Michael Jeh November 14, 2009

Flat foot stooges

On many levels, cricket seems to be full of contradictions and confusion right now

Despite a surfeit of cricket, I sense a slight ‘flatness’ on the world circuit right now. In fact, that's probably the exact reason why there seems to be a lack of spark. On many levels, cricket seems to be full of contradictions and confusion right now.

The once-mighty West Indies arrived in my home city, Brisbane, today. Their arrival barely rated a mention, such has been their fall from grace in recent times, not helped by the uncertainty about whether the star players would tour or not. Any team that boasts the batting explosiveness of Gayle, Chanderpaul, Sarwan and Bravo is worth paying the entrance fee to watch but if early ticket sales are any indication, the Gabba staff can expect a quiet shift at the turnstiles. Ironically, the main attraction may end up being the least flamboyant batsman in the squad – hometown boy Brendan Nash who is the least unlikely Calypso King in every respect.

Even the Australian team, shorn of it’s marquee stars of yesterday, crippled by minor injuries and in transition, is struggling to capture local imagination. The great irony is that Ashes tickets for this identical fixture in 12 months time are already in hot demand. No wonder Sir Viv is worried about the great legacy he left behind him in the halcyon days of the West Indian dynasty.

When it comes to injuries and player fatigue, the fans too seem fatigued. It seems that no amount of support staff and hi-tech equipment (physiotherapists, trainers, doctors, exercise scientists, ice baths, compression clothing etc) can arrest the attrition rate of minor niggles and injuries. Some of these complaints may look trivial and soft to old-timers who claimed to have played through more serious pain for the pride of wearing national colours but it is the modern way. They clearly play a whole lot more cricket these days, that overload may be too much for tired bodies and there’s no doubt that the contemporary cricketer will not often play through pain. Perhaps he is not even allowed to. Sports medicine hasn't yet paid huge dividends for the spectators who want to see their heroes on the park and not on the bench or on the beach.

'Player fatigue' is the latest buzz word and there is little doubt that it is a factor. Yet, the fittest and richest cricketers of all time, prepared to hire themselves out as mercenaries for any paymaster, seem to be forever unable (or rested) from what used to be the pinnacle of the game – international cricket. The West Indies are clearly the best example of that. At a time when the ICC is flogging the international game to death and player payments are soaring, it’s hard to reconcile the contradictory shouts of “too much money, too little money, too much cricket, more cricket please”. No country is exempt from that confusion.

Someone like Michael Clarke is an example of one of the few whose position is consistent on this issue – his fragile back and a visionary manager have mapped out a long-term position that places country and body before yet another hired gun contract. Then you’ve got guys like Gayle, Bravo, Flintoff and Pietersen, allegedly patriotic but forever unavailable for national duty due to injuries or franchise commitments.

Pakistan too cannot be left out of any conversation when it comes to confusion or irony. The smiling Younis Khan is either the captain or unavailable. Mohammad Yousuf is either banned or likely to be skipper. Their ‘home’ games are anything but, hardly the fault of the cricketers or administrators though. How long can their long-suffering and passionate fans keep the faith?

India, usually unbeatable at home, beaten comfortably by a young Aussie team without any of the jewels that adorn the Indian crown. I’m still struggling to understand how a team comprising Sehwag, Tendulkar, Dhoni, Gambhir and Yuvraj can possibly be beaten in home conditions but a quick look at the bowling attack hints at the real reasons why. The local IPL franchises, playing in familiar conditions and with the pick of the international players, fail to qualify a team in the semi-finals.

In the ultimate stroke of irony, at a time when some players who want to play representative cricket are being rested, Andrew Symonds, he who cannot bring himself to cope with the spotlight of fame, preferring beer over Gatorade, fishing nets over cricket nets, happy to walk away from an international career when others are killing for the opportunity, is invited back to play for his beloved Queensland Bulls. The scene of his reincarnation? A Town Like Alice!

To cap it off, England have just shown us they can play ‘power’ cricket after all in their Twenty20 international in Johannesburg. It’s all starting to go Irish……

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane