This summer the Chronicle is bringing you another look at some of the best content of 2019. This story originally ran on January 3,2019
I've just had a few weeks far from the madding crowd.
I read Thomas Hardy's novel of that title many years ago. I'd struggle to dredge up its story line now — I think it involved betrayed love against a background of cow bloat and fresh-cut hay — but I always thought the title neatly expressed a highly desirable location.
This holiday, the one time I ventured into the local shopping centre I couldn't wait to beat a retreat.
The pre-Christmas air shimmered with a toxic mania that permeated the place like escaped nuclear radiation. God only knows what it was like for the Boxing Day-that-lasts-a-week sales.
But off the beaten track, unfettered by the pernicious networking world of the various miracle electronic "devices", you're left to your own devices. And, such is the pervasiveness of the electronic kind, you're hard-pushed to recall what your own devices exactly are.
However, what with the languid overhead whump-whump of the kereru, an agreeable sense of lassitude slowly insinuates itself.
This lacuna of calm normally attracts a boon companion — not so much a device as just an ordinary vice. Cricket.
As I write, the second test between the Black Caps and Sri Lanka is in progress, and the Kiwis are looking good. But there's a hitch.
Despite a revolution in global sports coverage, with instant televisual coverage of every loopy sport going, basic radio commentary of cricket has been dumped — at least, up north anyway. Such is the triumph of the communication age.
No more languorous Plunket Shield or test commentaries. Gone are the Iain Gallaways of the world leisurely opining wonderfully how the outgoing batsman was able to compile the slowest single-figure total in Shield history for a left-handed batsman wearing unpaired socks.
Cricket atheists say that losing radio commentary is a welcome start to axing the code completely.
However, these nay-sayers miss the point of cricket entirely. They think it's just a stupid game.
Well, actually, all games are pretty stupid — involving, as they usually do, grown persons expending huge amounts of energy furiously chasing silly balls of various sizes.
But they expose their ignorance that the sport of cricket was cannily devised to disguise its true intention — namely, to provide a pretext for organised idleness, one of the most therapeutic of all occupations.
These days, the air is thick with the dreaded "stress" — she's over-stressed, he needs to de-stress, oh to be stress-free, and so forth.
People expend fortunes on stress experts, stress counsellors, and stress remediation.
Not so long ago, if you were feeling a bit stressy, you just went to the cricket with a Thermos, cut lunch, and a tasselled tartan Mosgiel car blanket to sit on. The plangent tock of leather on willow soon worked its magic.
But lately, modern life mania has besmirched the sacred game.
The epoch has passed where once the likes of a Geoffrey "Boycs" Boycott held sway. During the course of a typical Blocker Boycs' marathon innings, he frequently batted for 30- or 40-minute stretches without bothering the scorer, and thus — through a devious form of mass hypnosis — induced spectators into a deep, remedial temporary coma.
Now the need for frenetic instant gratification is reflected in the wham, bang, hoik and tonk slug-fests that mostly comprise the sacred game. Doctor Grace and the Don would be mortified ... the only vestiges of the game's hallowed verities to survive are in the few remaining test matches.
Even here, so unhinged have cricketing authorities become that they now try to pass off just two tests as a "series". It's a wonder they haven't already been prosecuted for false advertising.
As any schoolgirl could tell them, it needs at least three units to create a series. Two units are merely a sequence. And, as such, of no consequence.
It's all very madding.