Live long and prosper?

2018 is shaping up to be a pivotal chapter in the history of the game, so what does cricket’s story arc look like?

T’Kuvma: probably plays a mean cut shot

No-one, as far as I’m aware, has ever studied the crossover between cricket badgery and Star Trek fandom. But I’ve been to early season county games in the cold wet English spring; judging by the crowd, I’d bet that there is a decent overlap.

If you’re not a Trekker, then you might have missed Discovery, Netflix’s latest addition to the Star Trek canon. The first series deals with the beginnings of the interstellar beef between the Federation and the Klingons, long before Captain Kirk first faced a bat’leth-wielding crinkle-head.

SPOILER ALERT: the major plot twist in the first season is that Lieutenant Ash Tyler, played by British actor Shahzad Latif (him-off-of-Spooks), turns out not to be human at all, but rather a Klingon character, Voq, who had been the subject of a species reassignment experiment. This involved some pretty gruesome surgical procedures, including organ rearrangement, splitting of bones for marrow replacement, and having another man’s psyche melded onto his own. Much like facing an over from Dale Steyn.

Well before The Big Reveal happened, most viewers had already cottoned on thanks to online fan theories and some not-so-subtle foreshadowing techniques employed by the producers during the early episodes. The most obvious of these was in a flashback when Voq’s love interest L’Rell told her death-faking alien boyfriend that he had to “sacrifice everything” in order to fulfil his destiny.

Just like a bingeworthy TV series, the first two months of 2018 have thrown up more than their fair share of cricketing drama. Deep breath please. In no particular order…

  • Alex Hales and Adil Rashid opt to play white-ball county cricket only
  • The BBC are rumoured to favour 5 balls an over, 10 consecutive overs from each end in the new domestic T20 jamboree
  • Andy Nash resigns from the ECB board over payments to counties and alleged governance failings
  • Warner vs de Kock appears at the top of the card in the first SA-Aus Test
  • Morne Morkel goes full Kolpak but won’t ‘fess up
  • Players may soon have to choose which three domestic T20 bunfights appeal to them most
  • The MCCU programme faces an uncertain future after its main sponsor pulls out

That’s quite a list. Not bad going for 68 days. But these are just the problems at the top of the game. The issues at the base of the pyramid still fester. Common to the whole cricketing diaspora, from top-ranked India, via Vanuatu (37th) to Estonia (75th), are the perennial issues of participation, facilities, diversity and all the other usual thematic suspects.

Cricket’s script hasn’t been written yet, but should we see these as the giveaways that show how cricket’s storyline is going to pan out?

Cricket governance in summary

The problem is not that no-one is addressing these issues. The ICC is finally looking at a six-month international window, the ECB continues to grapple manfully with participation through All Stars and staff recruitment, and the nascent Cricket Supporters’ Association is trying to make the fans’ voice heard.

Back to Star Trek. In Discovery, the Klingons never mount a concerted campaign because they are composed of disparate bickering factions, the 24 Great Houses, who lack a joined-up plan.

The ECB has had #GoBoldly as a recent marketing device, and cricket probably sees itself as the Federation, spreading the good word about the gentleman’s game across the globe. But what if cricket is actually the Klingon race?

The issues are weighty and, despite the best efforts of the above, no-one is going to solve them overnight. Affirmative action is occurring at separate levels of the game and, like Ian Chappell, we all know that cricket is crying out for leadership on so many levels and requires a strategy. But it also needs an infrastructure that binds the pyramid together.

With the ICC in its ivory tower in Sports City Dubai, there is no forum for all parties – centralised governance, national boards, grassroots clubs, fans – to discuss the issues openly and pull in a single direction and give our challenger sport the impetus is seeks.

Like Voq / Tyler, cricket is currently an amalgam of competing personalities. Tests, ODIs, T20Is; we are tempted to think that three into two will not go, with the 50-over format looking most vulnerable. But every now and then a stone-cold classic like the 4th NZ-Eng match the other day pops up and we pause for a minute. This shows that some unpopular decisions must be made, but everyone needs to be involved in a logical process worthy of Mr Spock himself, not just the Starfleet admirals giving their orders.

Whatever the future holds, we must continue to cast a critical eye over the developments in the game and decide what we really want for, and from, the game we love. If we are careless in our approach, we may just find ourselves in a sporting version of the Kobayashi-Maru scenario, Star Trek’s unwinnable training exercise.

What is certain is that, like James T. Kirk, we are heading directly towards the undiscovered country but, in fulfilling our cricketing destiny, we may run the risk of  doing as Voq did by sacrificing everything the game stands for.

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