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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 9 (December 1, 1934)

The Task of Cricket

The Task of Cricket.

At the end of October, the Wellington Cricket Association, after a lengthy and interesting discussion, set up a Committee to consider ways and means of popularising cricket with the public. What the Committee will report remains to be read at some future date, but the two matters stressed at the meeting do not offer much hope. Coaching certainly will tend to improve the standard of play. Organised publicity may or may not achieve anything really desirable. The last two years of Tests in Australia and England were fought in the glare of the greatest publicity that has ever drawn the attention of the public. But has cricket really benefited from all that?

Cricket's greatest obstacle in these days lies in two things—its object and the time it takes to play. With every other game the end is to beat the other side. In cricket over a series of years the object has seemed to be as often as not merely to avoid defeat. Time limits in England have exaggerated that. On the other hand the timeless tests in Australia have tended to make cricket a sheer weariness of the flesh. Whichever way one looks at it—time limit or none—there is too big a premium on mere safety.

The spirit of the age is increasingly against a game that meanders along with no certainty of definite conclusion, with no incentive to be up and doing at all costs. The air race which we all followed in such bewilderment at its rapid progress has more than anything that happened in the previous thousand years made time speed up—in this sense that a week seems eternity.

Up to a point this has been dimly recognised in cricket. Where, relatively, is the game most popular with the public, as an every day sporting attraction? Undoubtedly in the Lancashire and neighbouring minor Leagues which have drawn on New Zealand talent so extensively in the past few years. There each game is very largely an affair of a single day.

Looking at cricket from the outside, as one who has grown colder to its charms as the years roll by, the one thing that would really draw me back to it would be a time limit of another sort—a fixed limit of the number of hours during which each side could occupy the crease. That in itself would put a premium on what undoubtedly is the really strong appeal of high-class cricket—aggressive skill with the bat. Then runs would have to be obtained. I never could see why if you can hit a ball at all you can't hit it hard. And a Bradman, for one, bears me out.

Will such a revolutionary idea ever be carried out? I am afraid not. Will anything else serve? Well one or two points that might be taken into consideration are—first, a recognition that cricket is, after all, an athletic exercise. How unathletic it can be at times is shown in the field. Nothing is more painful to watch than lack of fielding skill, and absence of agility and speed, and sheer physical unfitness. Again what irritates the public in big matches (not here be it admitted) is the all too leisurely progress. Give in the afternoon tea as a welcome enough respite for spectators and players alike, but not the eternal stopping for a round of drinks with the twelfth man's time spent in developing elementary skill as a waiter. Still again a general pepping up between overs and between the fall of one wicket and the restarting of play. Finally, one member (Mr. W. A. Hammond) hit on what seems to be a good point—the lack of interest in the club championships evidenced by poor attendances at practice. After all what the public is interested in is competition—and keen competition.

Of course all this is written on the theme of public interest. Quite a good case can be made out for cricket as purely a player's pastime, with no thought of the public. Cricket, of all sports, suffers most from and seems least at home in the atmosphere of the Stadium. A child of the village green, it demands for its real enjoyment surroundings such as in Wellington, for instance, it is impossible to give it. That many hundreds think of cricket in this light is convincingly shown even here by the flourishing existence of such a body as the Mercantile League.

But to return to our theme and to finish. Back of all the lack of public interest in anything short of Plunket Shield cricket is the fact that it is rooted in a supreme public indifference to New Zealanders ever taking a front rank in Imperial cricket. When the day comes (and not until then) that New Zealand has the same desire to excel on the cricket as on the football field, the public will sit up and take notice. With visions of bodyline controversies, well, perhaps it may be as well if that day never comes.