England June 18, 2011

The ugliness of well-played Test cricket

And the British public's shameful treatment of the Rose Bowl

Tuesday, June 14th I’m not sure that cricketers should be allowed to talk too much in public, but I’d make an exception in the case of Graeme Swann because every now and then he comes out with something that causes me to stop chewing my cereal in surprise. Like this statement, for instance:

“If there’s an uglier top three in the world than Strauss, Cook and Trott, I don’t know of it.”

This is the kind of thing we want to read. Signs of cracks in the depressingly immaculate team spirit of Team England. They may be all huddles and embarrassing dances on the field, but secretly, they loathe each other. Still, I did think he was being a bit harsh. After all, Strauss has a certain square-jawed charm and his deputy possesses the most immaculate set of eyebrows in the county of Essex.

But it seems I got the wrong end of the stick. He wasn’t assessing their physical attributes. He was admitting that he finds watching England’s top-order trio doing their thing to be a less than stimulating experience. He did go on to explain that the sedative effect of their batting, with the attendant risk of nodding off and falling from your chair on the team balcony, is a price worth paying because it helps keep the show on the road and the win bonuses flowing.

Sadly, the rest of us don’t have that consolation. It isn’t their fault of course. They do what they do and they do it very well. But here’s the unspoken truth of Test cricket. When it is played very well, it can sometimes be, well, quite dull. We all enjoy watching KP thrash the ball around, or Sachin battling against the odds on a dodgy track. But well-drilled, efficient grinders accumulating steadily on flat pitches? That’s ugly.

Thursday, June 16th There was much talk about the poor crowds in Cardiff and we can expect more as the five-day rain festival at the Rose Bowl gets underway. The reasons for the empty seats are not clear, but hacks and pundits appear to be in agreement that it’s a jolly poor show and reflects badly on the part of the British public that they are not flocking in their droves to these poky little venues at the extremities of the island in order to pay £70 for the privilege of sitting in the rain all day. Shame on you, Britain!

Friday, June 17th
The legends of Caribbean cricket must grow weary of being asked to explain the inexplicable. In an interview in the Guardian today, Viv Richards had another stab at it, pointing out that the talent is there but that the players, selectors and management are all pulling in different directions. He’s right, of course, but will anyone listen?

Take the Chris Gayle stand-off. We know he’ll be back. The WICB know he’ll be back. Otis Gibson knows he needs him back. But it isn’t going to happen just yet because all parties need time to extricate themselves from the situation with dignity, like contestants at the end of a game of naked Twister. Then next month, they’ll do it all again. Players sulk, administrators posture and nothing changes.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England