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Notes by the Editor
12 Australia show the way England’s showing against Australia last summer, along with the record of Australians in county cricket, offered ample evidence of the gap that has opened between the two countries. Since England relinquished the Ashes in 1989, six more series have passed and, generally speaking, they have been overwhelmed in each one. But last summer’s Australians drove home a further message. Players have to give the public cricket that is entertaining as well as motivated: maybe the two are linked more than is appreciated.
At the end of last season there was a game at Cardiff that was neither. Surrey’s first innings lasted from the second day until the last afternoon, by which time they had 701 on the board and were 443 runs ahead. True, it rained, but it is a harder truth that there are days when players do not deserve the efforts of the ECB and the counties to keep them in employment. A strategic aberration at Chelmsford apart, what made Steve Waugh’s Australians so exciting was the way they went about their cricket. It’s a tired old refrain, but playing cricket has to be more than a job. Sadly, not all cricketers appreciate this as obviously as the former England and Lancashire opening batsman, Winston Place, who died in January 2002. Asked on the last day of his first season what he was doing for a holiday, Place replied, “This is the last day of my holiday.” And when, many years later, he was told that Lancashire no longer required him, he wept.
The holiday comment brought to mind a review of Peter Carey’s 30 Days in Sydney. What emerges from this book, wrote reviewer Phillip Knightley, “is a hymn to all those characteristics that make Australians what they are: collectivism, mateship, courage, disdain for authority and love of life, a people forever on holiday”. There is enough there to describe the way Australians play their cricket; enough to explain why people turned out in their thousands to see them, whether for a Test match or a game in a park against an MCC invitation eleven. They enjoyed the feeling of being on holiday as well; going to the cricket wasn’t just something to do. It showed that there is still a healthy appetite for cricket in England, but it will not be satisfied if players treat the game with disdain.
To bore or not to bore What confuses the issue is that cricket has always been more than entertainment alone. It is a game of tactics and psychological pressures, on the individual and the team. There are situations in which tactics are in opposition to entertainment; captains will argue that winning (or not losing) comes before crowd-pleasing. England’s victories in Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 2000-01 were not always pretty to watch. They resulted from attritional passages of play intended to wear down their opponents’ resolve. But if England’s cricket was not always fun, it was intriguing and, in retrospect, intelligent. Being boring paid dividends, as Steve Waugh acknowledged in a back-handed way when he spun England’s winter strength into a spring insult. Nasser Hussain rose to the bait at Edgbaston: England tried to play a game they were inexperienced at, went one down and never recovered. Back on the subcontinent last winter, England put attrition ahead of
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attractiveness, made few friends but made up lost ground after losing the First Test to India.
In order to frustrate the supremely gifted Sachin Tendulkar, Ashley Giles bowled his left-arm spin down a leg-side line and to a leg-side field until Tendulkar became so bored (or insulted) that he chanced his arm against the odds, failed and was stumped for the first time in 89 Tests. The Englishmen danced about in unashamed delight but the Bangalore weather gods rained on their parade. The game, almost deservedly so, was drawn. Whether England’s tactics were within the letter of the Law, let alone the spirit, is debatable. Obviously the umpires chose to think so, despite the ICC’s most recent playing condition that “For bowlers whom umpires consider to be bowling down the leg side as a negative tactic, the strict limited-overs wide interpretation shall be applied.”
This condition, or more expressly that particular wording, took effect from September 2001; too late to bring Pakistan to book for employing similar leg-side tactics against England’s batsmen at Old Trafford last June. Mind you, even if the new regulation had come in, any oversight by the umpires would have been lost in the furore over dismissals shown by television to result from no-balls.
An atmosphere of lawlessness All in all, 2001 was not a good year for umpires. But you have to sympathise with them; these days they bear the responsibility for maintaining not just the Laws but the order. The word “anarchy” appeared in cricket headlines a few times in 2001; not something anyone should be proud of. An atmosphere of lawlessness hung over the first two Tests between Sri Lanka and England in March; by November, India and South Africa had taken the law into their own hands. In Sri Lanka, the umpires were under siege – psychologically if not physically; in South Africa it was the match referee, Mike Denness.
Denness was officiating at the Second Test between South Africa and India at Port Elizabeth when he imposed penalties on six Indian players and incurred the wrath of a nation. It would be unfair to say he brought the game to the brink of schism; others did that, among them Jagmohan Dalmiya, former president of the ICC and, since September 2001, president of the Indian board. When India took umbrage at Denness’s penalties and insisted he be removed as referee for the final Test – otherwise the team would go home and take their lucrative television purse with them – the South African board buckled under the threat of lost revenue. Denness was denied access to the Third Test, at Centurion, and the ICC withdrew their imprimatur. For the time being anyway: past experience warns that one should never take any ICC ruling for granted. But as things stand, the match at Centurion does not count as an official Test.
Viewed dispassionately, it was difficult to gauge what grieved the Indians more: the fact that prime among the penalised was Tendulkar, accorded godlike status by his millions of adoring fans, or that Denness, white and British, a former England captain, was a representative of the old colonial power. Accusations of racism, because he took no action against the South Africans’ appeals and sledging, muddied the waters further.
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