Friday, 29 July 2011

Zaheer injury reinforces the folly of a one month Test series

Barring calamity beyond any review system, the Indian Test series was always going to be, and still should be, the highlight of the season. The First Test certainly did not disappoint. Although not a great match - England dominated too consistently for that - it did live up to the hype, and that is never a mean feat. It's a shame then that not only has the series arrived about a month too late in the season but, like the English summer itself, it will come and go so quickly that indulging in anything beyond an extended forty winks and you are likely to have missed it.

The great joys of individual Tests are their slowly twisting tales, their shifts of momentum, not to mention the swings and roundabouts of outrageous fortune (or misfortune such as India suffered at Lord's). That applies equally to any series of matches. It is why no series should ever be less than three matches and why series such as this one should always be of five. Nor should such a series of games be crammed together so tightly that players are effectively playing virtually one game a week. The last game of this four match series begins on 18 August, twenty-nine days after the first began. Even Thursday starts have had to be abandoned to provide sufficient rest time for players.

The attraction of a concentrated burst of matches is initially compelling. Interest is built continually through the series, there is in fact no time for it to be lost, even for those with the lowest of attention spans. But to me this is just the point, the schedule speaks not to the lover of Test cricket but to the impatient child for whom Twenty20 was invented. Presented with a bag of sweets to last the week, he or she will devour the whole contents in the space of one Zaheer Khan over (around five and a half minutes by current standards). Test cricket teaches patience and rewards you handsomely for it, scheduling like this ignores the value of that lesson.

Even putting aside the spectator's viewpoint, not something which usually taxes administrators anyway, the effect on players should make such an arrangement a non-starter. The evidence has already presented itself in this series. Zaheer, India's best bowler, will miss the game at Trent Bridge with an injury that with four days gap he had no chance of recovering from. If it is a hamstring injury, (and possibly even an aggravation of an existing one judging by the way he was shuffling around the outfield from the start), he will do well to play again this summer.

Whilst one might argue that this serves to highlights India's lack of strength in depth, certainly in comparison to their opponents, the fact is that the series and India's chances in it, are severely weakened as a result. Even England, considerably luckier with injuries so far, are unlikely to be spared. Andy Flower indicated that it was highly unlikely that the Anderson, Tremlett, Broad and Swann would make it through the whole series given the intensity of the workload.

Clearly we will not, and should not, go back to the days of three/four month tours: the mental strain on players more than offsets any physical gains in recovery or practice time. Nevertheless the balance currently struck does not serve the interests of anyway genuinely concerned for the future of Test cricket. This current series should be the pinnacle of the game, rivalling the Ashes if not for history then for quality and passion. If it turns out to be so, it will be in spite of not because of the administrator's hand.


Events at Lord's last Thursday, served only to reaffirm my belief that spectators are the lowest element in cricket's food chain. Arriving at the ground around 9 there was some light drizzle, but it had stopped to all intents and purposes by 10. Groundstaff activity was at a minimum with nothing more than a rope being used to remove some surface moisture from the outfield.

With optimism (and the evidence of my own eyes) outweighing many years of humbling experience I confidently expected a prompt start at 11. It was somewhat surprising therefore to hear that following one pitch inspection at 10.30 there would be a delayed start and another inspection at 11. That inspection elicited an 11.30 start. The decision defied credulity. The conditions had not changed one iota between 10 and 11.30, no rain had fallen to warrant the further delay nor had there been any significant sun or wind to aid the 'drying' process. But with pitiful over rates assured and rain forecast (accurately) for later the umpires decided that a half hour delay was the way to go. The result: spectators who had paid up to £90 per ticket were treated to less than half the play promised.

In the TMS box it was suggested, half-jokingly, that it was to allow time for the on field presentations for the hundredth test. Clearly neither they, nor the umpires, nor the wider administration of the game are too concerned at ripping off the paying spectator. They should be.

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