From the days of the Don to T20, cricket has come a long way

2008-05-24 00:00

PETER ROEBUCK examines the upheavals that led cricket to where it is today.

AS our friends across the Limpopo are brutalised in their homes and places of refuge, whilst our self-satisfied president and his glib advisors fiddle, as public funds are squandered on bling cars and bodyguards, it is hard to think about games. But sport offers some distraction from the daily life. During the week, refugees worried that the violence has reached Durban were richly entertained by the Sharks, a tense European Cup final and exciting IPL matches in India. Just for a few hours, it was possible to forget about man’s inhumanity to man.

Sport holds our interest because the players are constantly changing. A newcomer from nowhere can rise as fast as boiled milk. Yet sport also offers reassuring context and tradition. Even cricket, supposedly the most conservative of games, does not stand still. Certainly the game has had its upheavals.

Overarm bowling

Beyond argument, the most crucial change was that bowlers were allowed to develop their craft. Bumpy pitches lay behind the original requirement for the ball to be released underarm. First roundarm was allowed and finally, amidst the usual outrage, overarm was declared lawful. There was no turning back. Many and great have been the subsequent glories.

First Test match

Naturally the leading nations presently yearned to compete. Most of the early encounters between England and Australia were organised by private entrepreneurs. Those playing in the first Test match were unaware of their privilege. When it came, Test cricket was audacious. Five days were deemed necessary for the matter to be properly resolved. It was an extraordinarily bold conclusion. To put a working week aside for a single contest seemed to be absurd. In fact, it was enlightened. Skill, courage, concentration and nerve could be tested to the utmost.

The first one-day


Cricket’s greatest secret has been its adaptability. Of course traditionalists balked at every change, but one-day cricket and shorter dashes and coloured clothes were introduced anyhow. One-day cricket was not thought suitable for the upper echelons. By the 1960s, cricket looked staid. It could not last.

Fast-moving matches were the solution. Cricket could not have survived without


First black captain

of the West Indies

Cricket has hardly been in the forefront of progressive thought. It is an entertainment, not a movement. Not until Frank Worrel was allowed to lead the West Indies 50 years ago had a black man been considered worthy of the position. Happily, he became one of the truly great figures of the game.

Match fixing

Cricket had always imagined itself to be superior. Now and then a scandal had arisen, but the game recovered. The match-fixing scandals destroyed all complacency. Even now, it is alarming that so many of the game’s finest were prepared to stoop. Nor was the designation of match fixing accurate. By and large, it was enough to lose the toss, send down an early wide or be run out. Anyone studying the statistics will get the picture.

It was in some respects a merciful release.

The Don

No game can claim maturity till it has been played as close to perfection as possible. A boy from the Australian bush attained that feat in cricket. Previously some batsmen could occupy the crease for long periods. Others had been able to score quickly. Time and again Don Bradman did both. It is hard to imagine any sportsmen, let alone any cricketer, surpassing him.

The first World Cup

Cricket has been the game of Empire. It had been run by the old guard in London, a bunch of mostly respectable gentlemen determined to protect its reputation. It was a limitation. Recognising the opportunity provided by one-day cricket to revive a struggling game, they decided to stage a World Cup in England in 1975. It was a triumph won at dusk by a rampant West Indian side.

Shane Warne

In the last 20 years, most sports have been dominated by power. In the 1970s and 1980s, cricket seemed likely to follow the same course. Pace was everything. The artistry of the game seemed to be doomed. And then a larrikin from Melbourne took hold of a cricket ball and started to spin it. And he’s still at it, and still grabbing the headlines!

The rise of T20

Cricket is an old game that has managed to remain young. No other game offers as many formats and, astonishingly, all of them work. It appears that the longest and shortest versions of the game are the most attractive.

•Peter Roebuck is an international cricket

correspondent based in the KZN midlands.

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