Post 21: Cricket and the push/pull of the information age

I’m a cricket fan. I adore the longer form of the game.

Part of me understands that a game which spans thirty hours over five days is anachronistic and I see why some say Test cricket is dieing. It’s easy to see the logic that asserts that condensed forms of cricket tailored to the hectic demands of modern life make more sense than a game invented to prevent Victorian men from feeling bored.

Except they don’t, because Twenty/20 cricket still needs a big slab of one’s time to watch. Matches require at least 150 minutes, a long-ish period to devote to a contest that generally lacks the tension that comes with a tactical game in which thrust and counter-thrust are part of the play. Twenty/20, in my experience of the game, has few moods. Things are either going well, or badly. There are few shades of grey.

For me, Test cricket’s ability to provide a finely graded spectrum of states of play is its strength and the reason I appreciate the game. Appreciate, however, may not quite be the word. I’ve long thought of Test cricket as a not-unpleasant anxiety to be endured. Just knowing there is a match in progress makes me ache for information about it. When I can devote my full attention to it, I will do so. At other times, I seek out the less sensorily intensive  ways of covering the game. For me, the sound of an Australian summer is a slight increase in urgency of the sounds emitted by an AM radio, the increased noise being a sign to devote more of my attention to the goings-on in a  game I cannot stop myself being curious about.

I also adore technology and the way it enables communication. Tools like Twitter allow me to immerse myself in my friends and sources of information I value. Myriad other services let me watch or learn or hear what I want to, when I want to.

Today, those tools are applied to cricket following old models. They insist I pull information, rather than anticipating my needs. Test cricket, it seems to me, can thrive if it inverts the pull and instead embraces the fact that while it is hard to immerse oneself in 30 hours of action, it is possible to deliver a variable drip of information that gives those with interest but little capacity for full attention the essential experience of the game by blending short updates, near-relatime video and other ways of presentingthe game.

If cricket can get this right, I believe it will create an experience more compelling than any two-hour hit and giggle.

And I’ll happily pay for this partial-attention experience,  rather than for subscription television. Especially as the latter is giving away summaries for free! But that’s another story.

P.S. I know I owe you all a third way of funding journalism in the future. I’ve also got a fourth. I’m working on them and you can expect a post … eventually.

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