July 20, 2010

The quest for proper cricket

Andrew Hughes
Shivnarine Chanderpaul reaches a half-century, West Indies v South Africa, 3rd Test, Barbados, 4th day, June 29, 2010
Grind with a capital G: if six weeks non-stop of watching this man doesn’t build character in cricket watchers, nothing will  © AFP
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Conventional wisdom is that Test cricket needs a facelift, a makeover, an injection of conceptual botox, or at the very least, some form of major and invasive reconstructive format surgery. Whereas Twenty20 is dressed up in the latest consumer-enticing finery, fresh from the fevered minds of those clever marketing chaps, Test cricket is still wrapped in a shroud of dusty rules and cobwebbed ritual.

For example, even though a stadium may be overlooked by enormous towers featuring row upon row of pristine lightbulbs and served by many miles of lovely electrical cable, it is still possible for players to go off in the middle of the day due to bad light. And though rugby players may hurtle headlong into one another long after rain has turned their pitch into a quagmire, Test cricketers cannot possibly be asked to run about outside when the grass is a little damp.

And a good thing too. The future of Test cricket is not to be found in pink leather balls, cheerleaders or lunch breaks at midnight. Instead we must make a virtue of anachronism. Tradition and history are powerful selling points. Why else would a poky little ground in north London with an eight-foot slope be regarded with such awe by visiting Australians? Newcomers expect Test cricket to be stuffy, old-fashioned and impenetrable, and we should not disappoint them.

We can start by bringing back the timeless Test. Let’s turn Test cricket into a reservation for the world’s endangered grafters and stonewallers, men like Shivnarine Chanderpaul; true artists who deserve a bigger canvas. Imagine Paul Collingwood walking out to bat on the 17th morning of the Third Timeless Ashes Test. Picture, if your imagination can encompass it, Simon Katich batting for six or seven weeks as he builds an epic century single by patient single.

The next retrovation (we must steel ourselves to using the language of marketing) should be the uncovering of the pitch. Pitches these days are terribly bland. Pre-match horticulture reports linger hopefully on the odd green shoot or occasional tiny black line, which is as likely to be one of Nasser Hussain’s eyelashes as evidence of nascent cracking. And at the merest hint of moisture, groundsmen rush to protect their pampered patches of earth from the rude intrusion of Mother Nature.

That isn’t how cricket was meant to be. I want to see highly-skilled prima-donna superstar batsmen hopping and flapping about as the ball turns square on a sticky dog or takes enormous chunks out of a surface that has been baked in the sun for four days. Closing your eyes and swinging will no longer be an option, nor will 13 varieties of slog-sweep suffice to sustain an international career, and thus the batsmen will be separated from the Luke Wrights.

And finally, let’s do away with the laws on intimidatory bowling. Fast bowling, if it is any good, should always be intimidatory. Restrained from unleashing their full hostility, the modern fast bowler grows frustrated and turns instead to mouthing obscenities. Setting them free of artificial restrictions will therefore reduce sledging and bring about the beautiful spectacle of Dale Steyn trying to bounce six balls on over off Ricky Ponting’s face guard.

Now that, as the adverts will undoubtedly say, ideally in a Yorkshire accent, is proper cricket.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

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Posted by EricG on (July 23, 2010, 18:52 GMT)

As usual, BRILLIANT! As they say in American Homey Slang--"I',m down with that one, Dog!". I wonder what my Boss (an ex-Cricketeer from Trinidad) will do when I say: "By the way, I have some tickets for the upcoming Test. Can you put me off the schedule for the next, say, two and a half months, or so?"

Regards. Eric

Posted by Terry Jones of Australia on (July 22, 2010, 9:21 GMT)

There are 3 main problems with Test cricket: (1) Content. Test matches should be part of a 2 or 4 year qualification for either World Cup competition or Semi's & a final. Tests outside of this should be "friendly" matches (warm ups) replacing state/county warm ups in lead up to a tournment series of matches. (2) Pitches. Stop the boring you bat 2 days, I bat 2 days and pretend its a match on the fifth. We need moving pitches were average team score is 250 runs off 2.5-3 sessions. (3) Equal Pitch condition. 4 sessions per day (25,25,20,20) with each team batting for 45 overs each day. Allows closer & shorter matches whilst the quality and purpose is the same. It will even allow batsmen to bat for upto 225 overs and still get a result (although draws are still possible like now).

Posted by Steve Turner on (July 20, 2010, 21:43 GMT)

Wimbledon has done it with Tennis and even inspired Roger Federer's retro clothes line. It is seen as the biggest tournament by being real tennis with all its traditions. Test cricket should make the most of what it has and is and emphasise that it is the ultimate TEST of a cricketer.

Posted by Asad on (July 20, 2010, 20:57 GMT)

Completely agree with most of the stuff...except the stuff on timeless tests...i mean come on! if one test match would last for several months, players are gonna tire out aren't they?? and secondly if one test match would last for 3 months, then would a 4 match series stretch to a year??? that idea seems ridiculous! but i certainly agree with the fact that batting is ridiculously easy these days...theres gotta be some regulations on the quality of bats, and do away with the fielding restriction! dead tracks should be banned altogether...Most importantly the ten over and four over limit in ODI's and T20 should be thrown into the sewers!

Posted by Aditya on (July 20, 2010, 20:53 GMT)

@Andy Morgan Are you afraid of records being rewritten? Records have never been the sole intention of the beautiful game; they have infact been more of a statistical interest. Let them be broken. Who cares? Its ultimately the quality that matters; if a 1000+ is scored on a flat deck in say some 11-12 days, it wont be honoured anyway. But quality will improve.

Posted by Sriram on (July 20, 2010, 20:09 GMT)

Insidious!

Uncovered pitches will make Timeless Tests the shortest version of the game. Most teams will fold in less than 10 overs. This will diminish the market share of Twenty20. Housewives and teenagers with diminished attention spans (the so-called "new demography" of T20) will shift their loyalties to Shiv Chanderpaul and Simon Katich. Kids growing up in the Leeward islands will stop dreaming of IPL contracts and go to bed to nightmares of Contract negotiations with Digicell and the WICB. Chris Gayle will fly into the 5th IPL 3 days AFTER the tournament starts. The reason: He believes the future of cricket is Timeless tests and not T20.

Yeah, right!

Posted by fjhgfj on (July 20, 2010, 14:04 GMT)

you missed dravid the wall

Posted by Adarsh Vijayaraghavan on (July 20, 2010, 12:59 GMT)

For once, instead of being sarcastic, you seem to mean most of the things you say, and you are right! Bowlers have everything going against them- rapidly improving quality of bats, helmets, pads and so on, pitches, and the rules of the game. People who like only high scoring matches are not true fans, and they are just temporary fans. In a bid to give 'face-lift' to cricket, ICC is trying to woo these fans. It can do better by satisfying the true fans of cricket and make the game an even battle between bat and ball.

Posted by Alan D'silva on (July 20, 2010, 12:33 GMT)

Completely agree with every point

Posted by russell on (July 20, 2010, 12:02 GMT)

this ties in with Imran Khan's comments on the future of fast bowlers.the over supply of the short form of the game (which is heavily weighted in favour of the batsmen) has almost completely moved the focus on cricket away from test cricket. I would love to see a return to proper fast bowlers having batsmen ducking and weaving on well grassed pitches.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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