Summer of Sport Part3 - Ashes early preview

Ashes 2013 Preview

Test Match Cricket is one of those sports that you either love or just don’t get. For those that don’t get it the sport is easy to mock, any sport where the players stop for lunch and tea, does makes itself an easy target. The fact that a match lasts five days causes much incredulity and when after all that time it can still be a draw these same people can only throw their hands up and shake their heads. Even more bewildering is the fact that a team can be hundreds of runs behind with only one wicket left and can still earn a draw if they survive the full five days. Then there’s the fact that rain and bad light can bring a premature end to proceedings.

To be in the ‘love it’ camp you have to acknowledge all those quirks that are peculiar to Cricket and rather than mock them, see them as charming, the sort of charm that you will struggle to find in other sports. Twenty-twenty cricket, where each team is only allocated 20overs each to bat and the game only lasts about two and a half hours, has brought a new audience to the game, a lot of who still can’t see the attraction of a game lasting five days. What they are missing is that five days allows the drama to build, often to a thrilling crescendo. It also allows time for patience, individuals have to show patience, batsmen need to be out there for hours to play a match winning or saving innings. Bowlers equally need to not be in a rush and easily frustrated, they may have to bowl for two hours without taking a wicket in order to earn the prize scalp of a top batsmen. Captains also have to have long term plans in place and get the right balance between trusting those plans to allow them time to bear fruit and thinking on their feet and changing those plans when their eyes and gut feeling tell them that those plans need changing.

Twenty-twenty is like watching the film rather than reading the book, like a meal from MacDonald’s rather than a three course meal from a Michelin star restaurant, like a breezy, up beat but forgettable pop tune rather than a brilliant crafted album full of thought provoking lyrics, an overnight stay in centre parks rather than a fortnight on a Caribbean cruise or a penalty shoot out rather than a seven goal thriller. All truly great things take time and the build up can be just as much fun as the climax.

Not only does a match last five days but all the big test match series consist of five matches, as this year’s Ashes series will. That is the perfect duration to allow for more than one huge swing in momentum, without going on for too long. England go into this series as strong favourites, partly because they are an impressive team who are particularly good at home and partly because Australia are somewhat in disarray with a squad a lot of observers are claiming is the weakest they have sent to England for many, many years. Only captain Michael Clarke looks to be truly world class and not too many of the rest of the team convince you with their performances that they will be in the team for years to come. At the time of writing Clarke has an injury concern, losing him from the batting line up would make England even stronger favourites. In the recent heyday from the early 1990s through the around 2007 the Australians seemed to be able to churn out international class batsmen, a lot of whom were world class, always fielding six strong batsmen ahead of their wicket keeper, when that keeper was Gilchrist that meant they had seven international class batsmen. Even if you hadn’t heard of them at the start of an ashes series, you knew they would be good, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the team. By the end of the series they had usually scored at least two centuries and showed you exactly why they were in the team. Now probably only Clarke would get into England’s batting line up. Bowling wise the seem to have a lot of decent bowlers to pick from but haven’t been able to replace the great Warne and McGrath.

England on the other hand have a strong batting line-up, with a lot of test match centuries between them. Cook and Pietersen have to be put in the ‘world class’ category, Trott is an exceptionally consistent international grinder, Bell at his best is every bit as good as Pietersen. Added to those four established stars for this series will be some young batsmen looking to establish themselves in the team, Joe Root in particular looks a star in the making, with a bucket full of runs already this season and hasn’t looked at all out of place in the few test matches he has played so far. Growing up watching England from the late 1980s onwards, a century from an England player used to be an occasion to be celebrate like an Olympic gold medal, if a player got into the 90s you would stay watching the television, making sure you didn’t miss out on this potentially momentous occasion. Now every time they bat you are surprised if at least one player doesn’t make a century. Especially as even if the top six players fail there’s still a decent chance that Matt Prior, the wicketkeeper coming it a number seven could score a century himself.

As a fan the feelings about England’s bowling attack has also completely changed since the dark days of the 1990s. Now every time they select a test match team it is a case of which international class bowlers they are going to leave out, whereas it used to be a case of which bowlers who weren’t international class would be selected. In particular Jimmy Anderson has developed into a genuinely top class swing bowler and Graham Swann has shown that the art form of finger spin bowling still has a place in the modern game and when done expertly it can still be a serious wicket taking threat.

If England play to their potential and Australia continue with the disarray then this series could get very ugly very fast for Australian fans. As an England fan who has lived through many one sided hammerings from Australia that scenario would be sweet to watch, but the sports fan who loves the drama in me is sort of hoping for a battling performance from the Australians to make it into a classic series, with England still winning of course.

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