The world it is a-changing and cricket has some catching up to do
Cricket is a-changing, as Bob Dylan almost said and it looks as if there is nothing we can do about it.
Graeme Swann, just 34 and a pure but by no means simple off-spinner with 255 wickets to his name in 60 Tests and three successful Ashes series behind him, has retired in mid tour and provides the latest evidence of the new cricket in which the convention of politeness, of diffidence, of respecting your opponent and applauding his achievements, has gone.
Show me a man in shock and I will show you an old cricketer who cannot believe what has happened in Australia this last three months.
As the first Test came to an end Michael Clarke, on the surface a cherubic captain almost entirely without malice, warned James Anderson he must expect a broken arm in language beyond diplomatic. He was fined but excused himself by saying Anderson had invited such retribution.
Foul words have been almost as common as the bouncers that followed them but most shocking has been the return home of Jonathan Trott, citing a stress-related illness. In the First World War stress was understandable but Trott’s return, like that of Marcus Trescothick, is beyond belief.Good old days
Where is the example to schoolboys or to all those who play for enjoyment in this new behaviour? Gone forever perhaps.
I cannot believe that any of the teams I followed from Brisbane to Perth and back for 30 years gave a thought to surrender. Some were toughies, some dandies, some intellectuals, some too conventional; all of them understood the need to carry on fighting.
For the last 20 years I have wondered if, when a match could not be won, some batsmen thought, as they began a second innings on the fourth day that a foreshortened match would give them time at home and that a draw was not an option.
What has happened in Australia this winter has increased my concern that old-fashioned heroics have been chucked out of the dressing room window.
Peter Roebuck, late of these pages, loved the game above all else. He used to worry that too many modern players saw cricket as a career. “They ask about pension rights, expenses, wage structure and clothing allowances and not about what they can offer cricket,” he used to say. He would be horrified at the 2013 turn of events.
What happens next? If Alastair Cook cannot find a run in the fourth Test will he drop himself as Michael Denness did in 1974-5? It is the most interesting question as the Test series concludes.
For most youngsters cricket’s pattern still begins in the age-related structure, but once it reaches Test level, he begins to look for a future. Can he find a place in the simpler realms of the IPL and the Big Bash? Is there likely to be a vacancy any time soon in a television commentary box? Or will some new competition spring up where a man with experience but no longer in the first flush of youth can find a comfortable berth?
The blame lies not entirely with the players. Over-stretched fixture lists, batsmen’s pitches built to fill time for TV and the sponsors and complex tour itineraries made possible by jet travel have all contributed to a new mind-set. They are no longer simple souls willing to play cricket whenever their masters decree.
They are a powerful force in their own right; their 21st century outlook is shaped by their union, their agents and wives who no longer wish to wait patiently at home for their loved one to return.
The world it is a-changing and cricket has some catching up to do.