Gentlemen and Players
I enjoyed Michael Jennings' excellent post on cricket, in particular the differences between England and Australia, but on one thing he is mistaken:
The curious thing about cricket is that although the English invented it, it has only ever been played by a particular (shrinking) social class in most of this country, plus in some parts of the country it is a village game, and as Samizdata says, it isn't perceived as modern by anyone else. The people who actually belong to this social class are often unlikely to be interested in careers as professional cricketers, anyway, so the professional game shrinks.
This is rubbish. Cricket was very popular among the working class for many years. Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Mead, Hammond and most of the all-conquering late twenties England side were "players" - professionals, working class, never been to university. Look at a photograph of the Oval in the 1930s and you'll see a ground crowded with 30,000 men on a weekday of a county match, all wearing the flat cap that was the uniform of the urban working class. When I was growing up in early 70s South Shields, the distinction was still that you played football in the winter and cricket in the summer (even if it was still freezing when "summer" began).
The problem is that about then the football season expanded at both ends. Today, there is only about a month's window when the game isn't dominating the sporting pages and airwaves. It is cricket that has born the brunt of this expansion. The young players want to play football most of the summer, and the spectators are either full of the optimism of a new season or biting their nails as the season comes to its conclusion for most of the time. The working class supporters chose football over cricket, leaving it to decay in the hands of the country squires.
Cricket was the game that unified the classes, bringing squire and farmhand, factory-owner and sheet-metal worker, local vicar and foul-mouthed agitator together. I believe Tocqueville in L'Ancien Regime somewhere remarks that the part of the reason the English avoided a revolution was because their aristos and sans-culottes played the game together. Unfortunately, the working class withdrew from this compact comparatively recently, except, as Michael remarks, in Yorkshire. In so doing, we've lost another part of what made England special.