If you follow cricket on social media, you might come away with the impression that our game is in disarray and more divided than ever. You’re either a Test fan or a Hundred fan — but you can’t be both.
I’ve found that division difficult to deal with. And I don’t think it reflects the reality.
I can see that we need to be careful about the direction the game’s going in, and the Test series that starts at Lord’s on Wednesday between England and South Africa will be an important reminder of the balance we need to strike.
Ben Stokes and England will face South Africa in their three-Test series starting on Wednesday
But I’ve been all round the country this summer covering everything from Test matches to the T20 Blast to the Hundred, and it’s clear to me that different formats attract different crowds. That, surely, is something to celebrate.
If you go to a Hundred match, there are far more women, children and families — and they’re all having a great time. That’s not spin. It’s a fact. And we shouldn’t be afraid of it. These spectators are our future fans and players. If they start with the Hundred or the Blast, they may end up watching red-ball stuff later down the line.
My overall view, though, is that everything needs to be in proportion. For me, first-class county cricket is the starter, Test cricket the main course, and all the white-ball stuff the pudding — enjoyable and moreish.
And if TV companies keep spending more money to broadcast franchise cricket around the world, then you have to say it’s a simple case of supply and demand. If their money future-proofs the game, it’s hard to argue with.
Will Smeed hit a superb 101 for Birmingham Phoenix against Southern Brave in the Hundred
But — and it’s a big but — you don’t want to be eating pudding every night of the week for the rest of your life. And that’s where the game has an issue.
Granted, I may be a 54-year-old ex-England captain who grew up watching my heroes Graham Gooch, David Gower and Ian Botham score Test runs and take Test wickets. That was how I was weaned.
Last summer, my abiding memory is the passion the Indian side brought to the Test arena. This summer, I’ve been blown away by what Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum have achieved.
So if you ask me what the highlight so far of this summer has been, it has to be the four Tests against New Zealand and India, where England chased down one big total after another.
If this series against South Africa can provide more of the same, it will be great for Test cricket.
The Hundred has attracted a new brand of cricket supporters – shown here at Old Trafford
Ask me to tell you about a game from last year from the Blast, the Hundred or the IPL, and I’d struggle to recall the details. But I can give you chapter and verse on England v India in the second Test at Lord’s.
Then again, ask a teenager, and they’ll go for Will Smeed’s hundred for Birmingham Phoenix, or Alice Capsey’s cameo the other day for Oval Invincibles.
My response may just be typical of my generation. But I believe the game would be losing something fundamental if the only format we watch is T20 franchise stuff.
One area of concern is the extent to which white-ball cricket is now getting hold of players at the start of their careers.
It used to be the case that older players would ride off into the T20 sunset, and make a bit of cash before calling it a day.
England ODI captain Jos Buttler helped his Manchester Originals down Welsh Fire on Tuesday
Someone like Kieron Pollard, who is 35, is a good example, and is still hitting sixes for fun in the Hundred. But the other day at Old Trafford it was fascinating to watch Tristan Stubbs, a South African who has just turned 22, walking off to a standing ovation after hitting 27 off 10 balls, with four sixes, for Manchester Originals.
Ten balls and four sixes are all you need to become box-office, and attract the IPL owners. If you’re starting your career now, there is a direct route — if you’re talented enough — to making a million. I don’t blame the players for choosing it.
Clearly, though, that choice will come at a cost to red-ball cricket, and the sport as a whole needs to keep an eye on that trend.
In England, Test cricket remains healthy. Sky’s viewing figures for the New Zealand series and the one-off game against India went through the roof.
But world cricket, and South African cricket in particular, needs these Tests at Lord’s, Old Trafford and the Oval to produce exciting matches — and remind everyone that without the longest form of the game, cricket as a whole becomes a less fulfilling sport.