Stern Words October 5, 2006

Hindsight TV

There's a newish sports TV channel around specialising in nostalgia of the highest order. I won't reveal its name in case I'm accused of shameless plugging but I believe it may advertise its wares elsewhere on this website. It should be called Hindsight T



Mike Atherton is made to test out his dodgy back © Getty Images
There's a newish sports TV channel around specialising in nostalgia of the highest order. I won't reveal its name in case I'm accused of shameless plugging but I believe it may advertise its wares elsewhere on this website. It should be called Hindsight TV.

The other day they were showing England against Pakistan at The Oval in 1996. It proved two things unequivocally, one of which we knew, the other we sort of knew. Firstly, it revealed the full horror of England's ineptitude around that time. Their batting wasn't bad (Atherton, Stewart, Hussain, Thorpe) but the bowling was patchy to say the least (Mullally, Gough, Cork, Croft, Salisbury).

At that time England were sponsored by a leading beer and I find that whenever I see that red-and-yellow logo, I start to feel a bit faint. It is a symbol of failure, not because the beer was bad but the team it sponsored was.

But the most pertinent revelation of this trip down (recent) memory lane was just how tough it was for the batsmen. This was a high-scoring game on a decent Oval pitch but to see Wasim and Waqar making Mike Atherton hop around like he was on a bucking bronco was a Tardis-like transportation. And it was only ten years ago.

When Alan Mullally bowled, he seemed to be filmed in slow motion. When Wasim Akram bowled, his arms moved so fast he appeared to be in one of those Harold Lloyd silent films from the 1920s.

There were no half-measures with Wasim, no back-of-a-length nagging. The ball was aimed at your shoes or your head. Atherton was the only player wearing a sweater on a hot south-London day. Now we know that his back must have been giving endless gyp and he probably couldn't see straight for all the painkillers he was popping.

Just seeing Test batsmen hopping around was a novelty. In the end it was Mushtaq Ahmed who bowled Pakistan to victory but the sight of Wasim and Waqar in full flow did make one nostalgic for a balance between bat and ball that is disappearing from Test cricket. Would Ian Bell have scored three hundreds on the bounce against this lot? What do you think?

Where are the quick bowlers to fear these days? Shoaib Akhtar, when he's fit and firing; Brett Lee sporadically; Shane Bond, but he's never fit. Flintoff's quick but an enforcer, not a thoroughbred, pure talent. Simon Jones is different, quick and interesting but injured. India are starting to produce some quicker bowlers but none of startling pace or quality.

The odds are stacked against the speed merchants: the amount of cricket played; more powerful, but lighter, bats; the restriction on bouncers; easier pitches.

I'm not advocating a return to the days of all-pace attacks with deathly over-rates and not a spinner in sight. But the most exciting bowlers are the ones with express pace or genius spin. To force the quick men into defensiveness and self-preservation makes the game poorer. And it won't leave much for the highlights film.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer