England in West Indies, 2008-09 March 4, 2009

Barbados. Please, make it stop

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.

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.

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

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