While several trivial incidents have penetrated the zeitgeist during this year’s Ashes series, perhaps the most important moment barely caused a ripple. On the first morning of the second Test at Lord’s, two Just Stop Oil protestors ran onto the field and spread orange powder before being arrested.
Just Stop Oil, an organisation campaigning to end the British government’s licensing, production and burning of fossil fuels, have disrupted other major sporting events this year to promote their message, including Premier League matches, the Premiership rugby final, and Wimbledon.
The entire episode at Lord’s lasted all of five minutes, but that did not stop Piers Morgan engaging in mock outrage at the audacity of the interruption: “Nobody cares anymore about the message because no one’s listening. Just Stop Oil should change their name to Stop Being Utter Pratts.”
From mild annoyance, the reception of the protests soon took on a comical undertone when images circulated of England wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow forcibly removing the activists like a parent might do to a child in a state of tantrum.
“The one chance that’s come Jonny’s way, he’s held on to so far,” smirked Ricky Ponting, as the crowd cheered Bairstow on.
Any lingering public discourse brought on by the protest, however, quickly evaporated when Alex Carey decided to stump Bairstow on day five, an act that set off a firestorm on social media that continues to rage weeks later.
As Australia and England engaged in a verbal brawl via their keyboards, the Earth recorded its hottest temperature in as many as 125,000 years. Ocean temperatures off the coast of Florida, meanwhile, hit 32 degrees Celsius, high enough for a hot tub.
The state of apathy toward such catastrophic developments prompts comparisons with Juvenal’s assessment of a crumbling Roman Empire: “The people have abdicated their duties. Everything now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”
In fairness, the consequences of the human-made shift of global temperatures are not entirely unbeknownst to cricket. A 2018 climate report has revealed cricket, of all the major sports, “will be hardest hit by climate change.”
The game is wildly popular in the antipodes, the sub-continent, the Caribbean and southern Africa, all areas that are expected to suffer intensely under extreme changes caused by the destabilisation of our climate.
The report also recognised that cricket’s close relationship with its environment leaves it uniquely vulnerable. A carefully cultivated pitch can be easily destroyed by intense flash flooding, while standing in a field for a five-day Test match in blaring heat leaves players open to exhaustion or far worse.
Indeed, climate change’s impact on the sport has already begun. As widespread bushfires engulfed Australia across the 2019-20 summer, the air in Sydney became so smoke-filled Australian player Steve O’Keefe said it felt like “smoking 80 cigarettes a day” while on the field.
One cricketing identity who is making proactive efforts to combat climate change is Australian captain Pat Cummins. In 2021, he launched the Cricket for Climate program, which focuses on equipping grassroots clubs with solar panels to reduce their carbon emissions.
But even Cummins expressed discomfort with Just Stop Oil’s protests: “There’s right ways to go about things and potentially not the right way to go about things.”
The cricketing community should be reserving blocks of time in each fixture to highlight the cataclysmic issues that face the game and the wider world, and campaign harder for change. Instead, some of its most powerful voices continue to huff at the thought of some chicken littles interrupting play to warn us of our impending doom.
Of all the dross that has fallen out of Morgan’s mouth, his argument that ‘nobody cares anymore’ because ‘nobody’s listening’ may perhaps be his most observant.