Cricket is in danger of losing its character if administrators insist on beating the personality out of unique players.
WG Grace. Viv Richards. Ian Botham. Shane Warne. Herschelle Gibbs. Kevin Pietersen.
There is a common thread among those names, and it’s not just that they all played international cricket. They were, to a man, mavericks who refused to play by the rules and got in trouble for it, but still managed to be more successful than most. And every single one of them could single-handedly fill any cricket ground in the world in their day.
Imagine, for a moment, if none of them had played at the top level. If, by some horrible twist of fate, we had been deprived of their unique talents. The sport would be a great deal poorer and, most likely, a whole lot less popular. It is the players who operate on the fine line between madness and genius who invite the casual observer in, and convert them to obsessed fan, through their heroic exploits on the field, and their misdeeds off it.
Unfortunately for cricket lovers, the days of the maverick are numbered. Obsessed with profit margins, administrators are terrified that anyone who steps out of line will spell disaster for their board, and so, slowly but surely, players who exhibit a tendency to do things their own way are being sidelined.
The case of Kevin Pietersen is the latest example. He did things according to his own rules, and scored more runs for England, across all three formats, than anyone else in history. But still, he was jettisoned by England at the beginning of the year. There will come a time when we won’t be able to appreciate talents like Pietersen, as players of his ilk will be weeded out at the junior level – told to get in line or go home.
I’m not advocating players act like petulant teenagers, like the footballers we all love to hate, but once or twice in a generation there is that special cricketer who thrives purely because he has that roguish edge. Surely those special cases can be accommodated, and their worth, to their team and the cricket world at large, be acknowledged?
It is characters like Botham, who was never shy of downing a pint or smoking a cigar at the end of a day’s play, and Gibbs, who famously smashed 175 against Australia in the 438 game while in the throes of a monumental hangover, who make the game worth watching. Can you imagine Botham’s public smoking and drinking being tolerated these days? I didn’t think so.
If the administrators want to see their profits skyrocket, they should consider the role the mavericks play in the game, and find a way to accommodate them. Fans turn up specifically to see these guys do something spectacular. Whether they succeed or fail, the spectators know they’re in for a show. Lose that, and cricket risks losing its finest moments.