In London right now, it is an hour or more past 9 am. But in Cape Town, South Africa, just over an hour ago, it was 11:11 am, on the 11/11/11 (November 11th 2011), and South Africa needed 111 runs to win the international cricket match that they were playing against Australia. South Africa, sadly, were not 111-1, chasing 222. They were 126-1, chasing 236. So, time and date oddities aside, a cricket match is drawing to a calm, even predictable end. Right? Well, yes. But yesterday, 10/11/11 or 11/10/11 or whatever you call yesterday, it was very different.
Those baffled and/or repulsed by cricket and its arithmetically obsessed followers like me should probably skip the next few paragraphs. Summary: this has been one weird test match. But now, skip down to where it says: “Okay, here is my serious Samizdata-type point.”
Okay cricket nutters, on we go with the story. Here is the sort of thing that was happening in Cape Town yesterday:
W W . 4 . . | W . . . . . | . . W . . . | . . . 4 . W | 1 1 . W
At the end of the first day of this test match, Australia had reached a rather meagre 214-8, but on the morning of the second day, yesterday, they did better, getting to 284 all out, thanks to more excellent batting by their new captain, Michael Clarke, who was last out for 151. South Africa then progressed to 49-1 at lunch. So far so normal.
About an hour later South Africa were all out for 96 having only just avoided the follow-on, the above WW stuff being a slice of that action. Australia then went into bat, and at the tea interval were themselves struggling on 13-3. Then, in no time at all after tea, they had slumped to a truly catastrophic 21-9. They then recovered, if that’s the right word, to the dizzy heights of 47 all out. Another action slice:
W . . 3 . . | . . . W . . | . W . W
The South African Vernon Philander, playing in his first test, took five wickets for fifteen runs, bringing his total for the match to eight. Quite a start. Earlier Shane Watson had taken five for seventeen for Australia.
A Cricinfo commenter suggested that Australia should declare at tea time, setting South Africa two hundred to win in very adverse conditions. He didn’t say, an hour later, that Australia should have declared at tea time. He said it at tea time, when Australia were 13-3. And they probably should have! Australia having batted successfully in the morning, South Africa began their second innings and ended this bizarre day with similar batting success, reaching 81-1 by the close. Today, they began needing only a further 155 to win. If South Africa do win, they’ll be thanking their last wicket pair, Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir, who added thirteen and saved that follow-on. Take away that stand, and South Africa might have lost by an innings by now. As it now stands, and given that they have made a fine start this morning, South Africa now look sure to win.
If, despite being a cricketphobe, you read all that and would like to know approximately what it means, think of it as the cricketing equivalent of a world cup soccer quarter-final match between, say, Italy and Germany, where the scorecard after half and hour was 0-0, but by half time it was Italy 6 Germany 0, and then about fifteen minutes later it was Germany 8 Italy 6, followed by twenty entirely goalless minutes with Germany looking favourites to play out time and win it, 8-6. Calm, mayhem, even greater mayhem in the opposite direction, calm. Bizarre, right? I’ll say.
Okay, here is my serious Samizdata-type point. (Welcome back, normals.)
My point is that the internet is uniting the world into one huge ultra-high-density global super-city. Not a global village, because that would suggest that everyone knows what everyone else is talking about, and, as the above few paragraphs illustrate very adequately, that is not at all what is happening. Most of us are baffled by most of what goes on in our Global Super-City, most of the time. But the thing is, cricket fans like me can now tune into the fine detail of matches which we would never before have been able to find out about. And you can likewise easliy tune into the fine detail of whatever it is that gets you excited and has you interrupting your normal daily routine. When I was a kid, the British mainstream media (the only media we had so we didn’t then call them “mainstream”) enabled me only to pay attention to local cricket games between English counties, and international games between England and whoever England were playing. Following games like this one that is finishing up today, between South Africa and Australia, was something I could not do, in earlier decades. And when cricket got pushed off the British sports pages by soccer (as I had better call it here), life got even harder for what we would now call a “virtual” cricket fan like me. But then, the internet changed everything. It took me a while to realise how much things had changed, but now, I lend a fraction of an eye and ear to pretty much all international cricket matches, and sometimes, as yesterday, my day is severely deranged by events that just demand to be attended to.
Now, like I say, search and destroy the word “cricket” from the above couple of paragraphs, insert instead whatever you care about that happens all over the world, often involving total foreigners on both or all sides. Replace my incomprehensible cricket blather with your own preferred incomprehensible blather. You can now pay attention to that, in a way that you probably never could before. We can all now do this.
This results in a world not so much of geographically separated national cultures, but of globe-spanning and intersecting communities, uniting people from all over the planet into a tightly woven ball made of countless different strands of different coloured and different textured string and wool and twine.
That is an exaggeration. All prophecies of the death of the nation state for as long as the nation state has existed have been exaggerations, and this one is no different. As far as cricket is concerned, the internet doesn’t just plug me into faraway international matches between Not-England and Not-England; it also enables me to track English county cricket in far greater detail than I ever could in earlier decades, even when I was a kid and cricket still vied with soccer as our national game. Nevertheless, the biggest change of the last decade, for me as a cricket nut, has not been that I see my local cricket foreground better, although I definitely do. It is that I see the once far distant world beyond my own country, which in the past I couldn’t not ignore, in the exact same detail.
Similar things have happened in politics. More and more, our various “national” political rulers now also have their own globe-spanning communities of shared interest, and they now increasingly seem to feel more fondness and loyalty towards one another than they do to anyone who merely lives in their country, whom they merely “lead” or “represent”, and it is a different world. Am I the only one who now regards David Cameron not so much as our Prime Minister, but as the local District Commissioner? For part of his day he represents Us to Them, but from where we sit, he seems to spend a great deal more of his time and energy representing Them (he being one of Them) to Us, imposing Their interests on top of Our interests. To me, it all feels rather Medieval, by which I mean that local considerations still matter, but that our rulers are not really members of our various local clubs. They merely own them. They have their own club.
And actually, this has been going on for quite a while, because unlike the rest of us, the world’s rulers have for many decades now had their own email and internet equivalents. They have long been able to afford international phone calls and international telegrams. They flitted around the world, before the rest of us did. The internet has changed the politics of the world not by turning it global, but by causing the rest of us finally to notice that it has been global for quite some time.
That, in my opinion, is a pretty good way to understand the Twentieth Century and its numerous dramas and disasters and mysteries. This was not just a time of national war and national contention. It was a time of global civil war, hot and then cold, in which members of that global club wrestled with one another, using the rest of us as their cannons and cannon fodder, to determine what sort of global club they would all end up members of, and which of them would be the senior members of it. Then, our parents and grandparents found it hard to see this. Now, we can all see it. (Don’t forget that the internet also contains lots of history, much of it different from the national histories that dominated the past.)
South Africa now coasting. 214-1, needing only another 22 runs. Hashim Amla finally out for 112. South Africa 222-2, still needing another 14. Not long to go now. And … South Africa win by eight wickets, with their captain Smith reaching his century off the last ball of the game? It looks that way. Dot. Dot. Dot. One. No, Smith 100, but scores even and South Africa still need another one. Dot. New over. Dot. One, and that’s it.