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Wednesday, January 5th Four walkovers and a stalemate. This has been the dullest Ashes series in living memory and still it goes on. I feel like a tourist whose long-awaited dream holiday has turned into a nightmare, trapped in a dingy hotel above a 24-hour Barmy Army karaoke bar, suffering from ear-ache and chronic disillusionment and counting the days until it is all over. It has been the triumph of the competent over the shambolic. England have done well, no doubt, but they play cricket like Oliver Cromwell might have done, if he hadn’t thought it the devil’s work. It’s been so dull that even Paul Collingwood has had enough.
And throughout, there has been the insistent drumbeat of patriotic bias, as welcome in the commentary booth as a nest of scorpions in your biscuit jar. Chief cheerleader is Ian Botham. Listening to his gratingly one-sided contributions is like being hit on the head repeatedly by a white and red inflatable hammer. When Phil Hughes half-heartedly claimed a catch today, Beefy exploded. Clearly, Hughes was a cheat. A lesser man might have reflected on some of the other examples of sharp practice in recent years, from the unorthodox use of Murray Mints in 2005 to Strauss’s “catch” at Lord’s in 2009. But not Beefy. This is the Ashes. It’s us and them. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. God Save the Queen! Pass the earplugs.
Thursday, January 6th The BCCI do not want to use the UDRS system and have refused an invitation to go and watch it in action in Australia, reminding us that sand-based full-cranial immersion remains as popular amongst sports administrators as it does in the ostrich community. Loathe it or tolerate it, UDRS has become part of the cricket experience. Watching the game without referrals, HotSpots, traffic lights and snickometers already seems an antiquated pastime, part of cricket’s yesteryear, like the days when TV companies couldn’t afford a camera at both ends and the viewer spent 50% of their time watching to see which way the batsman’s bottom moved.
So what’s the BCCI’s problem? The suggestion that they can’t afford it is entertaining, but not particularly credible. They have said that they have serious doubts about its accuracy, but that’s not the point. Accurate or not, if everyone else is using it, so should India. We need a level playing field of inaccuracy. Besides, lots of things that aren’t completely accurate are still an integral part of the game. Take Sreesanth for example. The poor chap was beside himself in Cape Town when a couple of appeals went against him. If you won’t embrace UDRS for any other reason, Mr Srinivasan, then do it for the sake of Sree’s blood pressure.
Friday, January 7th I read puzzling news from the Caribbean. Apparently, there is to be another Twenty20 competition in those parts, only six months after the last one. It is the kind of overkill that the ECB would be proud of. So who’s going to win this time?
“The Red Force is going to wipe everything away in front of them,” says Trinidad’s manager, Omar Khan.
“Last year we were accused of leaving coffee stains and isotonic energy drink spills in the Queen’s Park Oval canteen. So I have issued the players with rubber gloves and absorbent wipes and I can guarantee that the players will not leave the ground until all the work surfaces are spotless. As for the cricket, I expect that we will go out in the semi-finals again, but it doesn’t matter because everyone knows we are the best.”
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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. Providing his ransom demands continue to be met, he has promised never to write a whimsical book about village cricket. @hughandrews73