Tim De Lisle: Football-style coloured clothing betrays essential elegance of game

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The Independent Online

It's time to tear ourselves away from bat and ball. This column will not be about Vikram Solanki's wristy elegance, James Anderson's whippy arm action, Andrew Flintoff's thrifty nip-backers, Grant Flower's signature nudge, Michael Vaughan's travails, Graeme Smith's even greater travails, or England's imaginative attempt to build a new team without a middle order. There are wider issues to be addressed, such as the state of the players' wardrobe.

They are playing in the wrong colour. Or rather, they are wrong to be playing in colour. A full 25 years after the Packer revolution, we can see that while most aspects of day-night cricket have worked, coloured clothing has not. It isn't stylish, it isn't upmarket, and it isn't cricket.

England's one-day uniform has improved since the days when Ian Botham's beer gut was a little too snugly encased in sky blue, but the improvement is merely a minor upgrade, from Coventry City to Portsmouth. It's still football gear with longer legs.

The manufacturers of the England kit are Admiral, whose main business is football. And by the look of it, they haven't even bothered to give the designers a fresh brief. The numbers are like football. The names are like football. The hues are like football, or worse - royal blue rather than Spurs navy, and Liverpool red set against the blue, a combination whose naffness can be demonstrated by the well-known logo that shares it (Sky Sports). The sponsor's name is like football, sprawling across the midriff in the manner like a roll of fat. The fabric is like football, shiny and possibly not occurring in nature. The effect is different: impoverished, second-hand, embarrassing.

Fifty years ago, there was another sport whose kit closely resembled cricket's, and it didn't involve a bigger ball. Long white trousers, white shirts, white sweaters, white footwear... tennis has moved on as well, and although it was clearly right to dump the trousers, it has retained the essence of the look, for Wimbledon at least. There is still such a thing as a tennis shirt, and it's a nice thing to wear. Fred Perry and Lacoste have both restored their fortunes on the back of it.

When Wimbledon exerts its annual magnetism, part of the attraction lies in the kit. White on green is just a classic look, and as Nike and the rest have shown, it leaves plenty of room for manoeuvre: in the hands of any half-decent designer, restrictions are creative. If cricket has to ape another sport, it should be tennis.

Better still, cricket should find a style of its own. Whites should be worn for all senior cricket, with subtle variations to indicate the type of game being played. For Tests, there could be an almost pure white (sponsors, please shrink), but with names and numbers, which are a vital courtesy to the floating spectator.

The names and numbers should be in a distinctive, non-football style, either in grey or outline type so as not to clash with the white. The name needs to be more than one word - "Smith" is not much use to anyone, still less "Khan" or "Singh". The number, with apologies to Jacques Kallis and his ailing dad, must follow the batting order. If you insist on having 99, Mr Vaughan, you'll find it at the ice-cream stall.

In the one-day game, there can be more leeway. The country colours could be there as epaulettes on the shirts. There could be coloured armbands that would work like belts in judo - not black, because those need to be available in case any more cricketers with a conscience come along, but, say, purple for those with 6,000 runs or 300 wickets, shading down to nothing for beginners. Small boys, the only constituency that would be sorry to see the back of the coloured shirts, would warm to the idea of the clothes expressing the players' achievements, like a prefect's tie.

But these are just half-baked thoughts. Cricket should get some proper designers in. The task of designing improved kits for the next big international tournament, the International Cricket Council Champions Trophy 2004 in England, should be handed to Paul Smith.

Women - a section of the human race whose existence has recently been made known to cricket's rulers - tend to prefer whites. Last month a mother of two was telling about taking her boys to a Twenty20 game. "I loved it," she said, "I just wish they'd wear white. So much more elegant." She was spot on: the one blot on the opening Twenty20 match, between Hampshire and Sussex, was that both sides wore black. We all spend enough time doing that already.

Yesterday I was idly e-mailing a friend, as you do when you have a deadline to meet, and I asked her where she stood on the question of kit. "Personally," she said, "I find cricket whites incredibly sexy." She had once had a crush on a boy, "mainly on account of his flannels". Nobody has ever had a crush on a boy on account of his royal-blue nylons.

Both these women are writers, which makes sense. Whites fire the imagination in a way that coloured kit doesn't. They express some of the game's most beguiling qualities - elegance, nostalgia, pastoralism. Of course there's more to cricket than this, and much damage has been done to it over the years by those who emphasise these aspects over its sporting properties - drama, athleticism, vitality and excitement. But as long as those things are being expressed by other means, principally the way the game is reported and broadcast, then the clothes can be left to concentrate on the elegance.

And what of the ball, you may be wondering? That should be orange.

Tim de Lisle is editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2003