The first thing that needs to be addressed this morning is neither the DRS, umpire Aleem Dar’s ability nor Stuart Broad’s character, but the basis for which T20 cricket is advanced at the expense of Test and First Class cricket.
We often hear how “entertaining” and “fast paced” T20 is. We’re told by its exponents that T20 is essential in the modern world where – allegedly – the contemporary existence doesn’t allow for a commitment or attention span exceeding a few fleeting moments. Although the arguments in support of T20 are broader than this, they mainly obtain legitimacy in two areas: commercial viability and the attraction on non-traditional or new fans. Even these two points are based upon an implication that T20 is more exciting, more interesting and faster paced than long form cricket.
The short and curly here is that I simply do not agree. The Board of Control for Cricket in India, the International Cricket Council, the English Cricket Board and Cricket Australia have allowed this implication to ride roughshod through the game. Perhaps their biggest collective failure is that none of these powerful boards, individually or collectively, have developed a considered, strategically competent plan to convert and redirect some of the new interest generated in cricket by T20 towards other forms of the game. With a decent approach I’m certain there’s an opportunity to convert some of the new commercial partners and fans of T20 – particularly from provincial competitions like the Indian Premier League and Australia’s Big Bash – into partners and fans of Test Match Cricket. Showcasing the best of part of our beloved game and educating newcomers about Test Cricket is vital if cricket is to grow in the future.
That education can involve exciting and deliberate embellishment (read marketing) of the key differences between T20 and Test Match – the changing conditions, the weather, a leather ball that behaves differently as time and the environment evolves, a pitch that grows and contracts and cracks, the fallible human mind that engages in strategic and psychological warfare through field placements, a limitless shot selection and access to a tactical array of expressions.
Over the past several years many Test Series have provided all of this and more: a frenetic exhibition of unpredictable and intensely entertaining cricket, littered with superb individual and collective performances and failures, controversies, glory and gut wrenching defeat. All the ingredients of high quality entertainment have fizzed about in Test Cricket, and this current Test Match at Trent Bridge is another example.
England resumed the day with two top class batsmen at the crease, a 15-run lead and 8 wickets in hand. The fact there were three full days to go supports the point that what had so far transpired in this match was nothing short of awe-inspiring. 22 wickets, 575 runs, 5 wicket hauls from bowlers, half centuries from batsmen, a record breaking 98 from a debutante, controversial decisions from umpires, and a cloudy then a sunny day ensured the boisterous crowd and the millions of television viewers had been treated to something special, once again.
Unpredictability is ultimately the word that best frames the events and there was little – or an immense amount depending on your perspective – to base projections of where the match was headed on Day Three. One thing was clear. Australia needed to contain England and take wickets throughout the first two sessions and attempt to constrict the throat of England’s fluent scorers in the hope we could bowl them out and set up an achievable run chase.
What is achievable you say? Well at the beginning of the day I said this to a friend: England have the time and the quality to set Australia as many as 350+. As for how many Australia could chase I suggested that form – notwithstanding a world record breaking performance from a number 11 – indicated Australia would struggle deeply to make anything beyond 175. If England’s lead was to grow beyond 200 the importance of a Michael Clarke epic in Australia’s chase would grow exponentially.
I set up at home once again to consume the day’s play and when the lunch break rolled around at 2200 Australian time I was reasonably content that our lads were on the way to objective number one: bowling England out. Having removed the dangerous duo on Kevin Pietersen and Ally Cook, who I regard as two of the big three wickets alongside J Trott (who was already back in the shed), I felt we were well placed to enjoy our tucker.
Shortly into the second session Australia took the new ball, perhaps prematurely. Matt Prior is an aggressive player. A competent wicket keeper-batsman with a higher average (44) in Test Cricket than all, bar one, of Australia’s top six batsmen in this Test Match. He seemed to relish the new harder ball coming onto the bat and he and Ian Bell began to move things along nicely for England.
But, Australia’s big game bowler Peter Siddle came to the fore and had Prior caught at a shortish mid-wicket. Ed Cowan took the catch. Ed finally seemed to do something right in this match as so far I’d recalled he’d had one to forget. His first day involved the toilet in the pavilion and a first ball kneeling snick to the cordon. Since then he’d contributed a couple minor mistakes in the field, which resulted in his trudging walk and clear self-depreciating head shake, so it was nice to see him take the catch.
At this point England are six down and the lead is only 150-odd. We’re into their tail, albeit a capable tail with the likes of Broad, Swann and Anderson all talented enough to score a handful of useful runs and Steve Finn – who played a decent night-watchman role in England’s tour of New Zealand earlier in 2013 – also not a bunny.
Last night at this moment I wrote something down;
“It’s the second session and the tension is epic. The match is evenly poised and insanely entertaining. It has all the twists and turns and unpredictability of a famous novel that transcends the ages. This is what this old game is doing, transcending the ages. An ancient – by relative qualification – sport developed in the 19th century is captivating an audience in 2013. Does the argument that T20 is more entertaining for the modern man still stand up?”
So now you see why I started this morning’s froth foaming on about T20. Anyway, enough of that. I admit last night just before the Tea Break I slipped off to bed, but not before heading off down the hall to grab the second telly, setting it up in the bedroom – to the objection of my partner – and connecting the cables. At some point during the Tea Break I slipped off to sleep and at some other bleary eyed point of early morning, maybe around 0300, I leant over and switched the telly off. Not before seeing one thing pivotal thing on the screen, first. The number 6.
6 wickets people, that’s what I saw. It was the last thing imprinted on my brain as I left the conscious world and it was the first thing that slammed me in the forehead when I awoke today. That and the several text and social media messages from English friends and family. England are back in command of this Test Match and my temporary enemies knew it.
The conventional media will cover the Broad incident enough, but I’ll say one thing. Peter Siddle summed it up brilliantly in the post match conference. Go and check that out if you need some advice on how to handle your reaction to the umpiring howler that has allowed Stuart Broad to remain at the crease unbeaten on 47.
The requirements for Australia on Day Four are obvious. Quick and consecutive wickets. Then the drama begins again as we’ll undoubtedly at some point on Day Four begin our run chase. If the Test Match finishes on Day Four it will be an Australian loss, so hopefully we can push this through until Day Five. See you tomorrow.