England Win the Draw!

Yet another last ditch stand sees England save the third Test at Newlands – “England wins the draw”, as it says on the BBC ball-by-ball text commentary.

So is this “good cricket”, or proof that 5-day cricket needs a major overhaul? How can you play for 5 whole days, then celebrate the fact that you haven’t lost?

I guess this is something that you either get, or you don’t. To me, this game highlights everything that makes the game worth watching (or playing).

Two teams going flat out to win, up to the point when that aim is unattainable for one of them, then doing everything within the Laws to save the game. The match has context within the series, the series context with the Test rankings. So it matters that Graham Onions played out the last over from Morne Morkel. To the players, to the fans.

(OK – in the wider scheme of things, does this really matter? Not when compared to famine, world peace, global warming. But a lot more than who wins this year’s X Factor…IMO)

There’s a place for twenty20, but the time game is still the real thing. The League I play in has just introduced limited over matches (50/50) for the 1st XI competitions. The lower XIs can’t play overs, because the match rules are so complicated that you need independent umpires to work out the result! That says everything, I think.

Yes, for the time game (5 days, or Saturday afternoon) to work, you need the players and (especially) captains to adopt a positive approach to the game. If one (or both) sides set out with the idea of not losing, you’ll get a waste of time.

But there’s no need for that attitude. Except in a gross mis-match (which can happen, even in Test cricket), both teams should have a chance to win. A captain with a weaker team will have to work harder, and think harder, but that’s the real joy of the game. It’s not (shouldn’t be) just a case of letting off the big guns, and counting the overs.

The best book on captaincy, and a title that really should be compulsory reading for all captains at Club level, is Eric Rose’s “How to Win at Cricket”. It’s about being brave enough to risk losing a match. About not setting out to steamroll a weaker team (this is really for the Club game, especially in “friendly” matches) but still setting out to get a positive result.

Can legislators force sides to play positively? Possibly, in the professional game, where field placings are mandated and slow over rates penalised. How long until Test sides get fined for slow scoring?

In the Club game, it’s going to be much harder. And I for one don’t think that limited overs necessarily makes for good cricket.

The future’s bright, the future’s…

Well, maybe the success of the Dutch in the opening game of the World Twenty20 on Friday does not mark the start of a new era of domination of world cricket by the Netherlands, but what a great advert for the short game.

Hard hitting, great fielding, and a game that went right to the wire.

And the Dutch did not learn their skills in the 5-day test arena…

Still, it’s not really cricket…is it?

Acceptable in the noughties – part 2

Are standards of behaviour in the club game slipping?

The League I play in certainly think so. For the 2009 season, they have introduced a football-style disciplinary system, with “yellow card” cautions and “red card” 8-day automatic suspensions and points deductions for more serious offences. This in addition to the regular disciplinary process.

After 5 rounds of matches (100 matches at 1st XI, where independent panel umpires are appointed), there have already been 3 red cards. It would be interesting to hear from a panel umpire whether this reflects better or worse behaviour than last season.

I don’t know the details of any of the offences, but I would not be surprised if they all relate to “abusive language / disparaging remarks to an umpire” – the umpire’s decision is no longer considered final, apparently.

This attitude seems to start early. I umpired a pick-up game at our Colts’ practice night, and almost every decision was debated.

Where does it come from? Probably not the First Class game, where open dissent at umpires decisions is (rightly) punished. Professional football? Popular culture?

Does it matter? Yes, as demonstrated in amateur football, where the numbers of referees continues to fall; yes, because when I finally stop playing, it is very unlikely that I (or, I expect, any of my contemporaries) would consider joining the League panel of umpires.

Competitive cricket without independent umpires? I don’t think the game would survive.