Let’s be honest: cricket and baseball are, in the end, about entertainment—about showing the paying customers a good time. A recent book (The House That Ruth Built: A New Stadium, the First Yankees Championship, and the Redemption of 1923 by Robert Weintraub) argues that Babe Ruth changed the so-called percentage game that had dominated up to that point—all stolen bases, runs batted in, and what was known as Scientific Baseball—by championing the home run and celebrating the man who did it: the slugger. The crowd loved it; the purists hated it; but thanks to the Sultan of Swat, baseball—on its death bed after the “Black Sox Scandal“—survived, revived, and thrived.
Cricket faces a similar dilemma. Test cricket—the purist’s game of strategy and technical brilliance, of mental toughness and the intense application of supreme concentration—is under threat of extinction. Nobody’s coming to see it. What they’re turning up in droves to watch, however, is Twenty20—the brash slugfest that champions towering drives into the stands and dancing girls, colorful costumes, and thudding music.
Encapsulating the dilemma, one might say, is Jonathan Trott. In the recent game against Sri Lanka, he scored a mammoth 203 runs. In only 19 matches he has amassed 1803 runs at an average of 66.77, which is second only to the legendary Don Bradman. Now, I don’t know anything about Jonathan Trott’s character. He may, as far as I know, be a delightful companion, hilarious and subtle of wit, and the life and soul of the party. But as a batsman, he is relentless, remorseless, emotionless; a machine that compiles the runs with little showmanship or even sense of the crowd around him. He almost literally digs himself into the trenches and awaits whatever the opposition bombard them with, until he has worn them down. The crowd often feels the same way.
So, if you’re attempting to revitalize Test cricket, what do you do? Trott is a phenomenal player; he has all the qualities one would want in a professional. His discipline, mental fortitude, and skill and execution constitute one reason why England’s team continues to ascend the world rankings. But he’s not good box office; he’s no Babe Ruth. We don’t pretend to have the answer, but we’ll continue to discuss the conundrum and tell you what develops.