Richards' revolutionary strategy looks right on the big issues

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The Independent Online

That old line about flannelled fools may be in need of revision. For the second week running, a cricketer has made a speech of great force. Last week it was Adam Hollioake, expressing his grief for Ben with a passion that spilled over into his play and sparked two spectacular hundreds. On Monday night it was Barry Richards, the greatest player ever to end up with four Test caps, who turned the MCC's annual "Spirit of Cricket" lecture into a revolutionary tract.

Speaking at Lord's, the home of cricket traditionalism, Richards said the game had to adapt or die and expounded a series of radical proposals for saving it from obscurity. An audience of 300 – approximately 290 of them male, white, over 50 and wearing a club tie – not only listened closely for 40 minutes, but responded with prolonged applause.

The Spirit of Cricket, now an MCC initiative launched in memory of Colin Cowdrey, usually refers to the game's manners and morals. Richards took it another way, examining the game's spirit in the sense of the very breath in its body. Speaking with the crisp assurance of his television commentaries, he sketched the contemporary world (a place some of those present showed little sign of ever having visited), emphasising its pace, impatience, multitude of choices and demand for "action, colour and drama". The possibility of inertia was dispatched like a half-volley: "not changing an activity is to condemn it to antiquity and ultimately to obscurity".

He homed in on the game in England and found the grassroots "largely barren". County cricket "takes place before a tiny sprinkling of mainly elderly spectators. Cricket is in danger of not adapting fast enough". Was the game sustainable, he asked himself. "Only if we change it," he replied.

Richards then reeled off his own ideas for modernising the game, which he stressed were designed to provoke thought. They went something like this:

1. Selectors should give players greater security, to encourage them to play with more freedom.

2. There should be a "bonus element" for good fielding, perhaps even a bonus for entertainment value.

3. There should be a points system, as in boxing, with TV commentators as judges, to rule that one team or the other was ahead on points at lunch or tea.

4. The game should be speeded up: over-rates are too slow.

5. The importance of averages and stats should be downgraded. "I feel very strongly about this. The record books should not give equal weight to a hundred by Adam Gilchrist and another hundred that has taken three or four times as long."

6. Players must put the image of the game before their own self-interest. Richards cited the way England played on the last day of the Lord's Test against Sri Lanka, when, having made the game safe, they made no attempt to steal a win, "and nobody watched". But he also praised them for their mini run-chase at Old Trafford – 50 in five overs.

7. Bowlers must attack the stumps.

8. Boundaries could be shortened. "Ally Brown made 268 in a one-day game, there were 800 runs in the day, and people muttered about short boundaries. Let's have shorter boundaries!"

9. All the technology available must be put at the disposal of the umpires. "Young people bred on technology can't understand why injustices are tolerated. They think, what kind of a game is this?"

10. As well as full-time umpires and referees, there should be a panel of centrally-contracted groundsmen.

Richards finished with pleas for unity among the world's administrators (possibly a dig at Jagmohan Dalmiya of India), for more imagination in scheduling – Bangladesh, who were crashing to their customary innings defeat as he spoke, should have been nursed along for a few years in a league with, say, their neighbours' A teams – and for International Cricket Council to be given greater authority by its constituent boards. He closed, more straightforwardly, by saying it's a great game, "so let's fight to save it".

You couldn't agree with every word. The slow hundred has its place alongside Gilchrist's thunderbolts. Fast scoring is already rewarded: it buys more time to win the match. The ahead-on-points idea might provide an answer to the eternal question of the child going to their first cricket match – 'Dad, who's winning?' – but it would tamper with one of the distinguishing features of the game, the fact that everything remains at least theoretically in the balance until it's over.

But it was a gripping performance, which threw as many pebbles into the pool as a dozen newspaper columns. And it was right on all the big issues. Cricket must do more to attract the young, it must be more welcoming and considerate to its followers, it must be more open to innovation, and it must let the umpires use all the camera angles that the viewer enjoys. This was a speech to remember. You can hear it for yourself at Friday lunchtime on Test Match Special, on Radio 4 LW and at bbc.co.uk/tms – after a year off-line, caused by the England and Wales Cricket Board's own short-lived venture into commentary, TMS is back on the world's computers, at no extra cost to the BBC. Richards would approve.

Tim de Lisle is editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2003

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