Social Divisions at the Heart of 2010 Wisden

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Social Divisions at the Heart of 2010 <i>Wisden</i>
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Cricket is unfairly criticised as being a conservative sport. Yet its history mirrors the wider class struggles of the 19th and 20th centuries, explaining a radical fanbase that will find much to approve of in the annual recording of the past-season.

 

The 147th edition of Wisden appeases traditionalists with 42 pages on schools cricket and 15 on the Universities (compared to 14 pages on the Indian Premier League).

 

There is concern about the lack of respect for the umpire, exacerbated by a referral system that allows players to contest their decisions.

 

Using the available technology to make the right judgment has to be in the sport's benefit, but Test cricket should not be a laboratory to try these things out.

 

One of the key essays deals with the detail of the terrorist attacks on Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore in March 2009.  It is recalled that Sri Lanka were only in Pakistan because India had cancelled their visit following attacks in Mumbai in November 2008 by Islamists.

 

An essay by Nagraj Gollapudi sets the attack in its political context. The Punjab government was headed by Shahbaz Sharif, brother of national opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, until he was ousted by President Asif Ali Zardari, who took charge of the province.

 

Zardari made key changes in the security departments and is accused, by the opposition, of opening up the possibility for the attack.

 

Sri Lanka's new captain Kumar Sangakhara fears that "we are now prize targets for terrorists," further ensuring that Pakistan won't be hosting international matches for some time.

 

The English Cricket Board (ECB) is criticised for abolishing the 50-overs competition and replacing it with a 40-overs tournament on the basis that it was more popular with members.

 

This is hardly surprising, remarks editor Scyld Berry, when "one was played in summer, the other in spring".

 

Greed was also a motivating factor in the England players flying to Belfast the day after the Ashes, their 10 limited overs games in the four following weeks, and their dash to the Champions Trophy.

 

Anyone remember the series score between England and Australia in the one-day series, or come to think of it, the sides who contested the Champions Trophy?

 

Berry demands that "players deserve better treatment from their employers." The Australian Justin Langer notes that cricketers would prefer to play fewer matches to allow time to prepare, and it is not surprising that 89 percent of the those who voted in a Professional Cricketers' Association said they had no faith in the ECB leadership.

 

As with the 2006 edition, this year's annual features in detail England's Ashes victory. There remain many wondering how the Australians managed to lose a series that they did so much to dominate.

 

England's 34.15 runs per wicket against Australia's 40.64 is, we are reliably informed, the biggest disparity that has ever been overturned in any Test series. How could a team, asks Andrew Strauss, "who scored far more centuries, as well as having the three top wicket-takers in the series, end up losing?"

 

One of the reasons for this success was that England dominated certain sessions rather than whole matches. In one they took six Australian wickets, in another seven, and then eight in another.

 

A further reason was the unity of their side. Cricket, like life, is a collection of individual parts which work best when coming together in a common cause. The experience of fighting for that cause helped to mould a unit that provided moments of both determination and brilliance.

 

The book's other centrepiece is Stephen Chalke's account of cricket during the Second World War. Again, the social historian brings out the wider divisions that shaped both society and sport.

 

In southern England, for example, two teams were formed as a means of providing morale for a nation fatigued from German bombing. The London Counties sought to augment the earnings of professional cricketers, whereas the British Empire XI played as amateurs.

 

Cricket became a symbol of liberation with pitches springing up wherever the British soldier was stationed. Yet when the West Indian Learie Constantine attempted to book into London's Imperial Hotel he was refused as a "nigger" who would upset American guests.

 

Constantine took the Hotel to the High Court and won his case. Then, as the only black man in the side, he captained the Dominions against England at Lord's in 1945. "It could not have happened in 1939," Chalke remarked.

 

Indeed, times were changing. Fans would jeer the Cambridge XI in the Varsity Match as their new caps were seen as "a failure to take the war seriously". And Wisden would question the amateur/professional division.

 

Contemporary divisions derive from commercial interests. There is continued concern for the reverence of the Test series. England have not played a country over five Tests apart from Australia since 2004-5.

 

This modern concern is also reflected in the large number of redundancies of cricket reporters as the local newspaper faces extinction. National newspapers, notes Gerald Mortimer, are elitist with an emphasis on football's Premier League at the expense of the other 72 clubs in the football league. So what hope is there for county cricket?

 

There are, as always, an array of facts and figures. Cardiff became the 100th Test venue, Ricky Ponting has been on the winning side in more Test matches as player and captain than anyone else, and Bangladesh were statistically (at 66 percent) the most successful Test side of 2009.

 

There are also the random points that allow the publication to mirror the wider idiosyncrasies that make cricket so fascinating. The excellent Gideon Haigh's references, for example, to Gaye Bykers on Acid and the Abbey Pumping station, would bring a tear to anyone growing up in Leicester in the 1980s and 90s.

 

However, its the increasing social tone that maintains Wisden as a serious and sensible beacon of the sport. It is one that demands diversity rather than Indianisation if cricket is to avoid becoming simply a business to be taken over. It salutes the sense of purpose that derived from an outplayed at times Ashes team, and "working-class heroes" such as Ricky Ponting.

 

It is this social voice that declares Duncan Hamilton's biography of Harold Larwood—a work that pits the miner against the establishment at its centre—as the book of the year.

 

If the new season is as action packed as its accompanying Almanack is we are in for a treat. Enjoy!

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