Australia are killing the game

Weather permitting, at some stage on Monday Australia will beat Sri Lanka, probably by a large margin. It’s becoming an annual trend, re-discussing Australia’s dominance and why it is hurting the game so much. But I’m not going to bother mentioning India and Pakistan’s one-day series, which interests me not a lot, so let’s go round in circles and debate why you think (or not) Australia are killing the game.

Malcolm Conn:

The sadness of Australia continuing to raise the bar in Test cricket means the foundation of the game is becoming less and less relevant in more countries as the Twenty20 phenomenon multiplies the excitement in shorter forms of the game.

This is even so in Australia, which has the strongest tradition of Test cricket with England. If Australia was playing a one-day or Twenty20 match at the Gabba it would have sold out long ago.

But modest crowds of little more than 15,000 on the first three days, followed by just 7629 yesterday amid showers, left many empty seats among the 40,000 at the recently redeveloped, world-class Gabba.

This is despite one Queenslander, Mitchell Johnson, making his Test debut and another, Andrew Symonds, playing his first Test at the Gabba, not to mention Matthew Hayden, as Ponting and his men try to extend their winning streak to record levels.

Victory here will give Australia 13 in a row since South Africa hung on for a draw in Perth almost two years ago. It is the second-longest winning streak in history, behind the 16 in a row Steve Waugh’s side set from October 1999 to March 2001.

Australians in defence of their juggernaut will point to the all-conquering West Indians of the 70s and 80s, and they’d have a point. But was the void so great as it is now? And were they, as we are now, so flummoxed as to a solution?

The only series that still matters

Here’s a hypothetical question for England fans out there: if England were to lose every Test match and one-day international from now until 2009, but then win the Ashes back, would you take it? Be honest, now.

Much has been talked and written about the indifference of the English to one-day cricket. But meaningless one-day bashes are, if anything, merely the tip of the indifference iceberg. As England fans, there’s a whole host of other things we don’t care about, from Twenty20 internationals, through the regular thrashings of Bangladesh and the West Indies, right up to – sharp intake of breath – the upcoming winter tours of Sri Lanka and New Zealand.

Oh, of course we’ll check the scores from time to time. Perhaps even watch a bit if we have Sky and remember to set the alarm. But I don’t know too many people from outside the game who have very much of an emotional investment in the outcome at all, just as long as it’s not a humiliation. England series these days feel like part of a two year-long hors d’oeuvres to the 2009 main course.

Just as Australia’s sights were fixed on the 2006-7 series from the moment they walked off the field at The Oval, the year 2009 is seared indelibly into our consciousness. It’s everywhere: in the press, on the messageboards, and very possibly in selection meetings (“I mean, Sidebottom’s accurate, but will he trouble the Australian top order?”). And as for the detritus in between; well, the disappearance of cricket from terrestrial TV has made it a lot easier to ignore. The fact that England barely hit top gear all summer should be a point of grave concern. But to me at least, it doesn’t seem to have been.

There’s a parallel with the rugby here – the English descending on Paris this week care not one jot about the Six Nations humiliations and Antipodean kickings to which England have been subjected over the last four years, but about their performance on the stage that matters. For ‘World Cup’, substitute ‘Ashes’. I suspect most England cricket fans will willingly endure two more years of anguish if there’s a little red urn waiting at the end of it.

Recall for Ramps?

There’s an interesting claim by Mike Selvey in this morning’s Guardian: apparently Mark Ramprakash is on the verge of an England recall.

There is a strong rumour doing the rounds that when the England squad to contest the Test series against Sri Lanka is announced tomorrow week, the name of Andrew Strauss will be missing and in its place will be that of Mark Ramprakash. It would, were it to happen, be another stunner in a sporting autumn that already has had more turn-ups than a Savile Row clearance sale.

Only last month, with a strict brief to ensure that selections should anticipate playing a full part in England cricket over the next year, Strauss, already jettisoned from the one-day plans, was awarded a central contract by the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, and the England coach, Peter Moores. Given that in the past year three contracted players in particular – Marcus Trescothick, Ashley Giles and Simon Jones – played little or no cricket for England while receiving sizeable salaries, there would be no shortage of flak heading their way if such an exercise in generosity were to be repeated.

It’s a fascinating suggestion, although personally I don’t think the England selectors will pick him. It’s just not worth their while. If he succeeds, there’ll be the inevitable question of why he wasn’t picked earlier (his excellent Ashes record should have been a factor last year). And the very first time he fails, the critics will come creeping out of the woodwork, accusing England of ‘taking a backwards step’ and ‘holding back’ some promising young batsman or other. And though Ramprakash himself seems less mentally fragile than before, a low score in his first knock might see all those bad memories come flooding back.

If he is picked, it would at least provide us with a definitive verdict on county cricket. If the most prolific county cricketer of his generation couldn’t translate that form into Test success, it might be time to start asking the ECB some probing questions.

Ye Gods! A Test match is happening!

We don’t get a lot of South Africans or Pakistanis in these here parts, but there IS a Test match going on as we speak- South Africa, batting first, are 104 for 1, with Gibbs on 50 – Smith out for 42.

Ahh. White clothes and a red ball. God is in his heaven and all is right with the world, et cetera!

Meanwhile, England play Sri Lanka in a Fifty/50 tonight, and Australia play India tomorrow. But who cares? Tests are the best!

England’s forgotten man

In times past, England selectors could generally be relied on to make at least one howler a summer. Alan Wells, Aftab Habib and Alan Igglesden are all examples of county makeweights plunged without warning into the limelight and shunted mercilessly and remorselessly back out of it soon after.

 

Since the central contract era, however, we like to think that the more erratic selectorial decisions have rather been purged; there’s been the odd hunch that’s gone wrong (step to the front of the class, Anthony McGrath), but by and large the new slim-line committee has unearthed some cracking talent. Vaughan, Trescothick and Sidebottom certainly wouldn’t have got a look in had they been around a decade earlier. None of this, however, will be much comfort to Ed Joyce.

 

Joyce’s performances during the CB Series in Australia were solid, excellent in places, and he was by no means the most culpable of England’s World Cup donkeys. But he fell victim to the general call for cull after the Caribbean debacle and hasn’t been mentioned in the same breath as the England team since. Joyce wasn’t even selected for the England Lions teams to face Pakistan and India, a privilege granted to such stellar young talent as Alex Gidman. He appears to have fallen silently but ruthlessly from view, like the myriad Mike Smiths and Warren Heggs before him.

 

Fair enough, you might say. Ed Joyce is no PowerPlay demon, still less middle-overs innovator. But a man who scored two fifties on the biggest one-day stage really deserved better than to be lumped in with the likes of Andrew Strauss (who really did have a stinker in the West Indies, by the way). And besides, Joyce has always been more of a five-day cricketer. He was selected as Marcus Trescothick’s replacement on the Ashes tour, but didn’t get a chance. Now, incomprehensibly, he has been leapfrogged by Owais Shah, Ravi Bopara and, very possibly, Rob Key. Perhaps Joyce might soon be lugging his kit bag back to Dublin in search of an international game.

 

Joyce hasn’t exactly helped his case with some ho-hum county performances this summer. But his anonymity speaks of a more worrying trend – the tendency to judge Test potential on the basis of one-day form. It happened to Chris Read, Kabir Ali and even Jonathan Trott, who may never be seen in England colours again. Joyce deserves a better fate than these, for on his day he can be one of the most effective batsmen in the country. A bumper start for Middlesex next season might swing him back into contention; on the other hand, perhaps he’d be better off perfecting his reverse sweep this winter instead.

India commemorate 75 years of Test cricket

Today marks the 75th anniversary of India’s inaugural Test match against England at Lord’s in 1932. We’ve put up (or, rather, my boss probably did) an excellent review of the match from The Cricketer International which is well worth a read, if only for the following (at times hilarious) points:

1. The Indians fully deserved the honour of a Test match. Their bowling was definitely good and their fielding admirable, quick and very clean, but not so fine nor so good as England. Their wicketkeeper good, but not so good as he looks.

2. Their batting depends on too few men, but Amar Singh, a very fine all’ round cricketer, is a rare man on his form in this match at No. 10.

3. The experience of this tour will improve their cricket enormously and the English public will welcome them again, for they play the game in the most attractive manner.

4. They were very unlucky in the matter of accidents, Nazir Ali and Palia pulling muscles and, Nayudu, a fine allrounder, hurting his hand.

5. England showed exceptional grit. In the second innings their first four bats, men all failed, comparatively speaking, but Jardine pulled the side round. He is a great batsman and captained the side extremely well, and he made a superb catch in h second innings at short third man.

6. The partner for Sutcliffe is yet to be found, but we should make a lot of runs in Australia.

7. Fielding was splendid. Hammond, Robins, Paynter and Voce are quite exceptionally good. Not a single catch was missed and only one lost chance of stumping.

8. The bowling was remarkably good but it is certainly at present not good enough for Australia and this is a perplexing problem for M.C.C., Larwood’s strained leg making matters all the more difficult, but Voce, Robins and Brown arc most capable allrounders.

9. Paynter’s second innings may mean much to him. He has only to concentrate on watching the stump outside his off stump to be very good. He is a fine fielder.

10. Bowes must “go for” a length and forget, except occasionally, the short humping delivery.

Two points to be made. 1) Will we, in 75 years, be looking back at some of our (and I include myself in this group) questionable reports of Bangladeshi cricket since their inception? And 2), what is a “short humping delivery”? Nothing to do with midwifery I presume

England v West Indies, 3rd Test, Old Trafford, 5th day

A much improved West Indian performance and suddenly it’s 154 runs or 5 wickets. However, with the last 4 of those real tailenders, Ramdin and Chanderpaul really need to dig in to secure any hope of keeping the series alive until Durham.

Follow the cricket once it starts on Cricinfo and leave your comments below. Though if you have a spare tenner, that’s all you need to get in.

England v West Indies, 3rd Test, Old Trafford, 4th day

Yesterday might have been Darren Sammy’s day, but you can’t help but feel that England’s present lead is unassailable. Will Monty Panesar take his turn, or will today break the record for most extras ‘scored’ in a match? Follow the action on Cricinfo and leave your comments below.

Goodbye ODI (for now); welcome back Test

If an ODI was a person, I’d punch him right now. Regular readers and gluttons of this blog will know of my dislike for the shorter format of the game and, after a bloated and absurdly organised World Cup, I’d rather eat my feet than sit through another series. I can stomach a semi-final and a final, though.

If a Test was a person, I certainly wouldn’t punch him and might even offer him a drink. The real cricket of the summer gets underway in (amazingly) just 24 days’ time with West Indies taking on England at Lord’s. Ah, Test cricket: three slips and a gully; a respectable three-and-a-half runs per over; maidens and normal field placings. That’s what we want. One-day cricket, the new kid on cricket’s block, has already reached its shelf life. The five-day game still reigns supreme.

But will West Indies ever get here? Their coach resigned early this morning, their captain a few days earlier and there are no dead-set certain replacements for either position. All this on top of another seemingly endless contract crisis. Fingers crossed they do manage to brush the latest mess under the carpet once more, because the two countries have a rich and fascinating history.

Talking of which…we’ve been beavering away today writing brief series histories all the way back from 1928; 1960 to 1980; 1980-1995 and 1995-2004. I’m clearly biased, but nevertheless feel this is one area Cricinfo really shines as we can link to the Almanack report and our own series page – not to mention every scorecard from every match played between the two countries. That’s pretty damn useful for the fan, I reckon. Have a read and leave your thoughts if you have any.

What are you most looking forward to this summer (anyone who mentions one-dayers will be publicly humiliated)?

A lion in gold, and a lamb in white

So why is Brett Lee so effective in limited overs cricket, and such a flop at Test level, especially against England?

Your theories are as good as mine. For what it is worth, my guess is that in Tests, batsmen have the luxury of waiting for him to bowl a four ball, which comes along regularly enough. In ODI games, they try to force the pace, which causes their downfall.

But that’s just my guess. In all honesty, I’m bewildered. What’s your guess?