Spectator sport

Outs-rage: the dumbing down of cricket

17 April 2021

9:00 AM

17 April 2021

9:00 AM

So wickets are out and outs are in for the new Hundred competition. But why? The language of sport is a beautiful thing, even in the hands of a pub bore. Why is it a try in rugby, when you have to touch the ball down, and a touchdown in American football, when you don’t? I know why it’s the leg side, but why is it the ‘off’? The purpose of the Hundred is to grow cricket, and the language of cricket is part of the game. It’s not hard. It’s not Cornish, or Welsh, or Etruscan.

‘Outs’ feels like a complication too far, inventing a problem where there isn’t one. Trying to dumb something down that’s easily understandable is the work of people who don’t want to understand, the kind who own funny tea towels explaining cricket in the most complicated way possible. If kids today can load and play Fifa and Grand Theft Auto, they can work out what 87 for 2 after 9.3 overs means.

Meanwhile, having been put into a Covid-induced slumber last season, the county championship showed hearty resilience when reawakened into an Arctic chill last week. What made it all the better was that cricket fans, having had little free-to-air live TV coverage over the past several seasons, were able to watch it all on the counties’ own live streaming service. In other words, stuff you BBC for ignoring the great game.


The best armchair sporting excitement came on Sunday afternoon when the only place to be was sitting in front of the live feed from Lord’s. Up in the stands the commentators wore woolly hats and held their mics in gloved hands. On the pitch Middlesex and Somerset went at it as if the sun was blazing down from a sky of burning blue. In the end Somerset, having been 89 for 9 in reply to Middlesex’s first innings of 313, came through to win by four wickets (yup, that’s wickets, not ‘outs’).

The dreaded roadmap out of lockdown means that we will have to wait until 17 May at the earliest before the grounds re-open to limited numbers. Given the quality of entertainment provided by the first round of matches, it will be worth waiting for.

Early days of course, but if Rachael Blackmore doesn’t win Overseas Sports Personality of the Year, then some very dodgy nobbling reminiscent of a Dick Francis thriller must have gone on behind the scenes. She’s the best jockey, riding the best horses, for the best trainers, from the best horse-racing nation on these islands. A stunning Cheltenham and an outstanding Grand National — financially rewarding too for those of us who saw that her horse Minella Times was being very generously weighted — should make her a shoo-in for the end-of-year awards season. This outstanding sports person is, though, I understand, reluctant to do many press interviews. What a wasted opportunity for her to do even more for women and women’s sport. Her presence is badly needed.

It is difficult to find the viewing figures for BT Sport’s coverage of the two all-French quarter-finals of rugby’s Champions Cup at the weekend. I would be surprised if many people apart from the nerdiest types such as myself lasted the distance. Unlike the last-eight ties between Exeter and Leinster, and La Rochelle and Sale, Bordeaux, Racing 92, Toulouse and Clermont Auvergne couldn’t rustle up a single try between them, with Jalibert and Ntamack kicking all the points.

Fair enough, that’s the game. Yet I was under the impression that rugby was at a crossroads. If anything needs a real shot in the arm, with huge crowds wanting to watch, it must be the sport’s blue riband club competition. But it ain’t going to happen unless the game develops into a more reliable spectacle for new fans.

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