August 17, 2013

The maths-friendly space age

Andrew Hughes
Charlotte Edwards celebrates the run-out of Sarah Elliott, England Women v Australia Women, Only Test, 4th day, Wormsley, August 14, 2013
There's nothing quite like solving a complex mathematical equation  © Getty Images
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At first glance the format for the women's Ashes series looks odd, peculiar, dangerous. It seems the sort of idea that might crop up in the fevered dreams of a marketing wonk as he fights off a bout of malaria; a nightmarish cricket obstacle course. First there's a Test match, then some one-day internationals to negotiate, a scattering of T20, an egg-and-spoon race, a fancy-dress contest, once round the car park, and last one back loses the Ashes.

I'm no conservative, but I came over a bit Daily Mail when I first read about this subversive tampering with god's natural fixture order. I like my cricket set out the traditional way: Test matches here, the other stuff over there, but none of it in any way related. I can just about keep count of the score when it's best of five, but six points for a Test match and two for a one-day game? Sounds dangerously like maths to me.

But my failure to appreciate the potential of this format at first glance merely demonstrates once again that first glances, whilst useful to meerkats on lookout duty, and to perfectly matched couples spotting one another across a crowded battlefield, are no good at all when it comes to considering the important things in life, like cricket-fixture strategy.

In fact, on closer inspection it made a lot of sense. By attaching the Test to the limited-overs stuff, we are cryogenically preserving the only remaining specimen of multi-day international cricket in the women's game.

The men's game may not have quite the same problem, but it's only a matter of time. There are Test-shrinkage deniers, but like the polar ice caps, Test cricket is in need of preservation. Perhaps the ice should have first call on our attention, but after the ice, the whales, and those cute snow leopards, saving Test cricket should be the concern of us all.

Or not. I'm good either way, to be honest, but lots of people bang on about how important it is, so if they're serious (and given that we still haven't got day-night Tests or a Test Championship, you have to wonder) why not give this integrated format a try? After all, Test matches may be the bee's kneepads in England, but in many parts of the world, television executives regard paying to cover five days worth of cricket as on a par with forking out for live coverage of the International Wet Paint Observation Festival.

This new-fangled format kills two avian-themed problems with one stony object. We want Test cricket to be pre-eminent, and we think that a lot of one-day cricket lacks context. So put them together. Instantly, Test matches, with their hefty six points, have more weight than the rest, which keeps the five-day snobs happy; while the one-day stuff has a say in determining the eventual winners, so ceases to be meaningless.

It's an idea as beautiful as the thought of Michael Vaughan developing a tea allergy by the end of the summer. So if the lure of a closely matched series between two skilled teams is not sufficient to get you watching the women's Ashes this summer, then consider that in this integrated, maths-friendly, space-age format, you could be among the first humans on planet earth to witness the very future of international cricket.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here

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Posted by Praxis on (August 21, 2013, 5:20 GMT)

I think snow leopards are found in central Asia.

Posted by yujilop on (August 17, 2013, 6:39 GMT)

"The men's game may not have quite the same problem, but it's only a matter of time."

How true that is... With T20 taking in more viewers and sponsors, test series will definitely shrink in both size and frequency. It is particularly likely that some bilateral series (eg Aus vs Bang or Ind vs Zim) will shift to an amalgamated format like that of the Women's Ashes.

With so much cricket being played, either the member nations need to have completely separate first teams for Tests, ODIs and T20s, or some of the tournaments need to be merged into each other.

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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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