Is it ‘the show’ that matters?

When you’re too close to a good painting it can be hard to see it properly. Take a few steps backwards and it can become clearer, easier to appreciate. Get out of the woods to see the trees.

It is perfectly possible that, after a quarter of a century working in cricket, my ability to ‘see’ certain aspects of the game has become faded. Sometimes I ‘know’ what is going to happen in 10 overs time because I have seen it happen so often before, but other times I learn something brand new from a 10-year-old.

What prompted this bout of introspection? We’’, it was the “sold out” signs going up at Supersport Park almost a week before the first T20 International against Sri Lanka.

For the last five years the calls for ‘context’ in international cricket have gathered pace around the world (except in the administrative boardrooms which really matter, it seems.) I have been as close to the forefront of those calls as I can possibly get, especially for Test cricket.

I still believe that Test cricket will struggle to survive without a league or championship which is recognisable, credible and understandable. ODI cricket, too, will lose much of its relevance to people without a league table which includes four or five non-Test playing nations, but it will cling to the World Cup for its survival.

So there I was thinking: “Who will want to watch a very new looking Proteas team play an arbitrary T20 match against an equally young and almost certainly out of its depth Sri Lankan team?” And the answer is – LOTS OF PEOPLE!!

Perhaps the ‘show’ is enough to sustain people. Maybe they don’t actually care that the match ‘means’ nothing. After all, what does the circus ‘mean’? What does it mean to ride a roller coaster or listen to an orchestra? Not much – but it’s fun!

That is the difference between three hour cricket and it’s eight hour and five day older siblings. It’s simple, quick and lively. It doesn’t test its exponents’ all round skills, endurance or mental strength but it’s usually a damn good show and, sometimes, that’s all we want. The result won’t really matter, just as long as we are entertained.

The “sold out” signs were a timely and welcome reminder not to forget that cricket is “a show” as well as a business and an industry.

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