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?

Notes from the pavilion for November 2nd

Links of note from the past 24 hours:

  • Loadsa money – Here’s a fun fact: On arrival at Derbyshire, Wavell Hinds will make more money than highest paid West Indies cricketer

Lloyd: ‘We became thoughtless’

Lloyd in his pomp

West Indies are in a period of transition. They have been for a decade and will be for at least another ten years. Clive Lloyd, in his biography, insists that a restoration to work ethic is instrumental to their fortunes if they are to rise again. Extract stolen from The Times.

After Packer and World Series Cricket, Clive Lloyd returned to captain the West Indies in 1979. From that time until his retirement, the team were beaten in only three of the 47 Test matches in which they played, a loss rate of 6.4 per cent. In the next six years, when Vivian Richards was captain, that figure rose to 18.9 per cent, and under successive captains it has risen and risen till the wins and losses are almost a mirror image of what they were in Clive’s years.

“The greatest reason for the decline of West Indian cricket is that we became thoughtless,” says Clive. “Too many people assumed that we had a right to go on being great for ever. It was as if they believed that West Indians would always produce great cricket in the way that France is famed for its fine wine – a never-ending national institution. But life has changed for people in the West Indies, cricket has changed in the rest of the world, and we failed to appreciate those changes.

“To put it simply, the West Indies have lost for so long because there are not enough great players. That’s obvious. But great players don’t just turn up, they have to be shaped. What very few people seem to realise is that the Test team I had in 1975-76 was really no different from the one that there is today in terms of its potential. Fidel Edwards and Daren Powell can both bowl at 90 miles per hour. [Shivnarine] Chanderpaul and [Ramnaresh] Sarwan are both world-class batsmen.

Our cricketers are free-flowing men. Early on, Viv Richards was a free-flowing guy, he got forties and never made big scores. But you knew once he had harnessed his talent and got the mental side of his game right, then he was going to be a class player. Gordon Greenidge took some time to get going, same with Michael Holding. All those guys came in and worked at their game.

“The great West Indies sides were shaped, just as this one could be. The problems we are having now are the consequence of a decade of letting the fruit wither on the vine. There have been big cultural changes in the West Indies. The regional cricket competition is not what it was. Our cricketers no longer play county cricket. The board has not used its authority wisely. The players’ expectations, what they want from the game, what they want from life, have changed.

Above all, we neglected to plan for the future.

“When people speak about the demise of West Indian cricket, the influence of America is never very far from their lips. I disagree. I think the real sporting distraction has not come from basketball or the other American sports, but from football. It’s true that in some of the islands, the first thing that a politician does is put up a basketball court; it’s much smaller and cheaper than a cricket ground, but I don’t believe that a lot of kids go on to play professionally.”

In the summer of 2007, Garry Sobers was in England and told an audience about the problems facing cricket in the Caribbean: “If someone said to me that soccer is the reason for West Indian cricket falling so low, I might think about it. But the real problem, and it is a problem for sport around the world, is television.”

Lloyd in his pomp

Sir Garry mentioned his own boys, both fine sports players, whom he believed had suffered because of the distractions of modern life. “When they got home from school they would not go outside and play, they would sit in front of a video. That’s your real culprit. Kids do not organise games of cricket by themselves, playing outside morning, noon and night. Today, if it is not organised, nobody leaves home. They wait for you to pick them up, take them to the ground, give them the best cricket attire. The natural flow of the game has gone.”

“It’s true that kids have many more things to do with their time,” says Clive. “If you want to improve at your sport, you have to be dedicated, do little else, train hard and that’s less likely to happen when there are so many distractions. And if they have a job that pays a decent wage, they’ll be saying, ‘Why the hell should I go through all this?’ In my time there wasn’t much to do. Now you can fill your day doing all sorts. You can watch DVDs all day long if you want. That is why it is so important to catch them early. We must inculcate the right things in these children before they go down the wrong lane. We must get the structure to life there early enough.

“The main thing is to get the talent, get the people who can impart the knowledge and bring the players to fruition. I know it is an uphill task, but cricket is so important to people in the West Indies; it’s one of the main ingredients of the glue that keeps us together.”

He pauses for a moment. “I think about today’s players and my overwhelming emotion towards them is not anger that they have been unsuccessful but concern,” he says. “We did so well that everybody expects the West Indies teams to be like those of the 1970s and 1980s, but it cannot happen without hard work, attention to detail and respect for the game.

“These players have been burdened with what the West Indies have done in the past and I think that’s probably wrong. This is a new era, it’s their time and it’s up to them to go out and show people what they’re capable of. A lot of people are backing them to do well, including myself.”

Supercat: Clive Lloyd’s biography

Photo of the front cover of Supercat, Clive Lloyd's biography

Supercat: the authorised biography of Clive Lloyd

I remember bumping into Simon Lister, friend of the blog and all-round good egg, at Lord’s the summer before last. He told me he was writing Clive Lloyd’s biography…and it’s finally rolled off the printers (buy).

Supercat is its appropriate title and, although the old mantra rings loud in my ears, I do love the front cover. Here’s a short synopsis:

The book draws on candid and intimate conversations with Clive Lloyd, as well as interviews with many of the great names of West Indian and world cricket.

Clive talks about growing up in the Caribbean, about slavery and race, about coming to England to play for Lancashire, about captaincy, about the changes he has witnessed in the game and about the present state of West Indian cricket. He has much to say, and it is always thoughtful and authoritative.

Yours for a tenner.

All out for 18

Even before you finish reading the potted scoreline, when it begins with “Barbados 22 for 2 beat…” you know something extraordinary has happened. That Barbados beat West Indies Under-19s – who, as their title suggests, are far from experienced – might not strike you as being too surprising. But this motley bunch is the future of West Indies. Pedro Collins was bananaring it, but even so.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Chris Jordan: one to watch

Talent spotting is an inherently unreliable business. Mark Lathwell, Mark Ramprakash. Matthew Maynard and Graeme Hick are just four gifted batsman who, in their own way, were earmarked for world domination when I was a nipper. They all failed.

My cynicism grew further when Angus Fraser, my biggest hero growing up, penned in Wisden Cricket Monthly one issue that Paul Franks was destined for great things. How could Fraser be wrong about anything, I thought? But he was.

So it’s with decided trepidation that I read David Fulton’s crystal-ball gazing in The Times, though I can’t help but find the prospect of Chris Jordan anything other than fascinating. 18, born and brought up in Barbados, he has played just five first-class games for Surrey. Fulton says:

Jordan has the kind of natural fast bowling gifts that so characterised the West Indies attack of a previous era. Generating genuine pace with the smoothest of actions, this young man was born to bowl.

What sets Jordan apart from a lot of young speedsters is that he already looks like the finished article. He has command of line and length, an ability to work batsmen over – and out – and the capacity to dig deep on flat wickets. In the last round of county championship matches against Lancashire on a typically true Oval pitch, Jordan knocked over Lancashire’s tail in the first innings with the type of short-pitch bowling that gives lower order batsmen nightmares. More impressively he put in a mid afternoon burst in the second innings when Lancashire were cruising that touched 90mph and wouldn’t have looked out of place in Test cricket.

Jordon hasn’t decided which country to pledge his allegiance. And given the the calimitous state of West Indies cricket, I hope for his sake he chooses England. But wouldn’t it be great if we produced a quartet of terrifyingly quick bowlers in the next 12 months, all ready for Australia in 2009? (yes, it’s not that far away)

I must be getting old

I remember back in the day when going at 5 runs an over was a fair rate of knots. In this brave new world of Twenty-20, even 10 an over isn’t always enough, as the West Indies found out this morning. Pity Chris Gayle, who scored the first ever International century in this form of the game, 117 off 57, and still ended up on the losing side.

A hell of a way to make a living, being a bowler in this day and age.

One man fighting the box of frogs

What’s the difference between the West Indies Cricket Board and a box of frogs? The box of frogs make more sense.

Ho ho ho. But on a serious note, for this is a seriously crazy cricket board, there is one man desperately fighting WICB’s inadequacies on behalf of the players: Dinanath Ramnarine, president of the West Indies Players Association (WIPA). And it is a fierce, ugly battle indeed.

Making sense of all this is somewhat of a challenge – I’ve been trying for about a year, and am only halfway there – but fortunately Vaneisa Baksh has done her best in an excellent piece Cricinfo commissioned. Do give it a read.

Ramnarine does not trust the WICB, and if one were to check the record of their dealings for the past five years or so of his tenure, it is clear why. He has had little reason to, and given his prior relationship with the board and its functionaries (remember, he retired at 28, having played in 12 Tests and taken 45 wickets with some pretty good legspin) there is nothing really to suggest there will be any improvement without fundamental changes.

But despite talk by the WICB’s outgoing president, Ken Gordon, that the recently appointed Governance Committee was the most important ever established, the board is not in a hurry to institute the changes the committee has recommended – not when one of those was that the board should give way to a more representative body.

The latest slew of exchanges between the board and WIPA revealed the nature of the tension between them. Ramnarine has charged the board with reneging on terms of their MOU, particularly with regard to including WIPA in negotiations affecting players. Gordon has accused Ramnarine of basically cussing off everyone and calling them liars.

Interesting, fragile times.

Ottis Gibson’s ten

Well done that man. I remember Richard Johnson taking 10 for 45 in 1994 as though it were yesterday. Middlesex members and fans all thought we had yet another brilliant fast bowler in the making – and I seem to remember Ray Illingworth also agreeing when he said he had a “heavy ball”, an expression which I’d not heard before back then. Johnson was, from memory, picked for the South Africa tour before one of his many back problems surfaced.

Anyway. Gibson is not going to be going to South Africa, or anywhere else for that matter, for he’s the wrong side of 38. But that only make his achievement all the more special and memorable. Go on, West Indies…do the unthinkable and give him a call-up, just for fun.

Full list of the 79 bowlers to have taken all ten wickets in an innings available at Cricinfo.

Sporting success and failure mirroring society?

I’m about to sit down and watch Nation in Film, that BBC programme of West Indies’ tour in 1976. And the following teaser was uttered by Darcus Howe, one of the contributors.

I don’t think West Indian cricket ever had such an intense reflection of what was taking place in society

Viv Richards is bowled

Is the same true of West Indies now? Does the success of a national sporting team reflect the successes or failures, depressions and moods of society? If it did back then (Howe says that Tony Greig’s “grovelling” comment was, in West Indians’ view, distinctly racist: white versus black), the effect is certainly less so nowadays.

I like stuff like this. Thoughts welcome.