Monday, April 07, 2014

The Tourism Season: It's just not cricket

Who said that the season is getting shorter? Quite the opposite. It is getting longer. Fact. In 1964 it started on 2 May. This year it started on 6 April. Ok, some explanation is needed. The season - the tourism season - is underway (sort of), a number of places having opened over the first week of the month, but I'm not referring to the tourism season. The English county cricket season started on Sunday.

Fifty years ago, resident and tourist alike would not just have had to wait until what has become the official start of the tourism season - May - to catch up with the county scores. They would have to have waited for as long as it took for a British newspaper to find its way on to a newsstand. It seems remarkable now, when scores are available in real time, that this delay was still with us until relatively recently, a delay which, before printing in Europe, typically meant that a paper was read a day late. In the good old days of early tourism, it would have been a longer delay. Matches would have finished by the time it was possible to pore over the scorecards for the first day's play.

Had you been a tourist or resident desperate to know the scores from the first matches of the 1964 season, you would have been engrossed by the passage of play of the first two games of that season. They were slow, painfully slow. This was, after all, the era of the young Geoffrey Boycott and the year when the most mind-numbingly dull test match of all time was played - England v. Australia at Old Trafford. Simpson batted into the third day in scoring 300, and Barrington spent most of the rest of the match making 250. The result? It was a foregone conclusion from the first ball. A very bore draw.

Oddly enough, and despite the sheer tedium that was most cricket in the early 1960s, it still had a hold over the nation's sporting affections (the nation largely of course having been England). But then we didn't really know any different. There was a tradition, and this tradition demanded lack of excitement and staidness. It wasn't just cricket. This was British society fifty years ago, one that was right on the cusp of being shaken out of its traditional stuffiness, stiffness and dullness.

For the tourist (British, that is) in search of the cricket scores in 1964, he encountered something that was anything but dull. This was the new world. Yet for all that there was sun, sea and sombreros, British customs demanded that some traditions were transported south. In compiling the history of the last 50 years of Mallorcan tourism for the "Majorca Daily Bulletin" last year, I was struck by how pervasive this export was. Local hotels had to adapt to different tastes, and local bar owners had to learn how to make a proper cuppa.

Cricket, in its longer form, persists with its bizarre ritual of the "tea break". It is doubtful that much tea is now drunk, as the break is a period for a brief encounter with the masseur and for the quaffing of bananas, but it is a relic of a bygone era, when tea was taken around four o'clock: by cricketers and by the rest of Britain. The tourist would have wanted his or her afternoon cuppa as well until he or she came to appreciate that there were alternatives and they were available in industrial quantities at dirt cheap prices.

What any cricket-loving from the early 1960s tourist would have been unable to indulge in would have been a decent game of beach cricket. I don't know if there has ever been any worthy research into the subject, but I would suggest that the rise of the holiday to Mallorca (and other destinations), where beaches are unlike Weston-super-Mare's, had something to do with the decline in cricket's popularity. Football can, after all, be played on soft sand.

For all that it was new and exciting, the Mallorcan holiday back then held true to traditions that were not Mallorca's but were those of other nations, the British in particular. The first phase of tourism was, in a sense, akin to the rituals and norms of English county cricket. Predictability was demanded, but in pandering to this predictability, Mallorca fell foul of the stodginess that typified cricket.

The holiday to Mallorca became, inadvertently therefore, a tradition with the trappings of an imported culture. It required shocks to wake the island out of the stupor that this created, just as it needed shocks to shake cricket out of its torpor. Kerry Packer and the World Series were cricket's equivalent of the oil crisis. And much closer to the present day, the emergence of fast and furious competitors in distant lands - Egypt, Turkey and so on - is like IPL and T20, with the axis of cricket power having been tilted.

Cricket has had to adapt. Its county season starts a month earlier in order to accommodate the brashness of the 20-over thrash. A traditional sport, shaken to its roots, has been able to move with the times. For Mallorca, the most traditional of holiday destinations, the season hasn't truly started. It has typically got later and shorter.

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