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Review

Wisden Cricketers' Almanack Australia 2004-05

From a distance everything about Australian cricket appears impregnable, even perfect

Scyld Berry
19-Dec-2004
Shine comes off green and gold


Wisden Cricketers' Almanack Australia 2004-05, 976 pages, published by John Wisden & Co, is available in hardback for £22.50 © Wisden
From a distance everything about Australian cricket appears impregnable, even perfect. Close up though - and Wisden Australia takes you close up - not everything is lovely in the Aussie garden.
Take their second Test against Zimbabwe at Sydney. It was a decent game which went into the fifth day and Australia had to chase 172. Yet the crowd for the whole game was 18,363, the smallest crowd for a completed Test at the SCG since 1888.
In `Notes by the Editor' Christian Ryan says of Australia's two new Test venues, Darwin and Cairns: "At the time of writing there seems every chance that international cricket's newest playing fields are already being put out to pasture."
Australian cricket sets the highest standard on the field, yet sometimes it cannot attract spectators. In the same notes Ryan observes: "There is a simple reason why the five-Test series held sway for cricket's first century and a bit. It works. Five days make a Test and five Tests make a series." But only when England tour are Australian spectators served the full, contemplative, satisfying dinner that is a five-Test series. India played a four-Test series, only the second of its kind in Australia in 121 years: "It has neither the jagged frenzy of three Tests nor the leisurely suspense of five ... Here's hoping it was the last."
The media fall short in Australia too, according to Ryan's Notes. On television they sometimes have to make do with Allan Border as a commentator. Being a national selector he cannot say anything critical - so it's as well we are spared David Graveney and Geoff Miller. Worse than that, there was nobody to say anything on Channel 9 or a live picture of any kind when Shane Warne was in Cairns pursuing the record for most Test wickets and equal on 527 with Muttiah Muralitharan. Australian cricket followers had to watch The Price is Right instead.
Newspapers aren't exempt from criticism either. Instead of describing what happened, Australian correspondents, programmed by their sports editors, "escort a tape recorder into the post-stumps press conference, pick out the raciest quotes and unload them on to their laptops. Maybe chuck in a couple of stats. Then hit send ... It is possible that Australians have never played cricket more swashbucklingly than we do now. It is equally possible that we have never reported on it more tediously."
Elsewhere in the Almanack, Gideon Haigh has a go at the administration while celebrating the 100th anniversary in May 2005 of the inaugural meeting of the Australian Board of Control. The current CEO James Sutherland admits in an interview that the national board is dependent on the six state associations, as dependent as the ECB on the 18 first-class counties. He admits too that the system isn't right at state level: "The culture 20 years ago was very supportive of players who worked." Now they get paid enough for playing cricket, but most of them do nothing but train in winter and have no job when they finish playing. Reminiscent of county cricket.
Further scope for improvement would appear to exist in club or grade cricket where European names dominate the averages in the Almanack, except for Richard Chee Que in Sydney. In the leading London club sides up to half the names are now Asian. Australian cricket has yet to integrate the many immigrant Indians and Sri Lankans.
But Australia still have immense advantages, like their climate, and Shane Warne, who is given tributes by six former Australian wrist-spinners, and Adam Gilchrist, who has scored more quickly than anybody else who has made 1,000 Test runs, according to some amazingly detailed research for the Almanack by Charles Davis.
The Almanack itself is of the same worthy standard as the Australian team. Having fewer matches to cover than the English one, it offers a paragraph of profile on each first-class player and his recent development. Shaun Tait, the new quick, is not as bad as his record for Durham suggested. In a one-day game for South Australia he took 8 for 43, the best figures in state one-day history.
Scyld Berry is cricket correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph.
Rating: 4./5