While Westminster aficionados reel like they have just spent 45 seconds in a cage with Ronda Rousey, we sports fans plug ourselves into the latest instalment of an England v Pakistan Test rivalry that has encompassed Mexican stand-offs, diplomatic ...
Saturday 16 July 2016 22.00Â BST
In the middle of one of British politicsâ€™ strangest months, it was rather a joy to come across a clip of MPs playing cricket in 1924. The British Film Institute (BFI) has just made a substantial collection of archive cricket footage available online, and among the vintage county games, interviews with late legends and scenes of long-lost village life is a news film of a Parliamentary fixture at the Oval â€“ â€œSir Rowland Bladesâ€™s Team v Viscount Curzonâ€, according to the scroll font on the title cards.
There is a crackle of dust on the black and white reels as men in familiar whites walk to the middle, their movements jerking in that Laurel and Hardy fashion that makes even the mundane seem comical. In fact, the whole thing has a whiff of Blackadder about it. The umpire is wearing a pork pie hat and a coat that flaps around him like a dressing gown. Everyone sports the kind of jolly smiles that have been out of fashion since HE Bates wrote The Darling Buds of May.
When Lord Dalkeith is given out lbw, there is no hint of argument or lingering at the crease; Sir Rowland, caught behind, practically bunny hops back to the pavilion. It is rather edifying to see politicians behaving themselves so well, after the rancour and icy treachery of recent weeks. Now that we finally have a new prime minister, the question is bound to arise: will Theresa Mayâ€™s new cabinet be more like the Yorkshire cricket dressing room circa the Boycott saga, or the awkward Ryder Cup afterparty at Brookline?
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In the middle of this midsummer madness, when political headlines have a half-life shorter than most boron isotopes, my experience as a sports fan has never felt more valuable. Who is more used to sudden reversals and unexpected outcomes than those who have recalibrated their gaze to move in time with the Sky Sports News ticker? Donâ€™t talk to us about shock results â€“ we watched Jordan Spieth blow up at Amen Corner in April. We saw Leicester City win the Premier League.
There is nothing new you can teach an England football fan about abject leadership failures and brutal regime change. As for betrayals, we have had to emotionally process Lance Armstrong, Oscar Pistorius and now Maria Sharapova. Michael Gove looks like a first-time offender compared to that lot.
Yes, sports fans have had plenty of practice at our internal crisis management. While Westminster aficionados reel like they have just spent 45 seconds in a cage with Ronda Rousey, we sports fans plug ourselves into the latest instalment of an England v Pakistan Test rivalry that has encompassed Mexican stand-offs, diplomatic disasters and libel suits, not to mention a high-profile spell in a young offenderâ€™s institution for one of its current contestants.
But perhaps sport can learn some perspective from it all too. Back to those BFI clips â€“ one of the rarest and most intriguing lasts only a minute, and shows Prince Ranjitsinhji netting before the first Ashes Test at Sydney in 1897. It claims to be the first ever instance of cricket on film, and it is certainly evidence of a technology still in its infancy â€“ the jumpy nature of the frames never actually captures the ball landing, so Ranji could be hitting airshots for all we know. But it is fascinating to see one of the stars of the gameâ€™s golden age flourishing his long, narrow bat, flashing at cuts and drives and spanking the ball through an imaginary midwicket with a bizarre combination of footwork and backlift.
The reel gives out at a cliffhanger moment, with Ranji coming down the pitch, ready to smash the bowler back over his head. I could not help thinking, as the screen abruptly cut to black, that there was more than a hint of Kevin Pietersen about it. In fact, these images, some dating back over a century, are a nice reminder of how, in these days of fast-paced news when sport seems to lurch from one crisis to the next, in many ways it has not changed at all.