The Great Divide

Mark Nicholas makes some interesting and aggressive points on the
“great divide” that presents itself in cricket these days. I’ve
pasted it in full below as you need a user/pass to access The
Telegraph’s site.

Cricket’s great divide
By Mark Nicholas
(Filed: 23/12/2004)

Cricket is a game fighting for its credibility. Amid the euphoria of
England’s memorable, record-breaking year and of Australia’s continued
brilliance, there are major causes for concern. Players lurch around
the world fulfilling fixtures that frequently mean nothing against
countries who are no good. Neither Zimbabwe nor Bangladesh would cut
it against an average state or county team.

It is unarguably awful for the credibility of the game worldwide that
Australia are winning Test matches so easily. It is worse still that
John Buchanan, the Australian coach, felt obliged to come out in
defence of his players the day before yesterday. “Our job is not to
mark time and wait for other teams to catch up. Our job is to keep
improving, individually and collectively. It is upon the other teams
and the ICC to work out ways to accelerate their progress.” That he
had to say as much, reflects the frustration in Australia. Australians
love a contest and they are not getting one.

Pakistan were a disgrace in the Perth Test. They expected to lose and
duly did so with embarrassing ease. Their captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq,
moped around, batted feebly and spent much of the third day off the
field with a stomach bug. And to think, his job is to inspire. Bob
Woolmer, the coach, said he would seek psychological help for the
players. What he needs is a miracle.

All this is part of a malaise that began infecting international
cricket about a decade ago. Its effect has been a worry, now it is
becoming extreme.

West Indies thought they had the formula bottled until lazy, overpaid
cricketers replaced the marvellous ones who had set a standard that
was taken for granted. There was no provision for the future and Brian
Lara has carried the can. South Africa deserve sympathy because their
future was always uncertain but claims that reverse racism is killing
the game have nothing on the racism that preceded it and excluded the
majority of the country from playing the game meaningfully.

England have had no excuse. Administration of the game has been
painfully weak, shrouded in-house, short-sighted and selfish. To a
degree, it still is. For a while the brilliance of Ian Botham and
David Gower papered over the cracks but the English game had been an
anachronism long before their tenure.

Of the major nations, only in India does cricket continue to convince,
and even there the crowds for Test matches are shrinking and the
power-brokers invest more in themselves than in the game for which
they stand. Sri Lankans are in love with cricket but everyone wants a
piece of everything, so the key figures play musical chairs and no one
is left alone to embrace the wider picture and lead the advance to the
next stage of development and quality.

The International Cricket Council have done untold damage by allowing
Zimbabwe and Bangladesh Test-match status. Their presence lowers
standards and diminishes an already fragile product. Test-match
performances have been cheapened and do a disservice to those who have
gone before. True, there have been other eras when series have been
uneven but never to this extent.

Sachin Tendulkar made his highest score against Bangladesh the other
day. Stephen Fleming did so a couple of months back but, be assured,
both these fine cricketers would rather have their marker elsewhere.
Lesser players than Tendulkar and Fleming can hide behind performances
against these poor teams and begin to believe in them. Their records
stand up even when they fail against Australia, so they are not
motivated to take on the world champions and instead collapse, waiting
for the horror of it to go away until the next easy ride when they
fill their boots again. This is cheating the game they play, never
mind the rich history they are inheriting.

Why can cricket’s administrators not see this? Why is the greatest and
most noble game being allowed to free-fall into mediocrity? Why on
earth does this Australian team have to answer to their own country
for being so damn good? It is a joke, and a very dangerous one.

Cricket is available on television just about everywhere and just
about all the time. The less-is-more principle has long gone. Many
matches are without frisson but still the producers and networks treat
this old-fashioned sport with deference and care, striving to improve
their product while the game fritters it away. Soon, they will wonder
why they bother.

For the moment, thank heaven for the sheer bravery and optimism of
Graeme Smith, who at least challenged England with a weakened but
politically correct team. Thank heaven for Lara, who, four years ago,
made a double hundred in Jamaica and a near unbelievable 153 not out
in Barbados to single-handedly draw a series with the Australians.

These were his greatest hours and yet, admirably, he has stuck with it
since, hoping, perhaps even believing, that West Indies cricket will
come again. Thank heaven for the way in which India have resisted
Australia with their mix of flair and confrontation.

Thank heaven, most of all, for Michael Vaughan’s England who have
transcended their masters and shown the necessary desire to improve.
The thought and commitment which has gone into their play, the smile
that comes with it, and their formidable results this year, mean that
English cricket has its brightest face since that golden era of Botham
and friends. Indeed, as Adam Gilchrist said yesterday: “England are
shaping up to be formidable opponents.” There can be no greater
compliment from an Australian.

Of course, the global development of cricket is crucial and yes, real
opportunities must be given to the emerging nations who require
enormous help, financially and practically, if their potential is to
be reached. But by compromising standards and devaluing performances,
the future of the game is further threatened at a time when it is
hardly on the lips of the world’s sporting community. The ICC must
understand this and act upon it – however cleverly England and
Australia are pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes – otherwise they
are not fulfilling their responsibility.