Sunday, October 21, 2012

Letter to the editor of The Cricketer

I have just sent this to Andrew Miller, editor of The Cricketer, about the lamentable decline of his magazine.

Hello Andrew

I am writing to invite you to persuade me to change my decision not to renew my subscription to The Cricketer when it expires with the December issue.

When I was six I was given the April 1966 edition of Playfair Cricket Monthly, and have read at least one of that magazine, The Cricketer, Wisden Cricket Monthly, The Wisden Cricketer, or the new Cricketer every month since, even after I moved to New Zealand 15 years ago. The decision to break this sequence is not one I would take lightly.

Of the magazines listed, there is no question that The Wisden Cricketer was the best. Month after month it contained writing of an astonishingly high standard; a must-read for the informed cricket follower. Those parts of the magazine that were not exceptional were still sound and often interesting; from cover to cover it radiated quality and high editorial standards. It hardly ever annoyed me.

I don’t think that first-night reviews are fair, so I have left it until the fifth edition of the new-look Cricketer before commenting. But I can’t think of a sentence that describes the decline in standards since then that does not contain “plummet”.

A closer look at the October edition will illustrate what I mean. First, there is an interview with Alistair Cook, the first published since he was named Test skipper probably, a scoop. The first three questions are OK, but then we descend to boofheadery. “Do you give your sheep names…The Only Way is Essex…sweaty palms”. For God’s sake. A journalistic open goal missed.

Then what do we have on page 17? Everybody who opened the magazine even on the day of issue would already have known about Freddie Flintoff’s putative boxing career. At first glance, I thought that the photo of him in training just about justified it, but I read on to discover that the photo was six years old! To fill a page like that is simply insulting to the subscriber. A couple of years ago TWC would have taken the story and done something with it that was different. A few original quotes at least.

The XI was a feature that I used to look forward to. It always produced something that was quirky, or that I didn’t know. This one could have been entitled “The 11 most-repeated press conference stories you knew already”. Much of the magazine now comes across like this: a frantic attempt to fill the pages with the first thing that comes to hand.

There are also the desperate attempts at laddish humour. At its best Test Match Sofa can be very funny in its original audio medium. But you can’t just write that stuff down and expect it to work. Being funny on the page is difficult. It needs talent and hard work. If neither of those is available, better to give it a miss altogether. The same and more so is true of the Swannipedia. Graeme Swann is a breath of fresh air in the game, which makes this contrived drivel all the more difficult to bear.

Worst of all (we have reached the tipping point now) was the five pages of blokes in dinner suits gurning at the camera (no captions to identify them either, which is lazy) with more say-nothing writing around it. Playfair Cricket Monthly used to fill a few pages of one edition a year with photos of blokes in suits at its annual dinner. Even as a primary school kid I thought this was a rip off in a cricket magazine, and I see no reason to change that view now.

There are too many pages on which the writing is bite-sized; gobbets that tell us nothing. The county review devotes fewer than half the words to each county than the equivalent feature two years ago (and the three pages of would-you-believe it pieces that follow don’t count). The Test reports are shorter, so are many of the book reviews and obituaries. You need to give writers a bit of room.

Of course, not all is bad. Mike Selvey, Michael Henderson and Simon Hughes are always interesting (though I can read Selvey online on The Guardian’s website whenever I want). The piece on the 1954/55 tour was quite well done, but for outstanding writing, we had to wait until John Woodcock on Alan Ross. Benj Moorhead is talented too. Giving him space and his head in other parts of the publication would be a start. The Game section is OK of itself, but I don’t play any more, so am not interested in the fitness and equipment stuff. It effectively shortens the magazine by several pages for me.

So, what I would like to know is what readership is The Cricketer now after? Am I correct in concluding from its content that the future of the magazine been staked on uncovering a new market among twenty-something blokes who emerge from the pub on a Friday night with an unaccountable urge to buy a cricket magazine? If so, the rest of us will quietly collect our hats and depart.

Your thoughts would be appreciated.



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