Theodore Dalrymple discovers that cricket is not cricket anymore

I have taken no interest in cricket ever since cricketers started to wear baseball caps and vulgar coloured clothes, and behaved like footballers or basketball players when they took a wicket, hugging one another and making neanderthlal gestures of triumph.

Last weekend I attended, for the first time in several years, a village cricket match. It was a heavenly day (from the meteorological point of view) and the ground was appropriately rural. I had offered to umpire, but some of the rules had changed since my day – cricketing officials, it seems, must always be tinkering with the rules, just like other officials, for if they do not, what is their point? – and as I was not familiar with those new rules it was thought best by the captains of both teams that I should not umpire. Instead I watched while also reading a book for review, a very bad book as it happens, but mercifully short.

One of the rules with which I was not familiar was that against sledging. In fact I did not even know what sledging was and had to ask. I was told that it was intimidation of the batsman by means of aggressive gesture and uninhibited insult by the fielding team. The purpose of sledging, of course, was to destroy the batsman’s confidence and concentration.

I was told that in this cricket league a rule had been made against sledging, and that a player could be sent off the field by the umpire for indulging in it. No doubt this is all to the good; but it seemed to me that if anything proved the horrible deterioration in the English character, the necessity for such a rule was it. In the days when I played a little cricket – not much, I could never take any sport sufficiently seriously to be any good at it – we played to win, but not at the expense of ungentlemanly conduct. There were no rules against sledging because the thing itself did not exist; and not only did it not exist, but we could not even have conceived of it existing. As for the notion of an umpire sending a player off the field for bad behaviour – in two words, as Sam Goldwyn used to say, im possible.

This is the triumph of vulgarity in England, brought about by such men as Jimmy Saville and Max Clifford with the complicity of a ruling class that had lost faith in itself.

The cricketing tea, however, was as good as ever, in fact rather better.

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