Spectator sport

A friendly purr from a fallible Tiger Woods

28 July 2018

9:00 AM

28 July 2018

9:00 AM

So in the end it was a fallible Tiger that won all hearts at the Open, not the glowering, red-shirted monarch of the fairways who carried all before him long ago. But a softer, puzzled, vaguely frail Tiger is hard not to like: this is someone now who isn’t quite sure what shot to play, who doesn’t quite know where the ball is going. Now we like him, and by golly the sport needs him. Like a fading but reformed rock star, he looks happier too: easier with the media, and carrying an ailing sport with dignity. The money is pretty good too.

Sadly the fact that the sport’s biggest star is ten years past his prime says plenty. If I went out on to the street now and asked 100 people to tell me something about Kevin Kisner or Xander Schauffele, there wouldn’t be any takers. Or can anyone tell me a couple of interesting facts (are there any?) about Zach or Dustin Johnson? Or even tell the difference between them? Any takers? I doubt it, though the fact that Dustin’s the bearded one is a good starting point.

But Tiger? Everybody knows Tiger and now they love the old philanderer even more. Who said there were no second chances? Tiger has transcended his sport more than any other sportsman since Bradman. Ali came close of course, though Smokin’ Joe had his advocates. Of the current crop, only Anthony Joshua comes close to a Tiger or a Don. An old ITV sports producer used something he called the Oxford Street test: was a sports person big enough to be recognised on Oxford Street? Today’s version might be the Graham Norton test. Who would fit easily on the sofa? In golf, Tiger certainly. Possibly Rory, but I can’t think of many others.

One thing the game of cricket certainly doesn’t need though is The Hundred, still seemingly being drawn up on a used napkin after a good lunch with the ECB big shots. Are there five-ball overs or ten-ball overs? Search me. Now there’s a report that it could be 15-a-side. ‘I don’t flipping believe it,’ said a 13-year-old cricket fan I know. Nor do any of us. Why doesn’t the cricket establishment simply celebrate what we have? The current T20 is enjoying rude health, packed houses and epic finishes. The other day more than 22,000 fans at Old Trafford saw 351 runs scored in 28 overs, with 23 sixes, as Lancashire beat Yorkshire by one run in an incredible game. With half centuries for Lyth and Root, this was declamatory cricket with the Trumpian caps lock on. Look away if you dare. On show were international stars like Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Joe Root and Kane Williamson. What more does anyone want?

One thing we don’t want are the city-based regional franchises that look like a Brussels bureaucrat’s wet dream. This means that anyone in the West Country has to make their way to Cardiff for a night match. The idea that a farmer from Shepton Mallet would happily pack his family into the Range Rover and make the interminable Friday trek through some of the densest traffic in the world outside Mexico City to watch cricket in Cardiff is absurd. From what I know of West Country farmers, they would rather bomb Cardiff than watch an artificial cricket match there.

In the meantime the big kids on campus are in town: it’s India all the way and five Tests to see us through to the end of summer. We’ve had a T20 amuse-bouche, the 50-over series for starters, and now what a main course is coming up. These guys are giants and the weather is turning England into Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. Quit your job, stay out of the sun and watch Kuldeep vs Cook, Broad vs Kohli and Root vs Ravi.

I predict 3-2 to England but with some record-breaking performances on the way. Can’t wait.

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