March 4, 2009

England in West Indies, 2008-09

Barbados. Please, make it stop

Andy Zaltzman

And now, for what they are worth in the current context of international cricket, which is slightly less than nothing, here are some thoughts on the now-mercifully-finished Barbados Test.

This was one of the worst cricket matches imaginable, played out on a truly dreadful pitch, of almost nil sporting interest. An alien or American billionaire, or indeed any other fictional character, had chanced upon this travesty of a game, he, she or it would have assumed: either that cricket is an arcane and impenetrable religious ritual designed to reflect the interminable tedium of life and thus assuage the stroppiness of an unusually cantankerous dullness-loving deity; or that this match was a meaningless and complete waste of everyone’s time (except for a few stressed parents who used it to pacify over-sugared children). In either case, cricket would have been safely preserved for us humble earthlings.

This Test was an embarrassment to cricket. There was no punishment for batting error, no reward for good bowling. They could have played until Matt Prior’s second child is born and it would still probably have been a draw.

The dismal pitch was not merely batsman-friendly, it was knocking on the batsman’s hotel room door at midnight brandishing a bottle of champagne and wearing a negligee. Only Shah, Gayle and Hinds were gentlemen enough to politely spurn its advances. Good on them. If the wicket had been loaded any more decisively against the bowlers, the groundstaff would have found themselves in The Hague facing human rights abuse charges, with a tearful Ryan Sidebottom and Daren Powell consoling each other in the witness box. The Americans did not need to resort to waterboarding – if they have made their Guantanamo ‘guests’ bowl on this pitch, they would have confessed to absolutely anything by the time the third new ball was due.

With hindsight, it was fortunate that the inane and inept referral system distracted so much attention from the anti-cricket on display. Perhaps Daryl Harper and his on-field confreres were merely trying to inject some talking-points into the morass of futility before them.

It was the latest in a thoroughly uninspiring glut of run-gluts. During the Barbados game, I started to have vivid recurring dreams about watching a Test match in which both teams are bowled out for under 200 in the first innings on a green-tinged wicket, with momentum swinging wildly one way then the other, in which fast bowlers are restored to a greater role than the ceremonial propulsion of an unresponsive conker onto the middle of a lavishly advertised bat, and in which a half-century requires a display of skill, nerve and courage by a batsman – before waking up to be confronted with the grim reality of Kevin Pietersen blocking half-volleys from Ryan Hinds.

So what did this game prove? That West Indies are tougher than they were, or at least that Sarwan is; that Ramdin can score runs on a dead pitch against exhausted bowlers; that Bopara isn’t useless; that no parent in their right mind should allow their child to take up fast bowling; and that Cook is less vulnerable to the moving ball outside off stump when the ball doesn’t move outside off stump.

Cook is a curious player. He appears both unusually talented and extremely limited, and both mentally strong and psychologically suspect. He is without question bizarrely awkward for a man who has reached 3000 Test runs at a prodigious age – when batting, he generally looks as if he has borrowed someone else’s limbs. He could smash a run-a-ball hundred and still appear to be out of form. In this series, he has succeeded on the deader pitches, but failed on the more difficult one – so what more have England learnt about him? He is clearly a useful Test batsman, but will he prove to be much more than that against stronger opposition (eg. Australia) on trickier surfaces (eg. in England)?

England unquestionably picked the wrong XI for this game – trying to bowl any side out twice on this pitch with three decent fast-medium bowlers and a decent finger spinner revealed optimism levels bordering on the delusional. That said, they could have brought Larwood, Statham, Trueman, Laker and SF Barnes back to life and they would still have struggled to bowl West Indies out. They might have restricted them to around 550, but it is more likely that the late, great quintet would have taken one look at the surface, feigned some thigh strains, and taken the first rocket back to the comfort of the ethereal pavilion in the sky.

Please let the Trinidad Test be a proper one. Like the one in Johannesburg. I am starting to wish that the 2009 Ashes had been played in November and December of 2008. The conditions in England wouldn’t have been ideal for cricket, but Australia are starting to look alarmingly potent.

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Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

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Posted by doc bosco on (March 11, 2009, 12:40 GMT)

It is correct to bemoan the plethora of negligee-waving, batting-friendly pitches (Lord’s, as with all things, leading the way). This, combined with the perpetual pursuit of persistently penetrating bowling, has led in recent years to matches with more records than results. On the other hand, don’t pick on the West Indies. This isn’t the first time that pitches were prepared to favour the home team, and not the last time that rules will be proposed specifically to address England’s woes.

If the pitch at Port-of-Spain were so batsmen friendly, as often claimed, how did England manage to score only 250 runs on the first day of a match they knew they needed to win? If the pitches in this series were so batting-friendly, how then did England so nearly manage to bowl out the West Indies on the two occasions in which the bowlers really tried? As with many things, victory in this series fell to the side that sought it harder.

Posted by captainfun on (March 11, 2009, 4:36 GMT)

fun article, but don't blame the pitch... if sa and aus were flown over, you can bet they would have put on a good show... the problem with this test was 2 very average teams trying to be less average than the other....

Posted by Divya Narayan on (March 10, 2009, 8:59 GMT)

Why is everybody criticising Andy for this article? People, have you lost your sense of humour? 300+ runs were scored on each day of the test match (except for the final day, that too, because only 81 overs were bowled. Despite that, England scored 281). Scoring virtually 300 on the final day of a test match, no matter who you're playing against, doesn't it seem weird?

Posted by Robomas on (March 6, 2009, 17:21 GMT)

16 wickets in a whole match doesn't realy indicate a compelling contest does it. Anybody who disagrees with this notion is nuts in my humble opinion. Most of us our cricket fans on this forum and this would take prominence over national partisanship, and i dare say tht many of the english contingent would force a smile if West Indies began a great revival with a series victory next week.

Its not only Barbados, Lords has to be relaid as well surely- 6 consecutive draws and 3 2nd innings over 500 if im right?? yawwwn! Test cricket will never be replaced in my affections but these pitches are just providing easy ammo for the game's detractors who claim blindly that the game is boring. And we don't need to degrade tests to twenty20 format or over restrictions to engineer entertainment, the pitch is a pre-requisite for an enthralling test match (i would suggest even over player quality-though tht obviously helps!) Love these articles they brighten up my study marathons. Thanks v much Andy!

Posted by Mukesh on (March 5, 2009, 18:07 GMT)

I disagree with Andy who posted this piece. He needs to bear inmind that had the West Indies taken their chances in the field, the outcome of the match may have been different. It's also of worth to note that when England amassed 600 runs, there were no complaints about the pitch since the West Indies were expected to be under significant "scoreboard pressure". Negative comments about the pitch and the match only surfaced after the West Indies batted superbly even in the face of glaring umpiring errors. The English team and their supporters including those in the commentary booth and writing on cricinfo need to put away the Tetley and realise that the West Indies are no longer easy push overs.

Posted by Rod Stark on (March 5, 2009, 17:47 GMT)

I'm not sure whether you can completely blame the pitch. The bowling attacks of both teams and the West Indies' fielding were pretty mediocre. I think that reflects the state of world cricket right now. Other than Murali, how many current bowlers on any team are likely to end up being considered among the great players?

Posted by Sri on (March 5, 2009, 17:39 GMT)

Still trying to get the image of a negligee clad bottle brandishing pitch out of my head. The match could have made more interesting by Chris Gayle if he had declared with a token 1 run lead after the first innings. Given the extra time and a result chasing English team, it would have probably resulted in a challenging declaration by Strauss, or a curious case of harakiri by the English batsmen, who are now used to this practice. A majority of the blame for listless draws would have to be assigned to the captains. Of course, being one up in the series, Chris Gayle chose a safe option, while killing us all softly with boredom.

Posted by Deo on (March 5, 2009, 17:00 GMT)

This article is great.. very interesting and funny. Well done Andy. Give each team a maximum of 180 overs and let them decide how many overs they will use for each innings. This was most test match will have a winner. Batting for as long as you wish is not very fun from a fan point of view.

Posted by mikeram on (March 5, 2009, 16:57 GMT)

Your article is quite humorous and interesting by youe choice of word but for every 10 test match played you have at least 10 is prepared so that they are bowler friendly and one for the batsmen so lets celebrate finally for our west indian batsmen to show some poise and concentration finally it seems to be clicking for them. And by the way if the west indian fielders held on to the catches in this particular test we might have had a result so i didnot find it boring at all but entertaining. The game has changed so i think most people want wickets that produce results and most of them do .but once in a while we should celebrate the positive of good entertaining batting.

Posted by John on (March 5, 2009, 16:55 GMT)

May I add to Ankur's list:

a. Batsmen to play wearing roller skates b. Bowlers to wear spikes. c. All fielders to wear "grim reaper" costumes. d. There will be 6 wickets instead of 3 on each side. e. The pitch will be matted. f. Vaseline is available for use to the bowlers.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.

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