Saturday, July 02, 2022

Musings of a Groundsman: Inconsistent Constant

1978 was the year the world saw international cricket being played in coloured strips for the first time. Coloured jerseys, white ball...that kind of gave a livelier spectacle to cricket disciples worldwide...away with the days of wearing whites, and using red balls for both formats of the game. It became easier to tell at a glance, which side was fielding and which was batting.
As the years went by, the colour was not the only change that happened to the clothing. Improvements on the fabric made it easier for the skin to breathe and for the body to regulate its temperature in hot and/humid playing conditions. Oh, and the designs have become more and more fashionable. Then, in came the opportunity for brands to place adverts on cricket outfits...from international, to franchise, to club cricket.
That was not the first change that cricket lovers witnessed and most definitely will not be the last. Through the decades, there have been constant changes, frequent modifications and regular adjustments. To the rules, to the playing conditions, to the equipment.

The laws have constantly tried to maintain a 50/50 balance between bat and ball. ODIs, apart from being colourless and less exciting like what we currently have, they were once played for 60 overs aside. Fielding restrictions encouraged batsmen to be expressive, while being creative (in the early overs); and then, exploit the fatigue and lapses in concentration of the fielders in later overs. Many argued that this tilted the scales in favor of the willow but then, in 2011, two new balls per innings was introduced. For bowlers especially, this move was considered as a leveler because it meant the ball (or balls) stayed hard for longer, the shine lasted a bit more. But the real joy for captains was this: the choice to attack both with seam/swing and spin at the same time without having to sacrifice one optimal condition for the other...bliss! The law catered to the needs of the batsmen while it maintained the presence of mind to protect the delicate esteem of the bowlers. Until manufacturers became more creative and started to design bats with edges almost as thick as the width of bat surfaces.

Barry Richards holds the bat with which he made 325 in a day at the WACA in 1970 in his right hand, and David Warner's modern-day weapon in his left. © Cricket Australia

When cricket started, with the equipment as primitive as they could get, no one alive presently would imagine stepping into a game without batting gloves; but that was all they had to play with - bare hands. On and on, the need for protecting the body from nasty blows necessitated the need for protective wears: gloves (batting and keeping), pads (batting, keeping, things), guards (chest, abdominal), and eventually the helmet.

Cricket in a fashionable way: Craig Kieswetter's Converse all star © ESPN

Shoes got sturdier and eventually, aesthetics caught up with functionality. Now, cricket gears are as fashionable as they are protective. The fashion even caught up with the wickets! Now, we have flashing lights on the stumps and the bails.

And then I think about it... with all the changes that have happened to all aspect of the game, one aspect that has remained the same is fielding. Cricket started with fieldsmen catching with their bare hands; they still catch with their bare hands. Every aspect of the game has had a makeover or more. Why do fieldsmen still have to use hands? No special equipment for catching, no technology to aid throws, nothing! You still have to judge the speed of the ball from the sound it makes when it pings off the bat. You still need to run really hard after the ball, and probably dive, to stop it from crossing the rope. As the ball hits your palms from a high catch, the sting is still very much as venomous as it was centuries ago. Why has this aspect of the game remained so? Hmmm... But what do I know? I'm just a groundsman here. Let me roll this mat in before it gets too dark.

- A Groundsman.


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