten as soon as they are finished.

Only Tests produce truly memorable events like Brisbane in 1960, Adelaide in 1993 and Antigua in 2004.

None of this makes sense in our productivity-focused age. Economic rationality would have discarded financially inefficient Test matches years ago. Sentimentalists wax lyrically about 'glorious uncertainty' and 'the soul of cricket'. But if there are not enough paying punters to make the enterprise commercially viable, are not the beauty and drama of Test matches merely imaginary notions?

Yet Tests have produced my most treasured sporting memories. The 1999 third Test at Kensington is the most unforgettable event I've ever experienced in real time. Five days of sustained drama, a breathless final-hour climax, and the sublime artistry of Brian Lara's 153 not out - how do you put a price on such an experience in terms of money or time? Not only can't you buy seminal experiences like these, you can't rush them in being either.

emotional intensity

A three-minute pop song will never produce the emotional intensity of Rigoletto. No 90 minute hour movie is as profound as Don Quixote. Nor can any three-hour 20/20 match produce the lasting memories of a great Test match.

But hey, opera only survives on massive government subsidies. Very few now prefer long, old novels to non-stop special effects. And who has five full days to spend on anything these days?

Yes, we are only talking about a ballgame here, whose actual participants would laugh at such lofty comparisons being applied to whacking around piece of cork or knocking over sticks in the ground. As the old joke goes, "Cricket is a sport for the erudite, played by young men who think erudite is a kind of glue". Yet to ponder the difference between 20/20 and Test matches is to ask the question "Does art exist?"

Though no one is quite sure how precisely to define the term, art has definite sine qua non characteristics. It is entertainment that lasts. It can't be measured by mere popularity. And it requires contemplation.

Now our fast-food and time-saving-devices choked society should be the most leisurely in history. Instead, perpetually rushed modern man complains that 24 hours are not enough to get through the tasks of daily life, much less to contemplate anything.

We also live in a democratic, market-driven age where the accepted measure of right or wrong is what the majority wants, and the only judge of excellence is the eyeball count. "Vox populi, vox dei" - the voice of the people is the voice of God. If the most popular politician is the best, then why not the most popular painting or song or book or game?

Well, who says they are not? If any vote is as good as any, and any dollar is as good as any, why shouldn't any opinion be as good as any? Who should be the valuator if not the market? A privileged minority of ivory tower, cloud cuckoo land, out-of-touch elitists? And where all value judgements are suspect - if everybody is somebody then nobody's anybody - the only inarguable arbiter is the bottom line. We're not quite sure anymore that anything is good or bad in itself, but we know that whatever attracts the most paying customers must be the best - don't we?

the world won't end

The world is not going to end if Test cricket fades away. After all, who complains that football matches only last 90 minutes? But the Tests versus 20/20 debate starkly highlights a larger modern paradox. In an ever faster and more efficient 'time is money' world, how can we preserve the unhurried mental space needed to experience not only art, but anything truly moving and memorable?

While the ICC could maximise income by completely replacing Tests with a continuous schedule of 20/20 games, almost every lover of the game views this equation with a sense of horror. Indeed Learie Constantine envisioned and rejected a similar future over 70 years ago.

He stated: "I know that what I dreamed of on that boat was heresy and madness - an England in which cricket, like football, was a one-day affair, and a Test match might be won and lost in six or eight hours, with the aid of time rules limiting innings. It would take the football millions into the cricket-ground stands; but what of that? Avaunt, foul temper! Get thee behind me, Satan! It would not be quite cricket!"

Calman Barrett (left), CEO of sponors Jamaica Electrical Technologies (JET), presents the Business House Division I domino trophy to Sean Hinds (centre) and Miguel Brown, the MVP pair of champions Seprod. Occasion was the awards function for the 2007 Business House domino competition at JET, 36 1/2 Lyndurst Road on Friday, September 28.

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