YESTERDAY morning Lord's unveiled its answer to the state opening of parliament: the Handing Over of the Computer. Yet behind this bizarre new ritual and the chummy air of conciliation at HQ, there lurks a tale of passion, naked greed and rebellion, all in the name of that hardy band without whom cricket would lack all meaning - the scorers.
Once upon a time a scorer left home with a knife and a lump of wood on which to carve notches. Then he graduated to a couple of pencils, a rubber, a scorebook and a copy of Wisden. Since his craft entered the techno age last April, however, suitcases have been de rigeur.
Instead of scribbling notation in a scorebook the scorers now have to log even more detailed information - where the ball was hit, who fielded it - into a lap-top and thence down a telephone line to Computer Newspaper Services. The material is then transmitted to clients such as the Press Association, who in turn produce scoreboards and brief reports to supply the newspapers.
The near score of scorers assembled in the pavilion yesterday were each handed a lap-top and training manual to arm them for the hostilities ahead. The purpose of this historic meeting between the Test and County Cricket Board and the 18 county scorers, according to the TCCB cricket secretary, Tim Lamb, was 'to regain the confidence of the scorers' following the chaos that initially ensued when keyboard and screen displaced biro and book. 'That,' retorted Ted Lester, Yorkshire scorebox alumnus and chairman of the newly formed Association of County Cricket Scorers, 'may take a little bit of doing,' though Vic Isaacs, now the senior scorer and in his 20th year with Hampshire, is 'confident' the new programme is an improvement.
A year ago the cramming was frantic, recalls Isaacs, one of three scorers on the TCCB / CNS Computerised Scoring Working Party set up last November to help CNS to improve their programme, 'We only received the lap-tops a week or so before the first matches. It was a case of 'there you are, get on with it.' '
Ushering men of advancing years into the world of bytes and modems was risky. Failing to consult them fully was begging for trouble. The Press Association-owned CNS system requires the scorer to double as reporter, thus saving its parent company a considerable sum of money in supplying newspapers.
The comedown was swift and bumpy. At 11am on the first morning of the season, the BT line at Fenner's was down; at The Parks it had not even been installed. Oversights were rife. Overs could contain six deliveries and six deliveries only, no allowance having been made for no-balls, etc. Run-outs were credited to the bowler.
From Southampton to Stockton- on-Tees, cheery souls metamorphosed into peeved Luddites. The upshot was that this least militant of species were driven to form the ACCS, 'to promote and protect the status of cricket scorers.'
George Austin, Warwickshire scorer for 30 years or more, used to boast that not even the most insistent call from Mother Nature could compel him to miss more than one over. What happens in the techno age? 'Perhaps,' suggested Jack Bannister in the informative ACCS newsletter, 'an extra 'p' on the keyboard will solve the problem.'
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