Monday, December 13, 2010

Random thoughts on the Ashes: Adelaide

This, my friends, is why you should always be at the cricket well before the start of play.

End of over 2 (1 run) Australia 2/2

SR Watson 0* (6b) SCJ Broad 1-0-1-0

MJ Clarke 2* (5b) JM Anderson 1-0-1-1

2.1 Anderson to Clarke, OUT, 135.3 kph, Two for Anderson! Clarke departs! Another perfect, pitched-up outswinger, Clarke has looked all at sea and walks into a nothing drive that flicks the edge and flies to Swann again

MJ Clarke c Swann b Anderson 2 (7m 6b 0x4 0x6) SR: 33.33

Impossible drama at the Adelaide Oval.

(Adapted from CricInfo's ball-by-ball commentary)

All this happened in the first ten minutes of the Test match. A few moments afterwards Channel Nine showed us a queue of people waiting to get in to the Adelaide Oval. They missed the most gripping cricket of the Test, Australia's worst start to a Test innings since 1950.

These people mistook going to the cricket for a day out, and have failed to undertake the thoughtful planning that is necessary for optimum pleasure. For example, everybody knows that it takes an age to get into sports venues these days, as the security folk go about their task of hunting down illicit sandwiches and soft drinks in the manner of Simon Wiesenthal on the trail of former members of the SS. The alarm must be set half an hour earlier.

When I went to Sydney for the final Test of the 1998/9 Ashes, on the first day play started at 11. I was in my seat in the Churchill Stand by 8.35. Of course, this may be habit borne of need, as in the seventies it was desirable to get to the St Lawrence Ground early to get a decent seat, essential for big matches in the knock-out competitions. John Arlott used to call it “the Canterbury breakfast”.

I favour cricket grounds adopting the practice of the opera, with no admittance for latecomers until the interval, but I can see that would be a difficult one to get past the marketing people.

There is always plenty to occupy the mind at cricket grounds before play begins. On an unfamiliar ground there is orientation to be done, and on a familiar one old friends to meet, old conversations to be repeated and idle speculation to be indulged in. There are newspapers or a carefully chosen book to read. The first Scotch egg of the day can be put away. This way, by the time play begins, the spectator is attuned to the atmosphere, and ready to appreciate the nuances of the game.

Obviously, the same applies to leaving the ground at the close of play. There are people who, regardless of the state of the game, will leave a quarter of a hour before the close of play, even a close one-day game. Do they do this elsewhere? Do they leave theatres at the end of act four and thus go through life believing that Hamlet and Ophelia married and opened a flower shop? Or cinemas, thinking that James Garner will have no trouble getting Donald Pleasance to the Swiss border? Almost certainly not. So why leave a cricket ground early, particularly first-class cricket where anything can happen at any time?

An example. At the end of the aforementioned first day at Sydney in 1999, Darren Gough took the first hat-trick by an England bowler in Ashes Tests for a hundred years, a moment that will make those of us who saw it smile with pleasure at its memory many decades hence, even when we can’t remember our own names. Yet several thousand seats were already empty, their occupants thoroughly pleased with themselves at getting a good place in the bus queue. Some of them may have had what they regard as better excuses for leaving early. To attend their child’s birthday party perhaps, or to be by the bedside of their sick wife. But look deep into their eyes and you will see a sadness that will be with them always.

As for the rest of the Adelaide Test, the unaccustomed ease with which the English batsmen took runs off the Australian attack reminded me of the 1985 series when Gooch, Gower, Gatting and Robinson scored a heap of runs at almost four an over, a welcome increase in the tempo of Test cricket. The reaction of the Australian selectors (chairman: Lance Corporal Jones) is more redolent of England’s in 1989, when the team was changed so often that by the final Test Ted Dexter failed to recognise Alan Igglesden, who he’d picked to open the bowling. Quite what Nathan Hauritz has done wrong is unclear. In Australian conditions he has appeared to be good enough to exercise some sort of control, and is a decent bat and fine field.

But a word of caution. The two teams in this series are not that far apart in terms of quality (remember England’s loss to Pakistan at the Oval just a few months ago), and England have won only once at the Waca, and then against a weak Australia in the World Series years. I have just seem Matt Prior quoted as saying that England are aiming to go through the tour unbeaten, which is foolish talk, suggesting that some in the England camp are making the mistake of believing their own publicity. I hope that the Australians do come back, as it would be magnificent watching if the Ashes are still at stake in Sydney.

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