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Whither goest cricket

13 December 2013, 10:04

Now I’m not a test batsman, as you know, but I do know a little about the game. And what I know is this: Jeff Thomson was by all accounts the fastest bowler ever to have played the game and, although he was erratic, when his radar was functioning, he was deadly. Those were the pre-helmet days of course.

Many people think Frank Tyson was the fastest, but that is a moot point. They have film footage of Jeff Thomson and reckon that he frequently bowled at a hundred miles an hour. Against unhelmeted batsmen.

Barry Richards, sans armguard or helmet, took Jeff Thomson on when the Aussies visited England in 1974 for the Ashes. Australia played Hampshire and won, of course, but Barry Richards scored a nonchalant hundred, hooking Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee off his eyebrows. And when he couldn’t hook, he gently swayed out of the way of the ball.

The England batsmen didn’t fare quite so well.

Why am I repeating this bit of cricketing lore?

Because the team who would be king, who would be the number one team in the world, are facing ONE hostile, fast bowler in Mitchell Johnson and falling to pieces under the barrage. They are wearing helmets, armguards, chest protectors, gloves that resemble boxing gloves and he is terrorising them.

Now I’m all in favour of all the protection you can get, but then PLAY the ball and the bowler. He can’t kill you, he can’t break your arms or fingers, though a certain area is sensitive no matter what and, if he hits you there, no protection devised yet will lessen or prevent the pain.

In the early nineties, when Steve Waugh was regarded as one of the best all-rounders in world cricket, the Aussies were touring England for an Ashes match and, in one of the warm-up games against Somerset, bowled a bouncer to Viv Richards. Viv tried to hook it, but it hit him smack in the middle of the forehead.

He picked up the ball and threw it back to Steve Waugh, saying, ‘Don’t be doin’ that again, mon.’

Now I don’t for a moment suggest that England are a poor team, or that Australia, after nine test losses on the trot, are a particularly good team, but here’s the point to my rambling.

When the West Indies ruled the roost, all test series were five or six match series.

When Australia play England, it’s five. When Australia play India, it’s five. When England play India, it’s five, so why, oh why, are we, the undoubted world champions, being fed the scraps?

Stuart Broad said, before they departed for Australia, that even if they beat Australia 5-0, they would not be the best  team in the world. In order to do that, they would have to beat South Africa. Apartheid is a thing of the past; there is no more sporting isolation. One of the greatest statesmen the world has ever known has just passed on, and the country he so proudly served is still being treated as a second-rate cricket outpost.

We are not Zimbabwe or Bangladesh. The top two Test batsmen in the world are Ab de Villiers and Hashim Amla. The top two test bowlers in the world are Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander. The top Test all-rounder in the world is Jacques Kallis. We didn’t get here by accident. We beat the best in the world, home and away, consistently, to get here.

Australia come here for a two-match Test series. We go there for a three-match series. In the good old days, when they  were still thumping us and everyone else, it was three there, followed by three here. Every three years, without fail.

When Brian Lara’s West Indians toured, it was a five match series, as with Mike Atherton’s England and Nassar Hussein’s  England.

People blame Twenty20 and the IPL for the paucity of Test matches, but the question remains. Why are we, the champion team of the world, being fed the scraps? It’s not the players from the other Test-playing countries. They all want to prove themselves by beating us.

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and they don’t even play cricket!

It’s as puzzling as it’s aggravating. I love cricket in all its many and varied forms, but I would rather watch a Test match fizzle out to a draw than a one-day match, with the very rare exception.

Of course it doesn’t help that only one ground truly supports Test cricket: Newlands. Advertisers don’t want to see empty stadiums. But that is not, and cannot be the reason behind this travesty, because we play to full houses in England and Australia.

We are like Billy the Kid, or any of a hundred gun-slingers of the Wild West, desperate to try our skill against the best in the world, but as we ride into town, the Sherriff takes our guns and tells us to behave ourselves.

It’s almost enough to make me long for the days of the Rebel tours, where we played the best opposition money could buy and House Full signs went up at all the major stadia. Mercenaries they may have been, but they gave us great entertainment and a genuine challenge.

Maybe if we could get Zuma and his cronies to release their billions, we’d have enough to fight the BCCI and get the treatment we deserve.

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