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NOTES BY THE EDITOR THE AGE OF SPEED
If you had to choose one word to sum up cricket in the early 21st century, what would it be? Some might say Australia, others Tendulkar or Murali. The cynical observer would be tempted to go for match-fixing or chucking; a South African might just say aaaarrrghh. A more persuasive contender might be something else altogether. In 2003, the name of the game is speed. The concentrated verve of Steve Waugh’s Australians has galvanised international cricket as a whole.
For most of the past 126 years, Test cricket was conducted at a leisurely pace. The occasional burst of frenzied activity only emphasised that the standard tempo was sedate. Nowadays, the longest form of the game – of any game – rattles along like a good television drama (which it is).
It helps that two of the fastest bowlers ever, Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar, are in their prime, turning every ball into theatre. But they are only a fraction of a second faster than their predecessors, if that: Shoaib’s 100mph delivery to Nick Knight at Cape Town, while pressing useful buttons in the minds of small boys and journalists, had the benefit of a wind roaring in from the Antarctic, and still, like Lee’s 100mph ball a week later, gave Knight no trouble. The more meaningful acceleration has come at the other end. The great dramatic art of fast bowling has been joined by that of fast batting.
Two of the fastest-scoring calendar years in Test history have been 2001 and 2002 (table, page 27). Four of the five fastest Test double-centuries of all time in terms of balls were made in the year to January 2003. In 2001-02, two marauding Australian left-handers, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, reinvented the business of opening the innings, seeing it as their job to blaze a trail rather than lay a foundation. As Simon Barnes shows on page 24, fast scoring is no longer the province of the occasional showman, a Botham or Jessop, but a stratagem used by whole teams, all day long. Beyond the turnstiles, life in general is moving faster, and for once the game is keeping up. Always a dance to the music of time, Test cricket is no longer a quadrille: it is a quickstep, maybe even a jive.
Far from being undermined or overshadowed by the growth of one-day internationals, Test cricket has sharpened up its act. One-day cricket, often regarded as a little trollop lowering her older sister’s standards, has actually
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enabled her to let her hair down. When you consider the electricity of the fielding and the exuberance of the fans, the immaculate virtuosity of Tendulkar, the flawed genius of Lara and Warne, the mysteries of the newmodel off-spinners, the spread of express bowling to New Zealand and India, the classical craftsmanship of McGrath and Dravid, the rampaging audacity of Adam Gilchrist, the wiles of Stephen Fleming and Nasser Hussain, the Greek tragedy of South Africa and the Ealing comedy of Pakistan, Test cricket may be more entertaining now than it has ever been.
Promises, promises But if it is the best of times, it is also the worst. Speed is not just the name of the game, but of the man who runs it: in July 2001, Malcolm Speed, boss of the Australian Cricket Board, moved to London to take on one of the world’s trickier jobs as chief executive of the International Cricket Council. His credentials were strong, his intentions were good and his urgency was striking. Within three months, the time once taken to organise an executive board meeting, Speed was standing on a designer podium at Lord’s, giving a glossy presentation of the ICC’s new strategy to an invited audience of the great, the good and the media.
He made all the right noises, and the air grew thick with abstract nouns: “transparency… accountability... relevance… progress… innovation… decisiveness… inclusiveness… vision… tradition… spirit of cricket… major culture shift… high impact…” Speed didn’t just promise us the world, he promised to act on his promises. The game’s governing body was acquiring a face, and leading us to expect some teeth.
Eighteen months later, we can begin exercising that accountability. It does not look good. Just when cricket has become more fun to watch, its bosses have made it harder to follow. For much of the past year, the ICC were at their worst, which is saying something. Their Champions Trophy did not produce a champion. Their Test Championship produced the wrong one. Their new One-Day Championship was so arcane that it went virtually unnoticed. Their World Cup consisted of more than 50 matches but hardly any real contests. And they adopted a stance on Zimbabwe that shamed the game.
When sport meets tyranny The cricket administrator’s favourite charge down the years, the catch-all phrase deployed to deal with naughty boys, has been “bringing the game into disrepute”. More often than not, it is hogwash. But early in 2003, the game really was brought into disrepute – by its own rulers.
Months before the World Cup began on February 9, it was clear that Zimbabwe was in a desperate state. Robert Mugabe’s government, returned to power in a flagrantly fixed election, was running a vicious, thuggish police state, apparently indifferent at best to the famine afflicting millions of its people. Those in Zimbabwe who raised the alarm risked imprisonment or worse: in 2002, the local human-rights forum reported 1,061 cases of torture. As the banners on marches say, if you weren’t
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