Test cricket – spiralling downwards through ineptitude or self-destruction?

The last few days should have seen the trundling along of two tests in the quiet unassuming way that this form of the game takes. New Zealand hosting England at the end of the Southern Hemisphere summer and Australia trying to get on even cricketing terms in South Africa…but no!

We’ve seen the self-destruction of both England in cricketing terms and Australia in moral terms – both in their own way adding to the death spiral that test cricket seems have gotten itself into or perhaps tossed into by the unending rise of T20 cricket as millennials crave for ever increasing instant gratification and excitement.

One can understand the governing boards increasing desire to promote the instant stuff as millennials now outnumber the baby boomers of the 50s and 60s in sheer numbers as well as increasing economic power but who doesn’t appreciate a fine vintage or tradition going back centuries. I dare say the old fogeys of the time railed against one day cricket in the 60s and 70s and definitely against the ideas of one K Packer.

But I digress…England’s performance was shambolic as everyone has admitted but perhaps the damage was done weeks or months ago? I’ve blogged long and often during the Ashes series first hand that the preparation for that was appalling (above his pay-grade sayeth the vice captain at the infamous Boycott interview in Sydney) and the same has been true in NZ. Admittedly England would do and have done the same against touring sides; so as others have said its time for administrators to stand up and remove the bias towards home sides in tests.

Admittedly I haven’t seen the England innings in full being in a non-cricketing nation at the moment but I’ve seen it documented in a tweet (it fits in less than 140 characters!) and a video of the wickets falling. Footwork seemed to be lacking as did the ability to pick up line and length. More practice in the middle would have helped but what is even more worrying is the lack of gumption and determination to stick around. As I’ve said before ‘oh my Boycott and Tavare of long ago’. The grace with which NZ behaved as a team when clearly superior was commendable.

Some have said that a mix of T20 and ODIs have not helped preparation for the longer game but teams nowadays have so few players in two let alone all the formats of the game. A 14 a side game is just devaluing the currency too.

So…what’s the answer? How about playing more proper challenging cricket? How about a proper tour of NZ and elsewhere and just not adding a few games in NZ on at the end of an Ashes tour? How about giving the opposition some respect and not just crumbs from the table? And, oh, how about playing with some gumption and determination? One begins to wonder if it’s easier to get in the England team than get out of it? Yes, each team needs its star players and its up and coming promising youngsters but some in this side have either overstayed their welcome or, more worryingly perhaps, there’s not the talent knocking doors down – or are the selectors too cosy?

Apathy either real or deep seated is one nail in the coffin but clear cheating is inexcusable. Ok you get the occasional hot head who thinks they’re being clever in ball or bat tampering/manipulation – quicks have done both in the past (younger readers should check up on one DK Lillee) but when the captain and who knows else agreed the plan in advance it is just beyond words!

Enough has been and will be written in the heat of the incident in SA and later when cool heads are applied. We have seen ‘cheating’ before and it will no doubt be tried again and may even succeed on occasion and will blend into the annals of the game but there are bigger questions…how did they think they would get away with it? Why do they think they are above everyone else? Why do it when you’re one of the best batting and bowling line ups in world cricket at the moment? This ‘win at all cost’ mentality should never have developed because it will always come back to bite you!

There was an undercurrent in Australia during the Ashes tour that the Australian public regard their cricketers as arrogant, aloof and have lost touch with their true fan base…but the hold cricket has in the Australian psyche negates this and they turned up in reasonable numbers – if only to revel in friendly Pommie bashing. The job of Australian cricket captain is the second most high profile position in the land and hence the hue and cry from down under and across social media.

Professional sportsmen must live in some kind of parallel universe if they think in this digitally advanced day and age that they wouldn’t be seen and spotted? There may not be many spectators at tests but there are cameras aplenty so how? Why did they need to resort to such tactics…ok the series so far has been fraught, fractious and fierce and that’s what test cricket and all cricket should be but it stops as soon as you cross the boundary rope. You play hard, but you play fair, with respect for the opposition and above all for the game…or has society across the globe just lost all respect for everything and anything? And it’s just not in sport…

And it’s no wonder that crowds are not turning up to watch test cricket…the poor preparation, the ineptitude of too many players, the whiff of cheating (who knows whether what you’re watching and paying for is a genuine contest?), the demands on personal time in an ever increasingly frantic world, the craving for instance gratification (I can’t wait five days to see who wins, and then there may not even be a result? Give me a break I’m off elsewhere).

Even though pricing may make it cheap (and still they don’t come along) or expensive (test ticket prices in UK…but we turn out for the ‘occasion’ ), test cricket is in a death spiral at the moment and we’ve probably seen it before over the last 140 years or so, so let’s hope that wise heads can prevail, keep the game alive, even on life support (as the County Championship has been for years), and the corner turned.

Perhaps if it trundled along less, became inspiring to cricket followers, was not devalued as a product to buy or participate in, and less wrapped in the cloth of political ambition in some areas then, just perhaps it may recover. Let’s hope so and let the game speak for itself.

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