A game of cricket was played on Wednesday at Old Trafford between an Eleven of England and an Eleven of India. 25,000 people attended and enjoyed the fairground atmosphere of forgetful abandon.
This sentence echoes ones from the earliest days of organised cricket when for example an Eleven of Hambledon played an Eleven of Dartford on the 18th August 1756, and a similar number of people might have made their way to Broadhalfpenny Down, which Third Man once likened to a mixture of Glastonbury Festival and a car boot sale, to enjoy the stalls, the food, the drink and the betting
An unintended consequence of Twenty20 cricket has been the rediscovery of the raw ingredients of the game as played a quarter of a millennium ago.
By reducing the resources available to the fielding side whilst maintaining the resources available to the batting Eleven, cricket has rid itself of much of the fear and cultural inhibition that batsmanship has collected in its evolutionary adaptions since those days.
Once, the ball was ‘bowled’ literally along an uneven strip of turf towards a wicket that was formed from two thin stumps placed wide apart, relative to the size of the ball, which might therefore pass through without disturbing the long single bail that bridged them.
The chances of the ball striking those stumps and the batsman being out ‘bowled’ were small.
Bowlers were artful in trying to exploit the terrain to the extent that a pin-ball player may be artful.
Batsmen relied on a good eye, good timing, a good swing and their own power to swipe as far as possible the hapharzard missile, hopping and skipping towards their shins like a canon ball on a battle field.
Surely they knew little anxiety above the trepidation of being bested by a social inferior or, worse, by a rival for the charms of some village girl. Their attitude to the random was as fatalistic as their attitude to illness, poor harvests, gamekeepers and the vagaries of their landlord: “if God wills it”.
On Wednesday night there were a number of debutantes, to international T20. The first was Ajinkya Rahane whose innings typified this rediscovered cricket without fear. The twenty-three year old gloried in England’s short pitched bowling strategy and its under-resourced leg side field. As well as hooking with authority, his blade scythed elegantly through anything of length on the off.
At 39/1 in the 5th over he was joined by the debutante Dravid. Not since 1996 has anyone been able to write that phrase; ‘the debutante Dravid’, but here the veteran was tasting the apple of liberty without the worry of expulsion from Eden.
It took his genius seventeen balls to find its timing and the thought arose that this was one responsibility that should not have been requested of him. But any concern vanished with the execution of three successive and sublime maxima.
Artful bowling at the death by Jade Dernback, pearls in his ears, recalled David Harris in its innovation, manipulation of speed and practiced skill. His ‘back of the hand’ deliveries arrived with little to distinguish them from, but two yards later than, his orthodox deliveries that might clock 90 mph.
India, who had earlier been rampant, found themselves restrained to 165.
The third debutante to note was Alex Hales who took first strike for England, driving the initial in-swinging delivery from Praveen with confidence and missing his second, a straighter one that cut down the juvenile in his prime with scoring.
As England began the last over requiring 10 to win, the fourth debutante, Jos Buttler , was next man in. Third Man, worn down by time and manifold anxieties, feared for this stripling having to come out with only a ball or two with which to force the issue, and hoped, as indeed it turned out, that his first innings would come another day.
When Third Man described this timid view to a 17 year old, the youth protested, “No, he’d have wanted to go out there no matter what, to prove that he could do it.”
Just like Dravid, his fellow debutante.
England won by 6 wickets with 3 balls remaining.