Back to it, Once Again

A Test series of more than three matches – ideally five, but four will have to do here – allows the advantage to move back and forth without a single win appearing to be quite so decisive overall.  It’s an obvious truism, but no less acute for all that.  England’s levelling of the series with two to play kindled further interest in the outcome of a clash between two sides who have clear flaws, but are fairly well matched against each other.  Sometimes a lack of quality fails to affect the intrigue, for that is more a question of rational consideration than emotional response.

Thus the main consideration in terms of the outcome of the Port Elizabeth Test is which version of either side will turn up – the reasonably good or the very, very bad.  The batting of both teams is inordinately brittle, there are players within the line-ups who can turn the entire match in a session, and there are no guarantees about the fitness of the participants – albeit in that last instance England appear rather more vulnerable given the rate of sickness and injury they’ve incurred.

The loss of James Anderson for the rest of the tour (and that will raise some longer term questions as is always the way when a player is getting long in the tooth) limits England’s pace bowling decisions to either Mark Wood or Jofra Archer, with the whisper being that it will be the former who gets the nod, either because of doubts over Archer’s recovery from his elbow injury, or because Wood has impressed in the nets.  Which of those is the more accurate depends somewhat on whether you wish to see the choice as a positive or negative.  Wood was certainly outstanding in his last Test match, but that was a year ago and several injuries distant.  Wood is far from a rarity among England bowlers in struggling to stay fit for any length of time, and frequently has flattered to deceive in his Test career.  But few would begrudge him the chance to show what he can do, all the while keeping fingers crossed that he can stay fit, and do himself justice.  A fully fit Wood and a fully fit Archer is no bad selection decision to have to make, and in either case the thrill of watching a fast bowler remains ever present.

Dom Bess seems certain to keep his place given the return home of Jack Leach, and probably would have done even had there been a late recovery.  Nothing but sympathy and best wishes to Leach from all quarters, but even from the outside it looked a sensible decision to allow him to go back to England.

For South Africa, the only rumoured change is Dane Paterson for Dwaine Pretorius, a mooted selection that would suggest the pitch at Port Elizabeth will indeed have a bit more life in it than has been the case on previous occasions.  If so (and photos of the prepared pitch don’t suggest a batting paradise), then additional pace from both teams may make batting even more difficult than these two often manage to make it look.  A slow, low pitch is something that few want to see, for the cricket is turgid, but a contest between bat and ball is not an unreasonable expectation.

As for hopes for the game, if another one going to the wire on the final day is a little too much to ask for, some solid batting to take the game into the latter part of the game would be good to see, if only to prevent the four day Test brigade from starting up their campaign again.  On which subject it has been pleasing to note Test cricketers, player organisations and even the MCC come out firmly against shortening the format.  In normal circumstances this might be thought to be more than sufficient opposition, but in these times where the governing bodies care little for the integrity of the sport and everything for the currency exchange markets, nothing is certain.  A debate on equalising to at least some degree the game’s revenues would answer so many of the (true enough) concerns about the costs of hosting Tests,  but as ever with the avaricious Big Three, this is too much to ask.

Curiously, one justification for considering the move is that Tests haven’t always been five days in duration, ranging from timeless Tests at one extreme to three day matches at the other.  This is certainly true, but it is a bizarre rationale to suggest how the game was played in the first half of the last century is a template for the future direction, and not one that the likes of the ECB have ever made before.  It seems reasonable on the same basis to look out for other such returns to the past as valid matters for review.  Presumably fast leg theory is also up for a return, along with uncovered pitches and the banning of helmets.  There is nothing wrong with debate, there is everything wrong with mistaking moves over more than a century towards what the game itself felt the most suitable format with some kind of belief in the sanctity of the duration for its own sake.

The series is level, there are five days of Test cricket this week to enjoy in a match where either side can win.  Sport for sport’s sake is never a bad starting point.




13 thoughts on “Back to it, Once Again

  1. dArthez Jan 15, 2020 / 6:43 pm

    “Curiously, one justification for considering the move is that Tests haven’t always been five days in duration, ranging from timeless Tests at one extreme to three day matches at the other. This is certainly true, but it is a bizarre rationale to suggest how the game was played in the first half of the last century is a template for the future direction, and not one that the likes of the ECB have ever made before.”

    How about picking random people to represent even more random countries and slap Test status on it? There have been a few players who represented South Africa, who died without ever knowing they had played a Test. There might have been a few in England and Australia too. Rack up 2000/2 against a Guatemala XI who have no clue what they are doing, and since it massages some batsmen’s averages, award them Test status.

    Oh, and it is also good news for England, because when Australia are not playing, I am sure they can borrow say Labuschagne and Steve Smith to strengthen their batting lineup (as it was not uncommon for players in those days to represent more than one country, even if they did not have citizenship).

    And last, but not least, probably with the full blessing of the ICC / ACU: betting on the games, by the players and organisers involved. If that is not going to make the ECB / ICC money, I don’t know what will …

    Go back to how cricket was played in the olden days, and a lot of problems of the ECB / ICC will dissipate into thin air.

    As for the Test in PE, I am sure it will be win toss = bat first = win game, with the game being over in about 300 overs or less.


    • thelegglance Jan 15, 2020 / 6:49 pm

      Yes, the first decade or so of Test cricket was only recognised retrospectively. They were styled as being between Australia and England, but they weren’t official as such. You could argue that there’s no real reason why the Australian aboriginal team that toured England, or indeed the famous USA v Canada match in 1844 shouldn’t have been where it was deemed to have started.


    • Mark Jan 15, 2020 / 7:30 pm

      Are they seriously going to make the argument that we need to look back 100 years to justify 4 day tests? They are getting desperate now.

      How many overs did they bowl in a day 100 years ago? And in Aus it was 8 ball overs.

      The move to un “equalising” of revenue by the big three has blown up in Test crickets face. It’s a warning to other sports as well. Bottom line is you need some one to play against, and if you take all the money for yourself and India & Australia you will nullify any meaningful contest with other teams over time.

      The Giles Clarke model has enriched a few teams, and destroyed test cricket’s depth.


  2. Marek Jan 15, 2020 / 11:48 pm

    It really isn’t a terribly taxing question for an international sports team’s coaching staff is it: “Is your main strike bowler fit?” Possibility 1–yes. Possibility 2–no. (Maybe possibility 3–we’ll have to do some tests and we’ll know definitely nearer the time).

    So why was no-one sure even this afternoon whether Archer had been dropped or was injured, whether his net sessions were to test out his elbow or kick him pushing and screaming into an Andy Flower-style puritan work ethic?

    And they wonder why Moeen Ali would rather swan around having some fun in the PSL than play for England….

    Liked by 2 people

    • dlpthomas Jan 16, 2020 / 12:35 am

      Dobell seems pretty sure that Archer isn’t fit due to his elbow injury. He also reports, however, that Wood “reported some soreness after his exertions on Sunday and Monday and hardly bowled on Wednesday but, as long as he suffers no adverse reaction on Thursday morning, he is likely to be selected” That does not fill me with confidence.


    • Marek Jan 16, 2020 / 11:56 am

      Yes, by late afternoon everyone was clear that he wasn’t fit.

      It was what was going on earlier that concerns me. It rather has shades of the kind of misinformation that was put around about Rashid a couple of years ago, Compton in 2013 or Pietersen in 2011–“well, theoretically he’s fit, but we wonder whether that’s just because he doesn’t really care as much as we do”.

      And it works, at least partially: I’ve already seen a “according to sources, there are those within the England camp who privately question his attitude” comment in a newspaper. Good on Dobell (and Martin Samuels, to be fair) for rubbishing this line of argument.

      And yes, the Wood comment–allied to his own comment that he’s not completely fit–fills me with foreboding..

      Liked by 1 person

      • Marek Jan 16, 2020 / 11:58 am

        …sorry that should be “unfit” in paragraph 2 of course!


  3. dArthez Jan 16, 2020 / 7:42 am

    England won the toss, and elected to bat. It will take a display of great incompetence to lose the series from 3-0 in tosses. By the way that means Root has won 6 out of the last Test tosses against South Africa, with toss winning 5 and losing 1 (in the first Test of this series, when England chose to bowl. There were 0 successful chases in those games).

    If the authorities are that adamant on shortening the game, why not introduce Toss Cricket?


    • dArthez Jan 16, 2020 / 7:48 am

      * Six out of the last seven


  4. dArthez Jan 16, 2020 / 8:31 am

    If the pitch is going to get any slower, I am not ruling out that the wicketkeeper is going to keep in front of the stumps.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dlpthomas Jan 16, 2020 / 12:22 pm

      Nortje bowling at 90 miles an hour without any slips.


  5. dlpthomas Jan 16, 2020 / 11:47 am

    At least neither side seems capable of batting for long periods of time so there will still probably be a result. Whether or not is a good game to watch is another thing altogether


  6. man in a barrel Jan 16, 2020 / 12:36 pm

    The account of Anderson’s injury seem even more bizarre than his mysterious shoulder injury which seemed to be more common in water polo players than cricketers.

    “I’d have remembered if I’d been hit,” said Anderson. “They think it is through the constant force of me bowling. The muscles were strong enough, but the bone wasn’t.

    “They said it doesn’t look like a stress fracture, it’s actually cracked. They said they’d not seen one like this in a bowler before.”

    The medical team really fill one with confidence! When that shoulder injury was reported, I hypothesised that overuse of cortisone might have thinned or weakened his bones. This new one seems to add justification to that hypothesis

    Liked by 2 people

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