October 31, 2013

The Ashes aren't what they used to be

It's all different and watered down: from the trash-talking to the warm-ups and the terminology

I remember the days when Australians were real Australians and a tour Down Under was something to be endured. Nowadays England players call it "an opportunity" and profess excitement about what awaits them, while their Aussie counterparts sit around comparing notes about coffee. It's just not the same.

English tourists used to be greeted with robust trash-talking, which intimidated partly because it was so terse. England players would be assessed and found wanting within a single sentence because they simply didn't warrant any more words than that. Test cricket is an astonishingly complex game that usually gives rise to lengthy debate, but the open-and-shut case against any England player meant they could often be disregarded with a single adjective.

What do we get now? We get stuff like this from Ricky Ponting: "I think the England team might be slightly past their absolute peak."

Even the most shameless sub-editor would think twice about repackaging that as "England are past it" for a headline. Ponting then followed that up with: "Some of their players would say the same; that they're probably just tapering off a fraction."

As trash talk goes "might be slightly past their absolute peak" and "probably just tapering off a fraction" are hardly incendiary. I was going to add an even more insipid suggestion by way of parody, but I don't think I can outdo him and so won't bother.

Something else that used to happen was that each side's bowlers would be reclassified. Australia's fast-medium trundlers would become fast bowlers, while England's (admittedly rare) quicks were invariably demoted to fast-medium.

But it's not like that now. Now Australia's bowlers are invariably classed as "injured", while the best that can be achieved with England's platoon of pacey giants is a suggestion that there's maybe a bit of a worry that the attack might possibly end up being a bit one-dimensional. It probably will, but it's not the greatest insult - after all, the great West Indies teams didn't find the need to resort to a second dimension for a period of about a decade.

Nor are Australia's batsmen queuing up to face this one-dimensionality. Back in the day, a promising young batsman would bolster his average by scoring a hundred against England for his state and then another for Australia A. These days, Australia A are over in India, masquerading as Australia, forcing Australia B to step into the Australia A-shaped void left behind. Meanwhile, each state team scheduled to play England just happens to have a Shield match starting the day before, meaning they will be fielding second teams themselves.

England might be slightly past their absolute peak, but they shouldn't be unduly troubled by state second teams. What happened to England v the Whole of Australia? An Ashes tour should be about the tourists getting an absolute hammering in every warm-up match, so that everyone can ponder just how embarrassing it will be for them when the real cricket starts.

This was always such a key part of the experience. How has it come to this? I guess Australia have probably just tapered off a fraction over the last few years.

Alex Bowden blogs at King Cricket

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