June 2, 2013

Joe and Jonny rekindle spirits

At Headingley, the two young England batsmen took batting and cricket back to its basics: of scoring runs from nearly every ball

Just when cricket appears to be dangerously close to tipping point, following the latest spot-fixing scandal, two young players unveil themselves and partly restore faith in the game.

The IPL scandal still has a long way to run and generally "a situation" has to hit rock bottom before the journey to recovery can commence. Consequently, it's to be hoped this latest fixing issue is the one to jolt cricket out of its complacency complex and cause the officials to take major steps towards rectifying what is potentially a terminal problem.

At the moment when the clouds hanging over the game were at their darkest, Headingley, not noted for hosting warm weather, provided a much-needed ray of sunshine. The first-innings partnership between Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow in the second Test against New Zealand was a timely reminder of many enticing aspects of the game of cricket.

The batting of Root and Bairstow was enthralling as they hit and ran like a couple of kids playing in the schoolyard at lunchtime. Their ultimate priority was a simple premise that should drive most innings - to score off virtually every ball. Their intent was there for all to see as they looked to play attacking shots, and when that wasn't feasible, they pushed and ran. Boy, how aggressively and shrewdly they ran. It reminded me of the days when Javed Miandad and Asif Iqbal, two turbo-charged Pakistan batsmen, considered a quick single to be a firm push to silly mid-on.

The urgency in the partnership of the two young Yorkies was a further reminder that there's only one valid reason to play the game at the highest level: to win the match and eventually the series.

Their partnership, when paired with the glorious strokeplay of Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay in an earlier series between India and Australia, was also confirmation that the game keeps evolving. While fans lament the passing from the game of such glorious batting talents as Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting, and Sachin Tendulkar's gradual fade, along come these young, vibrant players who justify the saying: "Nobody is irreplaceable".

It's not that Pujara and Vijay or Root and Bairstow or even Virat Kohli can directly replace any from that trio of star batsmen, but they are a reminder that all good players have a charm that, when coupled with intent, is well worth watching.

What is also worth noting, in an era where there are all sorts of weird and not-so-wonderful theories on batting, is that these young players are succeeding by relying heavily on the principle that batting is mainly about scoring runs and putting the onus on the bowlers.

The rise of these young batsmen is timely. Not only does cricket desperately need positive news to help dilute the unsavoury stuff, but the art of batting is also in serious need of a fillip. If any further proof was required that it's crucial the game has a constant influx of daring young strokemakers, these players provided a definitive answer.

The enthusiasm and boldness of young players excites fans and draws them to the cricket ground as surely as the smell of hops attract hotel customers. The reliance on older, more conservative batsmen in international teams may temporarily solidify a line-up but it does little to boost attendance.

If England's selectors think it's a tough choice deciding between Nick Compton and Bairstow on Kevin Pietersen's return, they should watch a re-run of that Headingley partnership. If that doesn't convince them, the choice is simple: England have the wrong selectors.

The rise of exciting young talents is crucial to the survival and prosperity of the game. However, prodigious talent needs to be supported by good governance and strong off-field leadership. Surely after watching some of the recent exciting batting from these rising stars, the officials must be inspired to work harder in "the best interests of the game".

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist