The return of Test match cricket, Black Lives Matter, and Hugh Jardon | Jack Marshall's column

“Hugh Jardon, 6-9 at Cockermouth; that’s Ben Stokes’ old club, isn’t it?” And with those immortal words from Michael Atherton, cricket was back.

Friday, 24th July 2020, 9:32 am
The recent return of recreational cricket will be both excitement and dread in equal parts to countless players across the country.

2020 has been a mad year so far. A million people took part in anti-Chinese government protests in Hong Kong, half-a-billion animals were killed in rampaging Australian bushfires, and Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was assassinated in a US drone strike, with another 56 people dying in a crush at his funeral. This all happened before the World Health Organization was even notified of Covid-19 on January 7th.

And so - after Sky asked returning club cricketers to send in any standout performances to be read out on air during the first Test against the West Indies - hearing one of England’s greatest cricketers and a man once of Manchester Grammar School and Cambridge University fall so emphatically for such an impudent prank was wonderful.

Through a global lens, Test cricket may seem parochial. But in the midst of a species-altering pandemic, something as reliably familiar as an England batting collapse offers a thirsty sports fan an oasis of calm and sense. Craving the metronomic over-by-over growth of a day’s play and the guarantee that the ball being delivered will be followed by a comfy thwack of leather on willow is only natural.

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But with the warm and indulgent return of Test cricket also came a refreshingly jolting thunderclap of something new, as the evermore important Black Lives Matter movement came crashing into one of the most white and middle-class sports there is.

The passion and eloquence with which Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent spoke was astonishing. Their soliloquies on race and equality coupled with their heartbreaking personal accounts made for deeply moving television, and it would have taken a numb person not to feel a burst of pride and emotion when both teams took the knee before play started, the West Indies players fists raised in black gloves.

One should never make a habit of praising anything affiliated to the odious Rupert Murdoch, but Sky were rightly lauded.

On the pitch, it took English cricket no time at all to find that soothingly lovely and faintly soporific groove which it occupies in the national psyche. Rain delays bit aggressively into the first day and play was halted due to bad light. England twice fell short with bat in hand as the Windies, led by the hugely impressive Jason Holder, romped home to a four-wicket win.

There were grumbly murmurs England had picked the wrong bowling line up. T’was ever thus. Perhaps they can give a certain Mr Jardon a call.