How I Won The Ashes, 1st Newsletter 27 November 2009

The Ashes

27 November 2009
Hello and welcome to the first edition of How I Won The Ashes.

As I said, how I actually won the Ashes will be told at some point in the future, but I hope you are curious, because it’s quite a bold claim!
 
Every Friday, I will give all you hard working souls some light relief as you wend your way home and settle down to a nice quiet evening with the weekend ahead of you. Even if your evening is not quiet, it may provide some talking points in pubs and bars.
 
As the name suggests, the subject matter will be cricket.  There aren’t many weeks of the year when something is not happening in the world of cricket and I will be offering some thoughts on current topics and events. In time, I hope you will feed in some of your own views. Naturally I also hope you will forward this to anyone whom you think will enjoy it and encourage them to respond, so they can receive future editions and join in the fun.
 
If you twitter, there may also be occasional postings on http://twitter.com/HowIwontheAshes

Below is what I will be covering this week:

• Click meTest cricket v One Day cricket

• Click meIndia v Sri Lanka, 1st & 2nd Tests at Ahmedabad and Kanpur (and more on Test v One Day cricket)

• Click meAustralia v West Indies, 1st Test at Brisbane

• Click meNew Zealand v Pakistan, 1st Test at Dunedin and thoughts on Daniel Vettori

• Click meSouth Africa v England, ODI at Cape Town

• Click meOn this day: 28 November 1986, Australia v England, 2nd Test at Perth

See?Test cricket v One Day cricket

The theme of this week is test cricket, a welcome return to the long form of the game after several months of the 50 and 20 over formats.  There have been three test matches going on, between India and Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Pakistan and Australia and the West Indies.  India have now comprehensively beaten Sri Lanka in Kanpur, Australia have the upper hand in Brisbane and the final day in Dunedin could go either way.  There’s also the small matter of England playing South Africa in yet another one dayer.  More of that later.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against games that take 3 or 6 hours to be concluded. They can often provide great entertainment.  The first World Cup Final in 1975, the first 20:20 final in 2007 and the first IPL final in 2008 were each cliffhangers which either side could have won until the very end. They gloriously showed that cricket can be the ultimate form of sporting drama, no matter what the format.  The fact that it can take place in a single day makes it, in many spectators’ eyes, even more satisfying.

However, I make no apology for being a traditional fan who believes that test matches are capable of engineering a more subtle and absorbing means of enjoying cricket.  Individual passages of play can be dramas in their own right: a batsman trying to reach a century, or, having done so, staying in until the end of the day; a side trying to achieve a lead or set a defendable target; and ultimately the entry into the final part of the match when either side can win, or, if it is late on the final day, where all four results are conceivably possible.  Or even when only one side can win, but is engaged in a struggle to take the necessary wickets to win the match before time runs out. Two innings matches where the final session begins with the match still on a knife-edge are , of course, very rare; but the build up to such a session can often be as stimulating as the denouement, especially if the two sides are evenly matched and the pitch allows an equally even contest between bat and ball.top

See?India v Sri Lanka, 1st & 2nd Tests at Ahmedabad and Kanpur (and more on Test v One Day cricket)

Which brings me to the first match to kick off the current round of test matches, the bore draw that took place in Ahmedabad last week between India and Sri Lanka.  To recap: India scored 421 in their first innings, only to be surpassed by a mammoth reply of over 750 by Sri Lanka, who went down the route of batting only once and then attempting to win by an innings. But the only winner was the pitch, which gave no help whatsoever to the bowlers, apart from early on the first morning when India found themselves 32 for 4 after only half an hour. From that point on, though, only 17 more wickets fell in the entire match. Seven centuries were scored, including 177 by Dravid and 275 by Jayawardene, India easily batted out the last day without ever having a chance of winning and the only point of interest was whether Sachin Tendulkar would register yet another century.  Once he did so, the two sides agreed there was no point carrying on and as dull a final day of a test match as ever can have taken place ended an hour early.

For now, I am not going to attempt to get into the politics or economics of the global game.  I may do so another time, as there is plenty to say. However, it is a complicated subject and many are better qualified than me to opine, though not necessarily the actual administrators of the game.  It has been alleged by several commentators that the Indian Cricket Board are intent on killing off test match cricket, so dazzled are they by the riches of 20:20 cricket. The thinking is that dull, flat pitches are deliberately prepared  to prove to the watching  public  that the short form of the game is so much more exciting.

The paltry crowd who watched the 1st Test at Ahmedabad could only agree.  However, those who romanticise about the old days when over 100,000 would cram into Eden Gardens in Calcutta or the Wankhede Stadium in Bombay need to remember that most of those spectators had neither televisions nor radios, so the only way they could indulge their inherent passion for cricket was to go to the game itself. Now, though, there is a more even distribution of wealth, cheaper consumer goods and an increasingly sophisticated and commercially astute media. As a result, the short form of the game, with all its scheduling predictability and razmattaz, is much more appealing to broadcasters and spectators alike, especially the younger generation, less wedded to tradition.

It looked like the 2nd Test between India and Sri Lanka was destined to go the same way, when India racked up over 600 on an equally flat pitch where the mystery bowler Ajantha Mendis, Muttiah Muralitharan and the more vanilla Rangana Herath struggled to make any headway.  Ironically it was Herath who took the most wickets of the three.  Not much more than a year ago, Mendis burst on the scene and reduced the fearsome Indian batting line up to quivering wrecks with his freakish assortment of googlies, off breaks, leg breaks, doosras and carom balls.  Admittedly this was on the spicier pitches in Galle and Colombo.  Had it not been for an extraordinary double hundred in Galle by the equally freakish Virender Sehwag, Sri Lanka would have won all three matches of that series. 

Now Mendis appears to be no more than a trundler and the Indian batsmen are scoring freely off him. The inexorable batting of the Indians broke the spirit of the Sri Lankans, who have meekly capitulated in the way they hoped India would in Ahmedabad after so long in the field. One of the key bowlers is not even a spinner, but instead was the fast bowler Sreesanth, who has not played a test match in almost two years.  Taking 6 wickets on a dead pitch (including 5 in the first innings) is arguably a more impressive performance than taking 8 wickets on a fast bowlers’ paradise in Johannesburg to help India to their first ever win in South Africa in December 2006.top

See?Australia v West Indies, 1st Test at Brisbane

Nevertheless, Kanpur was a one-sided, dull affair and hardly an advertisement for test cricket, even if it held the added significance of being India’s 100th test victory. Down in Brisbane, a similarly one-sided affair is taking place between two teams that, unlike India and Sri Lanka, are really not evenly matched.  At the end of day 2, West Indies are 134 for 5, still 346 runs behind Australia’s commanding first innings.  An Australian victory is inevitable, the only question being whether the West Indies have the gumption to take the game into a fourth day. Brisbane is, of course, a phenomenally difficult place for even the best visiting teams to win;  but the current West Indies team, even if it were interested in test cricket, must make the likes of Richards, Lloyd, Holding and Lara pull their hair out with shame.  Riven by strife with their governing body, and seemingly only interested in the one day game, there is a real case for barring the West Indies from test cricket, on the grounds that there is really nothing to be enjoyed by watching them.  Let them stick to the one day game, by all means, where they can be enormously entertaining. But their performances over the last few years show that test cricket is better off without them.  It makes their series win against England earlier this year even more embarrassing, although, to be fair to England, their downfall was caused by one crazy collapse in Kingston and a series of pitches and matches that made Ahmedabad and Kanpur seem spicy and vibrant by comparison.top

See?New Zealand v Pakistan, 1st Test at Dunedin and thoughts on Daniel Vettori

But it needn’t all be doom and gloom for the lovers of test cricket. Down in Dunedin, New Zealand and Pakistan are involved in a thrilling, absorbing game, which either side could yet clinch, unless the weather spoils things on the last day.  Given that this is the earliest ever test match to be played in a New Zealand summer, the equivalent of an April test match in England, rain is a real risk.  This would be a shame, because it has been a see-saw affair, exactly what one wants in a test match, and it deserves an exciting conclusion.

New Zealand did very well to score over 400 in their first innings, having been 211 for 6.  But you are never through the New Zealand innings until you have dismissed Daniel Vettori, and so it proved. As he has done so many times, he dug in and played an outstanding innings, only to be dismissed off the penultimate ball of the second day for 99.  At least he can comfort himself that he already has 4 centuries to his name, unlike Shane Warne, who once scored 99 in a test match but never notched a ton. Vettori is regarded by some as one of the best ever No. 8s, and at the moment he has attained almost god-like status in New Zealand cricket, as a captain, all rounder, selector, coach and administrator.  He has taken over 300 wickets and scored nearly 3,500 runs.  Given that he is only 30, and a spinner, there is a real possibility that he could eclipse the great Sir Richard Hadlee.  He already has more runs, more hundreds and a higher average than Hadlee managed as a batsman.

Later tonight, his skills as a captain and as a bowler will be required.  Pakistan have done well to fight back into the game.  At one point they were 85 for 5 but the Akmal brothers, Umar and Kamran, put on 176 and Pakistan clawed their way back so that New Zealand led by less than 100, when they had threatened to be out of sight at the halfway stage.  Pakistan’s bowlers have now brought them even closer to parity, reducing New Zealand to 147 for 8 (including Vettori) by the end of the fourth day.  However, on a wearing pitch, you’d still make New Zealand marginal favourites on the last day, especially if the last two wickets can muster, say, 20 or 30 more runs, setting Pakistan nearer 300 than 250 to win.  If the weather holds off, it could be very interesting, exactly what test cricket should be like.  Unfortunately for those of us in the UK, we will be fast asleep.top

See?South Africa v England, ODI at Cape Town

So, finally, as I conclude, I see that South Africa have flayed England all around the park at Cape Town in the 3rd One Day International, finishing on 354 for 6.  However, I wouldn’t rule out England making a decent attempt at chasing this down.  South Africa’s bowling has so far lacked conviction, although they will be bolstered by the return of Wayne Parnell; but any of Strauss, Trott, Collingwood, Pietersen or Morgan are capable of playing the big innings that will be necessary.  We’ll find out shortly.

So that’s it for this week.  I hope you found the arguments in favour of test cricket interesting.  There’s been plenty of evidence in favour of both points of view, from Ahmedabad, Brisbane and Dunedin.  In time, I will attempt to analyse the commercial issues and would welcome your views on whether you think test cricket can survive in the long term.top 

See?On this day: 28 November 1986, Australia v England, 2nd Test at Perth

One bit of nostalgia, which I will attempt to repeat each week: I will find an event from down the years that took place on this date and share it with you.  My choice this week is 28th November 1986, the first day of the 2nd Test at Perth between England and Australia on Mike Gatting’s tour, the last time England won in Australia. England batted first and Chris Broad and Bill Athey put on 223 for the first wicket, England racked up almost 600, with Broad making 162, one of 3 centuries he scored on that tour. Unusually for Perth, the match ended up as a draw, with Australia batting strongly and England not being left enough time to bowl them out a second time. 

Two bits of trivia for you to ponder (and I’d be impressed if you don’t look them up, though I obviously can’t stop you): which English wicket keeper also scored a century in that first innings? And which Australian legend took 5 wickets in England’s second innings, one of only 3 occasions he managed this feat?top

Enjoy your weekend. Look out for how New Zealand fare against Pakistan.  If you have Sky and are up late, you might even tune in, if you have nothing better to do.  I hope Sky don’t insist on beaming you into Brisbane, at the exclusion of Dunedin, because that would be a huge waste.

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2 Responses to “How I Won The Ashes, 1st Newsletter 27 November 2009”

  1. How I Won The Ashes, 2nd Newsletter 4 December 2009 « How I Won The Ashes Blog Says:

    […] See?Test cricket v One Day cricket (continued from 27 November 2009) […]

  2. How I Won The Ashes 5th Newsletter 10 January 2010 « How I Won The Ashes Blog Says:

    […] and that it would not be decided until the final match in Johannesburg.  See the first edition of How I Won The Ashes on 27 November 2009 and the second edition on 4 December 2009. But I could not have known how dramatic this series […]

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