Sport

Be gone with sympathy for Ashes losers

By Antoinette Muller 6 August 2013

England have retained the Ashes after the third Test at Old Trafford ended in a draw thanks to the rain. Many will say that an Australian win will be “good for cricket”, but what would be even better for cricket is if the format reviewed its archaic approach to some variables. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

What a great shame! It’s such a pity! This is not great for cricket! Scroll through social media sites, blogs and even some columns and these are the opinions littering the pages. England have retained the Ashes after the final day at Old Trafford was a wash out due to rain.

Australia had taken three quick wickets early in the morning and their bowlers, as has been the case throughout the series, looked properly up for the task. Their bullish run was ended when the heavens opened up at lunchtime and no further play was possible. The match was drawn and England retained The Ashes.

Australia have not been horrific overall, but they have been horrific in patches. They were rescued at Trent Bridge by their lower-order batsmen, and at Lord’s everybody forgot how to function entirely.  Their bowlers have consistently been let down by the ineptitude of their batsmen. Of course it’s a shame to have all that hard work go to waste.

But why have sympathy for losers? As a spectacle for entertainment purposes (which is partly what cricket has become), the outcome was disappointing. As a sport – where the aim is to win, unless I missed the memorandum – there should be no room for sympathising. While neither side really turned up in the first Test, Australia were thoroughly outplayed in the second.  A notable improvement in the third clash would not grant them immunity from a series defeat, nor should it warrant sympathy. For Australia it’s a simple case of you snooze, you lose.

England should not escape criticism. Their time-wasting tactics during the third Test were shameful. For a team who considers themselves to be the best in the world, at times they have not shown much faith in their own abilities. Their bowlers have been poor. England’s seam bowlers have taken 30 wickets for 1017 runs in the 314 overs they have bowled. Australia’s bowlers have taken 43 wickets for 1183 runs in over 376 overs.  However, Tests aren’t won or lost on individual statistics. Australia have not played well enough and should not scapegoat the weather for the result.

For as long as cricket has existed rain has played a part in the game. Series and thrilling Tests have all had rain interference that left people wondering “what could have been”. Similarly, it could be asked “what could have been” had Michael Clarke declared earlier, had some review decisions gone the other way, had Nathan Lyon played at Lord’s.

Would an Australian win have ensured that those with a passing interest in cricket remain interested for just a little while longer? Perhaps. But on sporting grounds there should be no sympathy for Australia.

If audience interest is the issue, then cricket needs to seriously re-think itself as an entertainment package sold to an audience. As a product Test cricket is a hard sell to a new audience. Those who grew up with the game and all its inanities will insist that there is nothing better. However, it is a poor entertainment product.

The approach to cut-off times and players going off for bad light is one area where cricket needs to drastically improve. Day/night Tests will eventually become an alternative approach but that’s a long way off. As it stands, cricket’s approach to cut off times and light is archaic. On Monday, once players had been told no more play was possible, it took only a few hours for the rain to stop and for the sun to pop its head out through the clouds. Play could easily have resumed and continued for at least another hour.

Perhaps this is where the role broadcasters play, and their interference, should be examined. Of course the sport needs to make money and a large portion of that money comes from broadcasters, but when commercial interests start to dictate or restrict possible future changes, there’s a problem.

Cricket is equally insistent on its playing hours. Despite the phenomena of hemispheres, which means the sun’s proximity to the earth can be different on one side of the globe than the other, cricket insists on certain hours of play. It’s something that has frustrated many a fan and player at Durban in South Africa. Because it tends to get darker earlier, play rarely manages to continue until the scheduled close of play. Play starts at 10:30, the same time it would start in Cape Town where the light stays for much longer.

It is not unreasonable to consider an adjustment to playing times based on the weather, light and other factors. Once again, however, this is largely determined by the broadcasters’ hand.

For Test cricket to truly thrive it needs to reassess its approach. There is nothing wrong with it as a format and when two teams have good scruff it’s absorbing and able to hold the interest of any enthusiast. However, the way those who run the game are repaying the faith of those enthusiasts is where the real problem lies. Better treatment of enthusiasts is what would be really good for the game, not the romantic notion that a series is better when one side doesn’t outplay the other. DM

Result summary:

Australia 527 for 7 dec (Clarke 187, Smith 89, Rogers 84, Swann 5-159) and 172 for 7 dec (Warner 41)

England 368 (Pietersen 113, Cook 62, Bell 60, Siddle 4-63) and 37 for 3

Match drawn – England lead the series 2-0 and retain The Ashes

Photo: England’s captain Alastair Cook poses with fans after the third Ashes cricket test match against Australia finished in a draw and England retained the Ashes, at Old Trafford cricket ground in Manchester August 5, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown

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