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At last, the waiting is over. Again. A tortuous, seemingly endless five entire days with no Test cricket have finally wended their pointless way into the history books, and the long-awaited England versus West Indies rematch now marches towards its thrillingly decisive climax at the Riverside today. The Wisden Trophy is still literally anyone’s. The two captains have been at each other’s throats like two top surgeons in a one-on-one emergency tracheotomy competition. And the Ashes (not to mention West Indies’ forthcoming home clash with Bangladesh) loom with massively gargantuan enormity as the players strain every conceivable physical and mental sinew to touch the elusive heavens of cricketing immortality. Truly, the eyes of the universe are trained through excited binoculars on the green Durham sward, and it is hard to envisage that this will not prove to be the greatest match cricket has ever seen.
Perhaps I am guilty of talking things up a little. The advance ticket sales suggest I may even be guilty of talking things up more than a little. Following three days of medium-to-low calibre action at Lord’s, and with the West Indian captain essentially proclaiming that he would rather be doing something else somewhere else than spending a long weekend standing outside in the north of England in the middle of May, the cricketing public is showing little appetite for this game. In fact, it is pushing this game around its plate. It may nibble the odd morsel, but it is clearly watching its weight and saving itself for a far more satisfying main course – Ashes pie.
The first Test was an unsatisfying match, despite its nail-biting denouement. Admittedly, it was only nail-biting for the friend with whom I watched the evening session of day 3 – he had tickets for day 4, and would have missed out on his refund if the West Indies had resisted until stumps. The tension in his wallet was unbearable.
England played well enough, but the startling ineptitude of their opponents in the field and with the bat renders judgement largely irrelevant. If the Australians are not quite quaking in their boots, it is at least partially because the Ashes remain sufficiently far away that they have not yet put their boots on.
Here, then, are the official Confectionery Stall Conclusions To Be Drawn From The First Test:
However, the British media clearly do not consider Onions to be a long-term prospect. They blew every conceivable onion-related headline and wordplay at the first available opportunity, rather than pacing themselves over a 70-Test career. Already, journalists and sub-editors will be rifling through their recipe books trying to find more onion-based dishes in case the Gateshead Goliath transpires to be one of England’s greats.
On then, to the Riverside, the mostly empty Riverside. During his entertaining to-and-fro with Gayle, Andrew Strauss said: “The important thing is that Test cricket gets the attention it deserves. And that means that people prepare themselves properly for any Test match you play. You don’t want Test cricket to be devalued in any way, shape or form.”
These are noble thoughts, which all Test fans would support. But these words ring a little hollow before a Test at a ludicrous time of year against a team that had not been planning to be involved. Test cricket is the pinnacle of the game, but it is not always treated as such by its authorities. Teams (both home and away) are habitually underprepared, some are depopulated by the tedious political squabbling over the ICL, series are raced through at breakneck speed, and pitches are often designed to provide time-span rather than contest. Test cricket is increasingly often devalued in many ways, shapes and forms.
Gayle’s recent mutterings to the media also proved what a phenomenal entertainer the man is, both on and off the pitch. After encouraging Strauss not to “sleep with Chris on his mind” (sage advice at any time, unless the Chris to whom he was referring was Chris Tavare, who was often prescribed as an insomnia cure by the NHS in the 1980s), Gayle bemoaned how the demands of captaincy force him to go through innumerable onerous tasks. “There’s always something you have to go and do, you know, extra,” said the Kingston Cavalier. “Lunch or dinner, some other thing.” These, of course, are meals of which Gayle would normally steer well clear. He is very much a breakfast, elevenses, teatime nibbles and bedtime snack man. The fact that he is prepared to alter his dietary timetable for the needs of the team is a mark of the man.
England should win this game – they have beaten West Indies in 11 of the past 13 Tests in this country, and it seems unlikely that Gayle’s comments about wanting to give up the captaincy and not being particularly fussed about the future of Test cricket will serve to inspire his troops to follow their captain in a Test match. Let us hope it is a better game than Lord’s, however, and that Captain Chris enjoys it. He might not need Test cricket, but Test cricket needs him.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writerFeeds: Andy Zaltzman
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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. 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 ESPNcricinfo.