Balancing Lives

As usual, there's been some great stuff in the cricket pages of The Guardian over the past few days. I particularly enjoyed Donald McRae's interview with Claire Taylor, especially her reflections on the trials and tribulations of balancing her career as a cricketer with a life that has inevitably been more complex, crowded and compromised than that of most male sportsmen of similar stature.

It leaves you wondering how the average male cricketer of even county standard, let alone Taylor's world-class, would be able to cope with an income so tiny that it meant that he had to live with his parents in his late twenties. Not well, I suspect.

With all this said, the almost touching modesty, magnanimity and balance of Taylor's closing words give a further clue as to the reasons why she's been so successful:

"If you look at the men, you have to acknowledge that they have come through as the best of 400 professional cricketers in this country. Their evolution into Test players is so different from ours. In the women's game if you're a good 17-year-old you can be picked for England. So you don't go through the same process as the men and perhaps there is a correlation between that and what they earn.

"But I don't play cricket for money. I play to be the best I can be and because it's a brilliant game. It's a game for everyone."


A Game of Contrasts

A Sunday afternoon in England with a decent TV and a functioning remote control was - in the absence of a ticket to the games and the means to be in two very remote places at once - as good a way to chart the diversification of the game as any.

On ITV 4 you had the IPL final from Mumbai - a riot of noise, colour and atmosphere, a floodlit stadium packed to the rafters and the Chennai Super Kings deservedly winning the third IPL title.

On Sky Sports 2 it was Worcestershire at home to Sussex in the new 'Clydesdale Bank 40' - a few hundred people, some hazy early season sunshine, and Worcestershire sliding to defeat in front of the most beautiful backdrop in English first-class cricket.

I know and love cricket at Worcester, but the IPL final was a compelling visual and sensory spectacle, which, for all its air of calm and the annual re-emergence of a timeless ritual, an early season game in England simply couldn't match. Unfortunately the transmission of the game also had too many adverts and the intensely irritating commentary of Danny Morrison, so that when it all became too much (every five minutes or so) it was necessary to take refuge in the more reserved ruminations of Nick Knight and Paul Allott.

For the third year running I've seen hardly any of the IPL, so most of this was new to me. It strikes me that you're better off being there, as you stand a reasonable chance of watching the game without being interrupted, just as long as Danny Morrison isn't sitting next to you.

County one-day cricket has its virtues but it has a bit less of everything. Fewer games, fewer spectators, less money, less colour, less interest.

Oh, and probably less corruption too.


New Kid on the Blog

Enjoying a welcome Saturday afternoon at home - for once away from work and the lure of the rugby touchline - I decided it was time to undertake a bit of housekeeping.

The main result of this is that there's a new blog on my blogroll.

Down at Third Man has the look of something excellent, which could run and run.

I hope it does.


Few Tears Shed

There was a time when Surrey were the team which set the standards in county cricket. Not just in the 1950s, when they were the most potent team the championship has ever seen, but, more recently, in the era of Stewart, Thorpe, Butcher, Lewis, the Bicknells, the Hollioakes and Saqlain Mushtaq, when they won plenty of games but few friends.

Now, though, things are different. As a general rule, if Derbyshire thrash you at home, you are really struggling.

This, though, is the reality of life for Surrey as the 2010 season begins - some decent signings, the greatest English batsman since who knows when, but a 22 year-old greenhorn as skipper and a team that looks very far from being the sum of its parts. With Ramprakash failing to score in the second innings and Derbyshire's brilliant Australian accumulator Chris Rogers piling up the runs at the other end, Surrey's hopes of a successful start to the season rapidly disappeared into the deep blue ether over The Oval.

Chris Adams will ponder and fulminate, and, in all probability, they'll start to get it right before the season's over.

But, outside their own membership, few tears will be shed.


Playing Long

I never saw Sir Alec Bedser bowl. He retired from first-class cricket more than five years before I was born, and, by then, his outstanding Test career was a distant memory. I only remember him as a somewhat curmudgeonly chairman of the England selectors, making it known after Ian Botham resigned the England captaincy in the early summer of 1981 that he would have been sacked anyway, and unwittingly laying the ground for some of the most inspirational individual performances in Test history.

But his passing matters to me because of what it says about what English cricket was and what it has lost. Bedser was a product of an era before limited-over cricket - even of the 65, 60 or 55 over variety, let alone 20 - had been introduced to the professional game. The only way to play was to play long, three or five days, engaging the physique and the brain against the best the opposition had to offer. And the mature Bedser was a key player both in the greatest domestic team English cricket has known and in the England side which came closest to dominating the cricket world in the way we have since seen other teams - from the Caribbean and from Australia - do.

Bedser embodied, as few alive still can, an era when the game was far more central to the English way of life than it is now, or ever will be again. A time when England produced truly great cricketers, and truly great teams.

Of course, much of the change which cricket has gone through, and is still undergoing, has, for all its artifice and embellishment, been vital in widening the game's appeal. A modern sport cannot exist forever in the sepia-tinged glow of elderly men's memories.

But they'll do for now.

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