Cricket concerns March 22, 2009

An unhealthy obsession with the Ashes

The way large sections of the English cricket establishment have managed to work themselves up over Kent signing Stuart Clark for the first part of the next summer is a needless distraction and reeks of hypocrisy

On an idle Sunday, some stray thoughts.

I am staggered at the way large sections of the English cricket establishment and even the English media have managed to work themselves up over Kent signing Stuart Clark for the first part of the next summer.

Not only is it a needless distraction, but it also reeks of hypocrisy. Have they forgotten the generosity New Zealand extended to them by allowing Jimmy Anderson to play for Auckland to gain match practice during England's last tour there?

And this quote from Andrew Strauss is a bit rich: "It's very easy for the counties to be short-sighted and worry about their next championship game and season … From an England team's point of view it's important we all need to buy into the fact that an England team performing well helps everyone, including the counties." He was the other beneficiary in New Zealand, playing five games for Northern Districts.

And last year, the BCCI hosted an England High Performance squad during the England-India Test series, and the squad included Sajid Mehmood and Amjad Khan, both of whom were drafted into the England one-day team. It's another matter that the squad returned without playing a single match in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.

The New Zealand cricket board extended the same generosity to the touring Indians and Rahul Dravid made the most of it by scoring a hundred for Canterbury. It was pathetic that the Indian board chose to withdraw Sachin Tendulkar and Dinesh Karthik from a practice match contaminated by the presence of couple of ICL players. It made the world's most powerful cricket body look mean and small.

I am waiting to see if Craig McMillan is part of the commentary team for the second Test. Sky TV are right to tell BCCI, which wants McMillan, another ICL player, withdrawn, to stuff it. I am hoping the New Zealand board stand by Sky. Someone has to tell the BCCI that it might make the most money, but it doesn't own the world.

Coming back the England, I can't help feeling the obsession with the Ashes borders on the unhealthy. It's time to wake up to the reality that there is more to cricket than their traditional rivalry with Australia. The truth is the Ashes has only been in contest once in the last 20 years.

And obsessing with one contest and one opposition can be hugely distracting. It was ridiculous to hear the chatter about the Ashes even before England started their West Indies tour.

Despite all the hype about this being an Ashes year, the first task of the summer for England is to win back the Wisden Trophy.

I feel sorry for John Dyson, who will now become a reference point for gaffes after messing up the D/L calculations. He is not the first man on the earth to make a mistake, and pray, what was the captain doing?

And I felt sorrier for Bryce McGain. It was as if the South Africans were avenging themselves for a lifetime of torment against Shane Warne. McGain isn't the first Australians legspinner to have been taken to cleaners on his debut. But he is 37 and might have played his last Test.

Like Daryll Cullinan said after the second day, you don't want to see any cricketer being humiliated and having to experience the day that McGain experienced.

And news has just come in that the IPL has been shifted out of India. To where it is not certain yet, but what's certain is that Lalit Modi seems to have met his match in P Chidambaram, the Indian home minister. No one has made Modi sweat more in recent times.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo