The Pakistan cricket team that toured Australia in 1983 dreamed the dream of all Pakistan Test teams: to be the first to win a Test series on Australian shores.
Names and numbers on players’ backs in Test cricket? What a great idea!
But if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I think I have an ever better idea, which is: what if we never ever ever for all eternity do this, sack every ICC employee responsible for coming up with the proposal, and blackball anyone who ever makes the suggestion again?
I know things must get boring in Dubai, sitting around in air-conditioned offices feeling guilty about getting paid so much to do so little, but that doesn’t mean the ICC should be allowed to assuage their guilt by inflicting on the cricketing world whatever moronic gibberish popped into their head last night in the bath.
No. Just no. Firstly, we know from experience in first-class cricket that names and numbers on whites look hideous. Secondly, in an age when one of the great turn-offs for sports fans is crass commercialism, this would be as crass as it comes. Thirdly, and let me say this loudly for those in the cheap seats (just kidding, nobody at the ICC would ever sit in a cheap seat): WE DO NOT NEED THIS.
I will grant you that other sports have done quite well while using a system of player numbers – and in some cases, names – without any disastrous consequences. But generally these are sports where players tend to fly about the field like pinballs, frequently colliding with each other and rarely standing still for seconds at a time, and therefore a system of identification is actually very useful in those sports.
Whether the numbers are assigned according to position or individual, it helps spectators, officials and commentators to have identifying symbols on the backs.
This is not the case in cricket, in which only two batsmen and one bowler are in action at any one time and determining who they are is as simple as looking at the scoreboard.
Sometimes fielders are less easy to identify instantly, but these guys are standing around for hours – there’s no need to make a snap identification as they whizz past your field of vision. Put simply, currently Test cricket does not suffer from an inability to distinguish between different players, and I’ve never heard anyone say it does.
It’s not actually alone in this: tennis and golf, to name just two, don’t require players to number up, and it’d look bloody stupid if they did.
Now, it is true that names and numbers are in use in limited overs cricket. This was a pointless move in itself – the names were a gimmick and the numbers even more so.
They add nothing to the game whatsoever – but they at least have the virtue that they are printed on already colourful uniforms, and so they do resemble the markers on football kits etc. It’s a bit of a shame they came in, but at least now they’re here, they act as a further splash of colour on coloured strips, and so are not incredibly ugly.
Names and numbers on lovely cricketing whites, on the other hand, are incredibly ugly. We know they’re incredibly ugly because they’ve been introduced to the first class game in various places. They look terrible.
They make the players look less elegant and the game look less professional. They look like sponsorship material slapped across the uniform, without even the benefit of having gained actual sponsorship.
In fact, the enterprise of blotting pure cricket whites with names and numbers is transparently commercial, and looks it. The idea, obviously, is to be able to sell branded whites to rake in further cash from pressurised parents of cricket-loving youngsters who can’t live without wearing the number of their favourite player – as footy teams around the globe have realised, the more alternate strips a team can cram into a season, the more merch they can sell.
A game like cricket, with its multiple forms, is heaven-sent for the marketing grifters who capitalise on this.
But if they do this to Test uniforms, it will look even more nakedly opportunistic, and grossly unattractive. For a start, a Test shirt does not, immediately, display which team’s it is. You have to look closer at the badge to see, because in a Test both teams wear basically the same outfit.
So you’ll see kids walking around wearing a particular player’s shirt without, apparently, wearing a particular team’s shirt. This is weird and off-putting and even worse, will probably mean the next horrible step will be making Test teams play in coloured uniforms, thus making life basically not worth living.
Also, with the clean, crisp, pristine appearance that a regular white cricket outfit possesses, smearing on names and numbers will look inherently like vandalism. Unlike a coloured costume onto which a little extra colour has been added, names and numbers on cricket whites resemble graffiti.
People will say it’s only tradition that is making people resist this change, as if tradition is nothing. But tradition is valuable. Tradition matters to people, especially sports fans – indeed, in sports where numbers have long been standard, it’s tradition that makes those numbers such a part of the fabric.
Tradition matters a hell of a lot, in particular, to fans of Test cricket, a grand and venerable game whose gravitas and appeal rests at least partly on the huge, ornate edifice of history on which it rests.
Every time a Test cricket tradition is trashed, the sport detaches a little more from the moorings that make it worth keeping around. If you want to make Test cricket more like limited overs cricket, why not go all the way and obliterate the long form completely?
If our traditions, our fusty old attachments to relics of a mythic past, are so offensive to you, just bulldoze them now. Kill Tests and make it quick.
Of course tradition alone isn’t enough to justify retaining a practice. But equally, scrapping a tradition can’t be justified purely on the basis that it is a tradition. You have to have a reason to eliminate a traditional aspect of a game: you can’t just say, “that’s old” and leave it at that.
And there is no reason for this one. The people aren’t demanding it. It won’t make the game fairer, or more entertaining, or more accessible. It’ll just make the game more like everything else.
Aren’t we allowed to have a few things, still, that are different?