If you’ve got a problem – any kind of problem – talk to Michael Vaughan. He’ll have the answer.
It may not be the right answer, but he’ll certainly have one: and that in itself is wonderfully cheering. It’s easy – look, we can do this…
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England’s most successful captain of recent times is playing cricket again, though not in a Test this time. He’s captaining a Test Match Special commentators’ team on Friday 17th August against a celebrity team called the Tailenders, in Derby. A similar fixture last year got an audience of half a million on the BBC red button.
So, let’s ask Vaughan how to fix cricket’s problems.
After all, he’s like Charlie in The Italian Job. You remember the last scene, with the coach balanced on the edge of the cliff, all the gang on the landward side, all the gold over the drop? That’s when Michael Caine, as Charlie, speaks the film’s immortal last words: “Hang on a minute, lads. I’ve got a great idea…”
So, cricket is in crisis. “No it isn’t,” says Vaughan. “Millions of people love cricket. Millions of boys and girls are playing the game, millions of people are watching the game. We need people inside the game to be more positive: don’t go around saying cricket’s knackered when it’s not.”
Vaughan is good at doing the impossi ble. That’s because he has no concept of the impossible. It’s a mindset that brought victory in 2005 when England beat Australia to win an Ashes series for the first time in 16 years. In the final Test at the Oval, with defeat a real prospect, Vaughan had an idea that made all the difference. At lunch on the final day with England on 127 for 5 and just 120 ahead Vaughan told Kevin Pietersen, who was 37 not out: “Go out and take them on.” Fifteen fours and seven sixes later, Pietersen was out for 158, and the draw was secured that won the Ashes for England.
Addressing the eternal problems of cricket is nothing compared with that. Too many people give up cricket at 14, with exams and other pressures. The answer? “All clubs should play nothing but Twenty20 on a Sunday. Doesn’t take the whole day, you can have a barbecue, a bit of music: make it a festival.”
A decent game of cricket depends on a decent pitch to play on, and juniors traditionally get the worst pitches – and so it’s harder to enjoy the game and harder to improve. Vaughan has an idea: hybrid pitches, with natural and artificial elements. All clubs should have them – and, of course, he’s already got a scheme to finance this.
Cricket has become the shrinking game. Five-day Test cricket – nation against nation – was once seen as the leading format. Then it was matches of 65, 60 and 50 overs. These days, if you want money and glory, you play Twenty20 for an Indian franchise. Audiences for Test cricket are diminishing. There’s much sad hand-wringing going on: the most challenging form of the game – for both players and spectators – is being lost.
Bu Vaughanie has a great idea. “The new Test league is the right way to go. But I’d have promotion and relegation. Test matches should last for four days only. Every year, there should be four blocks of six weeks when no country plays anything other than Test cricket. That way you get a story. That way there’s a meaning.”
The unstemmable flow of Vaughan’s ideas is so gloriously life-affirming that I was beginning to wonder about bringing my non-turning off-breaks out of retirement. He’s that kind of man: look, we can do this!
Every sport, every organisation, every individual needs a Michael Vaughan. There are no problems in life, only solutions. We can sort this out, it’s not difficult. I’ve got a great idea…
TMS v Tailenders is live at 4pm on Friday 17th August via BBC iPlayer and the BBC red button