Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Armchair view of the world

I have watched quite a bit of cricket recently – a test match in Bridgetown, a few ODIs and some T20. The game of cricket is going through a period of change, not something it is that well known for. The money and glitz of twenty-twenty cricket is driving this change, but through all this potential upheaval one thing is constant: the sound of bat on ball.

West Indies and Australia have just finished a three match test series. Given the relative strengths of the two teams this could well be expected to be a walk over but this was not the case. West Indies fought hard in all three tests, earned a creditable draw in the second and had their chances in the first. I think there will be some quiet satisfaction in the Caribbean at the fight shown by their team. The last test match was in Barbados at the Bridgetown Oval – one of the great Test arenas. This was a cauldron of quick bowling in the 1980s with an excited crowd urging on Roberts, Holding, Garner and Marshall to send down more lightning bolts. It was the ultimate test for a batsman and plenty failed. The 2008 version was, however, less a cauldron and more a tea cup. The ground was virtually deserted and there was, therefore, virtually no atmosphere. The worrying thing is that this is cricket mad Barbados and the West Indies are playing Australia, surely the biggest draw in world cricket. The talk of whether Test cricket will become second place to T20 is largely academic if no one turns up to watch them...

Spool forward a couple of days and West Indies took on Australia in a T20 match – the first T20 international in the West Indies. Barbados rain meant that the match was shortened to 11 overs. Australia made what everyone expected to be a challenging 97 but someone forgot to tell the West Indies this. Xavier Marshall, the Test opener without a first class century, played some remarkable shots. He hooked the first ball of the innings from Brett Lee for six. In the next over he hit Mitchell Johnson over the Greenidge and Haynes stand. He may be inexperienced but wow, can he hit a cricket ball. After three overs the WI were 51-0 and won with two overs to spare. A remarkable display ... to a full house.Various people have been saying that the days of the 50 over ODI are numbered. I hope not. True, the format can look a bit formulaic and they are sometimes a bit dull. The counter argument is that they can produce some excellent cricket. I don’t just mean hitting, twenty-twenty style, I mean a proper innings against a bowling attack that is not just bowling yorkers. The first England v New Zealand ODI shows this, England’s innings had plenty to enjoy. Bell batted quite nicely for his 46 and Collingwood for his 64. Shah’s 49 was a brutal twenty-twenty inspired knock. It is Pietersen’s 110 that his match will be remembered for. A magnificent innings that showed him at his best. There is no way this innings could be played in a twenty-twenty match; there is simply not enough time. The thought of giving up an innings like this is unthinkable to me – and there are many other examples: Gilchrist in the last World Cup Final, Ponting in the previous World Final and countless by Tendulkar, Jayasuriya, Lara or Inzimam.

In a twist of fate, I was able to watch the West Indies v Australia T20 game because it was delayed by rain. Just before this I watched a Lancashire v Yorkshire T20 game – no rain at Old Trafford (of course). This featured Michael Vaughan and the return of Andrew Flintoff. I say return, he lasted one ball with the bat and did not turn his arm over – but it was good to see him out there. Vaughan? He got a duck too – so no emergency call up to Antigua for him. What was particularly interesting about this game was that it was a) a low scoring game and b) a fantastic game of cricket. Yorkshire made 135-8, surely not enough for the powerful Lancashire batting line up ... but it was! In a tense finish Yorkshire’s bowlers spearheaded by Tim Bresnan who took 2-12 denied Lancashire . He bowled the best last over I have seen in a T20. There was only one six hit in the whole game but it was the tightness of the game that made it exciting. Quite often it is the games where the ball slightly rules the bat that are the best to watch.

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