According to a sunday newspaper report, the anthem "Jerusalem" has been selected by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to be sung before Test matches, in the hope that William Blake's stirring lyrics will engender in the players a patriotic fervour not often unbottled by the desultory Thursday-morning clapping to which they are used. It is not quite true but it is a cracking story.
Cracking stories that are not quite true often make the sunday papers, incidentally. It is something to do, I think, with the countenance divine of the news editor shining forth, around Saturday lunchtime, upon the knitted brows of his reporters.
Anyway, as yet "Jerusalem" has not been chosen, but it is on a shortlist and may well get the nod. As for the other songs under consideration, the ECB is playing a straight bat. We can only guess what they are: "Land of Hope and Glory" must be a contender, although this would doubtless unleash a cynical sneer about English cricket being all hope and no glory. There's the national anthem, of course, but when did that dirge ever stiffen the sinews? My own preference would be for a Beatles number. "Good Day Sunshine" would be a nice way of giving choral expression to the crowd's desire for five summer days unblighted by rain. And it's a cracking song, too.
Whatever, if the ECB really has decided that it wants Test matches to be prefaced by a singsong, it must make sure that it gets it right. English rugby, after all, has got it catastrophically wrong. The sight and sound of 70,000 bankers in waxed jackets, corduroy trousers and brogues singing the Negro spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" always makes me feel like supporting the opposition. And when the Twickenham faithful perform their humming version, punctuated by occasionally lewd hand movements, I feel like throwing up. Perhaps I will next time. It would be hugely satisfying to hit a brogue or two.
But it is football rather than rugby that has moved the ECB to take action. Like the man who spends every Sunday morning polishing his 1978 Rover with half an eye on next-door's S-type Jag, cricket's certainty in its own superiority is tarnished by its envy for football's wealth. That is why Twenty20 cricket was devised. A 20-over slogathon between counties, it is an attempt to bring in football-type crowds. And so far it has been a roaring success.
But in feeding the growing need among sporting audiences for instant gratification, Twenty20 cricket merely underlines the innate drawback of Test cricket. If they go the full distance, Test matches last for five days. And still they frequently end in draws, a phenomenon that mystifies Americans, especially when you try to explain a draw can be as satisfying as a win.
It is a sad truth that almost every aspect of our culture is falling prey to creeping Americanisation. Cricket is no exception. So Test matches have to be made sexier without changing the rules, which are sacrosanct, and one way of doing so is to follow football's example and get the crowd singing. Thus, in theory, would the first morning of every Test match mimic the FA Cup final, which has adopted the moving hymn "Abide With Me".
It is nice to think that "Jerusalem", or whatever anthem the ECB chooses, will one day do the same job as "Abide With Me" used to do at the Wembley of old. Or nearly the same job. For in the days before all-seater stadia, as "Abide With Me" rang out and the hairs used to rise on the back of one's neck, so, on occasion, did the urine begin to flow down the back of one's leg. Cricket can only dream of packing them in like that.
But is the idea of Lord's rocking to "Jerusalem" another unattainable dream? Certainly, it is hard to imagine the venerable Marylebone Cricket Club member, in his faded egg-and-tomato tie, loudly calling for his bow of burning gold. Loudly calling for another gin, perhaps, but not his arrows of desire.
Still, for all the practical hurdles, no sporting occasion was ever diminished by a mass singalong, although admittedly I write as one of the few people I know under 70 who rather enjoyed Sir Cliff Richard's impromptu concert in the Centre Court drizzle at Wimbledon a few years ago.
Moreover, whatever my disdain for hearty English rugger buggers and their rendition of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot", there is no doubt that most of the Twickenham crowd find it uplifting. And more importantly, so do the players.
So despite the inevitable opposition of cricket traditionalists, I think the ECB should press ahead with a pre-Test anthem. And, on the whole, I think it should be "Jerusalem", not least because there is something deliciously English about a hymn in which, with wild, glorious, patriotic abandon, we describe our land as "pleasant". Who knows, it might inspire our cricketers to perform rather usefully.Reuse content