From the Nursery End: The invisible sport of cricket
20:59 03 August 2012
On Friday 13th July, an unlucky day for the Lancashire bowlers, Kevin Pietersen hit 234 not out, including 30 fours and eight sixes, off 190 balls.
This hasn’t turned into the Surrey blog, but even a Middlesex man has to give a nod of appreciation to an innings like that, though I do have unhappy memories of him taking a double hundred off Middlesex in his Notts days while he was qualifying for England.
A generation ago, his cricket-celebrity equivalent – and by that I mean someone who has escaped the sports pages and has name-recognition among those who don’t know a leg-break from a broken leg – was Ian Botham. In those days England players went back to their counties between tests.
I remember getting very annoyed at the end of News at Ten, in the 90-second sports report, they announced that Botham had scored 17 for Somerset that day.
It infuriated me that an individual’s ordinary score was worthy of a mention but not the state of the match or even just the score. The team is more important than the individual, but not if it’s Botham.
And that was how I thought the world saw Pietersen.
On that Friday evening I was watching BBC News 24, and after their half-hour of news at 10 o’clock they got to the sports. I know not to expect county cricket to get a mention in the overcrowded world of sport but this was something special by a celebrity. So what did the BBC say about it?
Nothing. We did have some football transfer news and video of a Premiership team on an off-season tour.
A meaningless football match takes precedence over a KP double ton. Are you old enough to remember Sunday afternoons when, with only three television channels, one was given over entirely to county cricket – the John Player League – every week for the whole summer?
No switching over to Wimbledon, horse-racing, Formula 1, golf, athletics, rugby league or anything else. Cricket – county cricket – had Sunday afternoons all to itself, taking up a third of all TV output for about five hours.
I want it both ways. I want county cricket to survive but I also like my cricket quiet. I’m happy to be able to sit where I want, spread myself out, not queue to go in, to go out, for a drink.
I don’t want the T20 rabble-rousing or test-match chanting and drunken noise. Stuff atmosphere, I want tranquillity. So thank you to all those people who suffer at great expense at tests and ODIs who subsidise my empty county grounds.
But in this most difficult of summers, with the Euro football, the rain, the clamour of all the other sports that fill the summer now, and on top of that, the Olympics and a chaotic, maddening fixture list, county cricket is in danger of disappearing off the media radar altogether.
Even the broadsheets don’t provide the coverage that they used to. And much as I don’t like to think about it, this season county cricket has moved another step closer to falling off the edge of the world.