How I Won The Ashes, 2nd Newsletter 4 December 2009

The Ashes

4 December 2009

Hello and welcome to the second edition of How I Won The Ashes.

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!
 
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Below is what I will be covering this week:

Click meNew Zealand v Pakistan, 1st & 2nd Tests at Dunedin and Wellington

Click meAftermath of Australia v West Indies, 1st Test at Brisbane

Click meLooking ahead to South Africa v England Test series

Click meIndia v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test at Bombay and thoughts on Virender Sehwag

Click meTest cricket v One Day cricket (continued)

Click meThe obsession with money

Click meCultural Vandalism

Click meOn this day: 4th December 1979, India v Pakistan 2nd Test at Delhi

See?New Zealand v Pakistan, 1st & 2nd Tests at Dunedin and Wellington

Well, I said last week the final day between New Zealand and Pakistan at Dunedin would be exciting and so it proved.  Pakistan ended up needing 251 to win and lost 3 early wickets; but they fought back and Umar Akmal, in particular, looked to have done the hard work and was ready to see them home.  New Zealand, however, got back into the game, Ian O’Brien getting rid of Shoaib Malik after a gritty stand with Umar.  Even then, the Akmal brothers might have won it for Pakistan, taking them to 195 for 5.  But they both fell in quick succession, the tail folded and New Zealand won by 32 runs: a fantastic advertisement for test cricket.  The 2nd test has now started and after day 2, it looks likely that Pakistan will level the series, having secured a big lead after bowling out New Zealand for only 99 and now 229 ahead with 8 second innings wickets still standing.top 

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

Less interesting, but more predictable, was the West Indies’ capitulation to Australia inside 3 days at Brisbane.  It was, though, heartening to see Adrian Barath score a hundred in his first test match and then say that, as far as he is concerned, test cricket is the ultimate form of the game.  Perhaps I was being a bit harsh on the West Indies last week; but they still have some way to go to lose their reputation as permanent whipping boys in the long form of the game. I see they have stayed competitive in Adelaide, with Dwayne Bravo notching a century as they scored 336 for 6; but I still think the Australians will be too strong.top

See?Looking ahead to South Africa v England Test series

This week has also shown how schizophrenic South African cricket can be and makes their current No. 1 status pretty tenuous.  Having destroyed the English bowling last Friday, two days later they were bowled out for 119.  Admittedly they beat both England and Australia in their own back yards in the test series in 2008; but they then lost the return series in South Africa 2-1 to an Australian team that was pretty average.  You certainly can’t see South Africa dominating the way the great Australian teams used to, who twice won 16 tests in a row, under Waugh and Ponting; so I think the upcoming test series with England will be pretty close and I don’t think South Africa are as strong favourites to win as some people believe.top

See?India v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test at Bombay and thoughts on Virender Sehwag

I referred last week to the freakish Virender Sehwag and he has lived up to that billing in Bombay, having ended the second day of the 3rd test between India and Sri Lanka on 284 not out, scored in only 239 balls. He began the third day needing a mere 16 runs to become the first batsman ever to score three separate triple centuries, and had he got going, he might have challenged not only Lara’s test record of 400 but also his all time high score of 501. Instead he was dismissed for 293, somewhat anti-climactically. Nonetheless, he has put India in an impregnable position and with two days left and the pitch starting to take spin, Sri Lanka will have to play out of their skin even to avoid defeat, which would still leave India as series winners. Sehwag really is a unique and exceptional player.  Captains of opposing teams have to adjust their thinking when setting targets against India, because at the rate he scores, he is quite capable of completely reversing a game’s momentum.  Look what he did to England in Madras this time last year, when India faced a fairly daunting target of 389, yet romped home after Sehwag blasted 80 in little more than an hour.top

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

Despite Dunedin and the Sehwag fireworks, there is still a vicious circle of dwindling interest in test cricket, which means less time and money being invested by sponsors and broadcasters, leading to it being seen as of secondary importance by many national administrators, with the focus switched, almost exclusively it would seem, to the short form of the game. I am constantly being told that test cricket is only for the purist, the cricket geek, the obsessive who will switch on whatever time of day or night it may be; that it is impossible to watch a test match because it lasts for 5 days and may still not produce a winner; and that the only way to maintain and generate interest in cricket is to make it more exciting and more watchable.

This, at least, is true.  Everyone wants cricket to be exciting and watchable, myself included. But it is wrong to assume that the only way to achieve this is through shortening the time it takes to complete a game.  It is certainly possible to enjoy test cricket without watching the whole match.  Each day, even each session, contains its own sub-plots and dramas. One day games can also be as tedious as the dullest test match; but there have been plenty of tests that could match even the most nail-biting of 50 or 20 over games for excitement, even some that ultimately end in draws: think of Lords 1963, the Oval 1979, Old Trafford and the Oval 2005, or Cardiff 2009; and a whole host more, including one the subject of this week’s memory lane.  And one day cricket has little room for variety in terms of how a match unfolds, especially when match after match is played.

Think of it this way.  There have been 1,936 test matches played since the first ever test was played at Melbourne in 15th March 1877.  Most followers of the game know that Australia won that dramatic match by 45 runs. They know that exactly 100 years later and at the same ground, Australia won the Centenary Test by an identical margin; and they would also be able to think of any number of great innings or bowling performances by cricketers of all nationalities that have happened since then: Hutton’s 364, Sobers’ 365, Lara’s 400, Randall’s 174, Laker’s 19 wickets, Massie’s 16 wickets, any number of Botham feats, Warne’s first ball in an Ashes test are just a tiny fraction of the individual performances that have become legendary. Sehwag’s 293 has just entered that pantheon; and that is before you even consider all the thrilling matches that have taken place over the years. 

The first one day international took place (also in Melbourne) on 5th January 1971.  Can anyone remember what happened?  I couldn’t, so I looked it up: it transpires that Australia (inevitably) won it, by five wickets, bowling England out for 190 and chasing down the target with plenty of time to spare and little apparent drama.  The match itself was only played to make up for the fact that the Test match scheduled to be played at the MCG over New Year was abandoned without a ball being bowled. 

But one little pebble can become a huge snowball and so it has turned out. Since then, there have been a staggering 2,931 one day internationals and 125 20:20 internationals.  The World Cup Finals of 1975, 1983, 1987 and, to a lesser degree, 1992 were all exciting, memorable matches.  The finals of 1979 and 1996 were won comprehensively by the West Indies and Sri Lanka respectively, but were lit up by the batting of Sir Vivian Richards, Collis King and Aravinda de Silva.  There was also South Africa’s famous chase of 434 against Australia at Johannesburg in 2006. There aren’t too many other matches or performances that are firmly lodged in the memory, simply because there have been so many of them; which shows a huge lack of respect to all the players who have graced them with great performances, but there it is.

I will leave the last word on this to the extremely eloquent Sambit Bal, the editor of Cricinfo, who only this week wrote:

“Test cricket is not merely a romantic ideal worthy of preservation, it is the game’s foundation. Without it, the core of the game will wither away.” (© Cricinfo 30 November 2009)

Quite.  Bal also pointed out in his excellent article the need for balance in all forms of cricket administration.  There is, alas, little of this to be found anywhere.  There is an obsession with money – immediate money –  and a complete lack of long term thinking.  This leaves the very real possibility that cricket could indeed wither away. If it does, the game’s administrators will be guilty of the most criminal act of cultural vandalism, on a par with the Romans’ destruction of Carthage or the dissolution of the monasteries.top

See?The obsession with money

There is a popular misconception, promoted by the ECB and others, that the only the way cricket can thrive is if its administrators generate more and more money.  As a result, broadcast rights are sold to the highest bidder, with no regard for mass exposure of the game. Far too much cricket is played, which places intolerable demands on its players.   The more cricket they play, the more they put their health at risk, both physical and mental; their marriages suffer; and the less inclined they are to play Test cricket. The one commodity that would solve the problem and make the players’ lives easier is the one seemingly the least appealing to the games’ administrators: moderation.

They fail to recognise that cricket’s biggest asset is the game itself: its players and the joy which the followers of the game experience when it is played.  If you tamper with either the players or its followers, you devalue the sport.  If the top players are injured or disillusioned through playing too much cricket, standards will drop.  If cricket fans are given too much of the same type of cricket to watch, they will lose interest, which will ultimately reduce the amounts broadcasters, advertisers and sponsors are prepared to invest in the game, which in turn reduces administrators’ ability to promote the sport and sustain its future. I am not so naïve as to believe that the game can survive without investment.  I just question whether so much of it is necessary, or wise, or properly applied.

There is a solution, which I will cover next time, as it’s too much for this week.  For now, I will give one final example of how the game’s administrators displayed a complete disregard for its traditions and values through their blind obsession with money.

It was at the infamous Oval test in 2006, between England and Pakistan. The story is well known, but to recap: on the fourth day, umpire Darrell Hair awarded 5 runs to the England team because he thought the Pakistanis were tampering with the ball.  Incensed, the Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq refused to lead his players out onto the field after tea. Hair warned Inzie that unless Pakistan took the field, they would forfeit the game.  Inzie still refused and Hair ceremoniously removed the bails from the stumps, indicating the game was over.  Pakistan forfeited the right to compete and England had the victory.

It was clearly a diplomatic crisis and frantic negotiations ensued. Hair himself was put under tremendous pressure by the ECB, among others, to reverse his decision.  Why? One can only imagine that the game’s administrators were thinking with their cheque books, and contemplating the lost revenue from a day of cricket that would not now take place.  How small minded is that?  The rules of the game are very clear, and they are sacrosanct.  If a team refuses to play, whatever its motivation and however wronged it feels, it loses the right to compete and the game is awarded to the other side.  Period. End of. One can argue that Hair was possibly acting in a high-handed manner when he accused the Pakistanis of tampering with the ball; and that, had he handled the situation with more sensitivity, the stand-off might never have arisen. The fact remains that once Inzie refused to play, he crossed a line from which there was no return and the umpires had no choice.  It was unprecedented and unforeseeable, but no more so than a bowler taking ten wickets in ten balls to bring a match to a swift conclusion: utterly improbable, but nonetheless possible.

It was disgraceful that for a time, the ICC overturned Hair’s decision and called the match a draw.  I’m glad that common sense has subsequently prevailed and that the original decision to award the match to England has been upheld; but my biggest complaint about the whole sorry affair was the idea that the ECB could seriously contemplate tampering with one of the basic rules of the game, for the sake of a few thousand pounds.  Shame on them.  It was petty and grubby and, more importantly, lost sight of a fundamental and dangerous precedent that might have been created: namely, that if they had had their way and Hair had been forced to change his mind, cricket sides in the future could refuse to play if they disagreed with an umpire’s decision, knowing that the financial implications would take priority over the basic laws of the game.  Shame on them, and credit to Hair for sticking to his guns.top

See?Cultural Vandalism

I mentioned earlier the Romans’ vandalism when they destroyed the city of Carthage in 146 B.C.  The Roman statesman who led the fight against the Carthaginians at that time was Cato the Elder. He was so intent on obliterating Carthage (which admittedly had been a thorn in the side of the Romans for over 100 years) that he ended every speech he made, no matter what the subject, with these words: “Delenda est Carthago”, or “Carthage must be destroyed.” Given that the ECB threaten to emulate the Romans through their appalling disrespect for the English game, its players and its traditions, I suggest that it should be disbanded.  I will therefore henceforth sign off every newsletter with the words “Delenda est ECB.”top

See?On this day:  11th December 1979, India v Pakistan 2nd Test at Delhi

Right, memory lane time.  Last week, we went back to 29 November 1986, when England piled on the runs in Perth but could not force a victory.  I asked you which England wicket keeper scored a hundred for England.  The answer was Jack Richards, who ended up playing only 8 tests for England, never again passing 50 and finally blown away by Ambrose, Walsh and Marshall in 1988.  The Australian legend who took 5 wickets was neither Alan Border, who certainly deserved that title, nor Craig McDermot, who I don’t think did. It was in fact the great Steve Waugh, very early in his career.

30 years ago to the day, India and Pakistan embarked on what turned out to be another draw, at Delhi.  This, though, was an exciting match, in which fortunes swayed one way and then the other throughout the game. Pakistan batted first and recovered from 90 for 4 to score 273.  They then bowled out India for 126, securing a lead of 147. Strongly placed at 209 for 5 in their second innings, they lost their last 5 wickets for only 33 runs, setting India 390 to win, still a formidable target. India, though, batted strongly through the end of the 4th day and into the 5th, and ended up needing just over 100 runs in the final 20 overs.  They had a stab at it, and for a moment the big hitting Kapil Dev might have secured an improbable victory.  But he was out too soon and India finished 36 runs short, with six wickets down.  It was generally felt that had India been a little more adventurous earlier on in the innings, they could have won the game. The trivia for you:  which Pakistan fast bowler took 11 wickets in the match and 8 in India’s first innings; and which Indian batsman scored a century in India’s second innings, almost taking them to victory?

Predictions from the matches currently going on: Pakistan to win against New Zealand in Wellington, sometime on Day 4.  Australia to beat West Indies in Adelaide by between 10 and 7 wickets early on Day 5.  India to win by an innings in Bombay, with Sri Lanka folding against the spinners on Day 4. Meanwhile it has absolutely tipped it down in Durban, so no play has been possible, handing England the One Day Series 2-1.  Roll on the First Test at Pretoria on 16 December.top

Wherever you are, I hope you have an excellent weekend.  Delenda est ECB.

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One Response to “How I Won The Ashes, 2nd Newsletter 4 December 2009”

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

    […] 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 would actually have turned out.   Below is […]

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