The funny thing is that usually around this time, with a year of cricket behind us and winter tours either under way or yet to come, I write a faintly silly tale just before Christmas for those who read this blog avidly. Some would call that unreasonable and unfair punishment, but it amuses me, and there are occasionally one or two gags that make people smile. I haven’t done it this year, and in many ways that’s probably a reflection of where we are and the year we’ve all had one way or another. If there’s one thing all the group are agreed upon (and there’s not a lot, usually) it’s that we aren’t going to write stuff for the sake of it, and only when we feel like it. 2020 has been the kind of year where that motivation hasn’t been there for any of us, and not just because of the comparative lack of cricket, or even the comparative lack of cricketing controversy, it’s just that like everyone else, other, more pressing matters have been the priority.
Yet we’ve not gone away and don’t intend to either. With the arrival of a vaccine, and potentially several, there is at least hope that 2021 will be a better year, and perhaps by the time the summer season rolls around, we can go back to bickering about those things that seemed so very important this time last year.
Generating enthusiasm for the summer of cricket we did have was difficult, and that was no reflection whatever on the ECB, the teams or the players. The recent problems in South Africa have made it clear what an exceptional job the ECB did in not just putting on international cricket, but a domestic programme that managed to retain a fair degree of integrity as a competition. Friends raise eyebrows somewhat when I praise the ECB for that, but for criticism to mean anything it has to be balanced by recognition where due – and so here it is: The performance of the ECB in getting a relatively intact summer of cricket on was a truly outstanding effort from all involved, and perhaps we didn’t realise quite how exceptional that was at the time, appreciative as everyone may have been. Naturally, off the field they didn’t get everything right, and certainly those made redundant while senior staff made only a gesture of a temporary pay cut to their excessive salaries will feel annoyed at the financial priorities, but that’s par for the course for the organisation. Doing something supremely, superbly well isn’t.
The cricket too wasn’t bad, the Bob Willis Trophy (they even managed to name something to general approval and appreciation) operated well enough and had a suitably decent conclusion, while the two Test series against the West Indies and Pakistan offered up all that could possibly have been expected of them. The various T20 competitions have made it clear in the subsequent months that the stress put on the players stuck in a bubble (add that to the words and phrases we rarely used before this year – who knew we’d all have favourite epidemiologists for that matter?) is considerable. As time has gone on, that has understandably increased from those early days where perhaps the joy of playing at all managed to suspend the reality of their confinement. For as long as restrictions last, the welfare and management of the players takes on an even greater importance and urgency than has been the case before.
As for the fans, the various false starts concerning spectators allowed into the grounds in this country has lent a degree of envy and wonder in seeing it in Australia and New Zealand, but with a strong element of joy too, at seeing something we once considered so normal returning.
For the time being, disruption and difficulty is going to stay with us, but for various reasons revolving around sheer necessity, it will not last forever. It is something of an irony that the importance of bread and circuses has been shown to perhaps be less in straitened times than might have been supposed. Certainly having sport to watch is a welcome diversion, and the misery of nothing at all would be quite stark for many, but equally it doesn’t reach the heights of enjoyment in normal circumstances. Sport is needed, but sport really is nothing without fans, because they are the ones who provide the context.
It’s too much to hope that the various governing bodies will belatedly have recognised that importance, but it has answered the longstanding question about how sport would be if there weren’t any. And the answer is “not that good”. Broadcasters have felt the need to add fake crowd noise, although they too deserve credit for generally allowing the option with or without. That seems to be a perfect split – personally, I cannot stand the falseness of it, others may have different views. Have we got used to that silence? Perhaps.
And then there are the different attitudes and approaches of individuals – I cannot wait for a return to normality, to being allowed to be in a crowded bar or stadium. Others recoil at that prospect for the forseeable future – there are no right solutions, only those that feel so for the individual. But it is illustrative of the limitations we will have, that even in a perfect world, the emotions of those within it will vary.
England will, all things being equal, go to Sri Lanka and then India in the early months of next year. The chances are they too will be behind closed doors, and once again I will try to generate feelings of enthusiasm, and probably will not succeed again. I do welcome these matches and series, indeed I feel it is vitally important they happen. But I cannot, yet, get too invested in what happens to them. I have become truly outside the game of cricket looking in, and I hope that doesn’t last.
I will be writing more, as there is more to write, but that will do for now, for those who have stuck with us. Have as good a Christmas as you possibly can, and more than ever, I’d love a beer at a game with absolutely anyone who is up for it next year.
Best wishes to BOC and all who sail with her, may next year be a whole lot better for everyone (not going to get political Dmitri! :))
Much love, keep safe, try to keep a smile
Thank you, TLG. My best wishes to everyone reading and commenting at BOC. The last 12 months have been horrible for me personally but COVID has made it so much worse for everyone. I am so happy that cricket was able to be played albeit so differently compared to the past.
I’m currently watching the Big Bash in Australia which is always entertaining and the commentary adds a bit of flair. And I also watched just about every ball bowled in the first test between Australia and India. I have to admit, as hard as it is to admit being a Pom, that the Aussie bowling attack was exceptional. It was fast, relentless, and accurate. India also bowled well, but the Aussie attack was quite scary.
Anyway, my best wishes to all for the happiest Christmas you can have during a pandemic, please stay safe, and hopefully, we will have a wonderful new year sometime soon.
Take care, everyone.
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Somehow, and I don’t know quite how I did it, but I managed to “like” my own comment. Sorry about that, it was unintentional! I really don’t have that kind of ego! I can’t find a way to remove it though.
Best wishes and Merry Christmas to all you good people. Just a little sad that two of my favourite cricketers ever have now left us.
I guess it is established that Santa Claus’s first name is Lutho.
Maybe there is a pub team in Kent that would actually struggle with this South African side. Maybe.
That is two century partnerships for the fourth wicket by Sri Lanka. Anyone still think it was a bit of an achievement for England to win 3-1 last year?
Some real fight from India in the last few days in Australia. Really had not expected that. Aided by some atrocious batting from the Aussies.
As for South Africa – Sri Lanka, at the rate the Lankans are getting injured (1 allrounders, and 3 bowlers, though the spin bowler is back to bowling again), you wonder if they’ll even be able to have 11 men on the field when South Africa finish batting. The injuries are killing the contest. And the bowling from both sides has frankly been poor.
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Really good performance from India, especially from their stand-in skipper, Rahane. Not only did he bat brilliantly, his captaincy was top-class. India were also a bowler down, but Siraj was a real find and bowled exceptionally well in his first test. As in the previous test, both teams bowled really well, but the Aussies let themselves down in the field during India’s first innings. In summary though, these two tests have been wonderful to watch. I hope it continues in the third test, wherever that is (it’s scheduled for Sydney but I don’t think the decision has been made to hold it there yet).
And please, more drop-in pitches like this one at the MCG. There was something in it for everyone; from the batsmen to the slow and fast bowlers.
PS Shubman Gill is one to look out for. 21 years old and batted like a veteran for India in his first test.
Gill is one to look out for. Oh, and please drop Agarwal. That technique makes him a walking wicket in Australia. Rahul is probably the better bet in Australia.
Who would have thought that losing the toss is the way to go in Australia. As an aside, this is the first time in almost a decade that Australia lost a Test at home after winning the toss.
Agreed. On the other hand, I thought Cameron Green looked OK for the Aussies. His bowling was quite good but lacked a bit of experience, but his batting looks pretty solid, especially in the second innings. I think he has a future.
I suspect Joe Burns will be dropped, he really didn’t look good enough (at least right now) and if Warner comes back that’s an obvious change to make. Travis Head reminds me of James Vince – looks great but keeps getting out the same way.
And Steve Smith is going through a poor patch and credit to India for exploiting it. That second innings dismissal was very strange but you could see him getting out to a legside ball at any time.
Green will just need a bit of experience. Given how young he is, he probably will improve for at least a few more years. So I’d definitely keep picking him. And keep bowling him, within reason. Being around the bowling group should help him further develop that part of his game as well.
Burns did not impress (again), so makes sense to give him the chop. Warner will definitely improve the Aussie lineup.
Hard to figure out what to do with Head and Wade. Pucovski is much talked about, but he seems to have a few issues (that is not meant in a disparaging way, or to doubt his cricketing skills), and I am not sure what alternatives the Aussies have available to them. So might have to stick it out with those two, for the time being. Not sure if someone like Renshaw is still an option, though at least Wade made some runs thus far.
Smith going through a poor patch can happen of course. Normally you’d expect someone like Smith to make the difference, rather than make up the difference (even if he had contributed 100 runs this Test that probably would not have been enough anyway).
BTW, looks like the third Test will be at the MCG, not SCG.
I stand corrected. It looks like the yoyoing ended with the SCG retaining the third Test.
It’s just been announced that the third test will be held at the SCG.
Thank you, DARTHEZ, for a very interesting discussion. If Warner comes back, then I would pick Wade as the other opener, he looked pretty good in the second innings even if it’s not his natural position. He looked like a real fighter with talent to go with it. However, my lack of knowledge of what’s going on in Australia right now means I don’t know why Finch or Khawaja aren’t being considered. Both are playing in the BBL so are obviously fit.
I know nothing about Pucovski so can’t comment there.
Just a “here’s an idea moment”, what about Labuschagne opening with Warner with Wade at three, or is that too much of an English “let’s do something different” tactic? 😉
Hopefully, the SCG will finally be chosen, it’s such a historic ground.
My issue with Wade–actually as a specialist batsman generally, not only as opener–would be that (at least when he’s not getting out very quickly, which is about half the time) he deals mainly in pretty little 30s. Since he was recalled, he’s only passed 40 three times in 12 tests, of which two were counter-attacking second innings hundreds. That makes him look to me like a good attacking ODI batsman who struggles to really convert that into red-ball cricket–and he’s 33, so he’s not an exciting young prospect. Part of Australia’s current issue seems to be batting substance–the “we need to replace Warner’s strike rate” line seems to my mind to be wildly misplaced–and Wade exemplifies it. I think there’s only room for one of Wade and Head in the team, and not as opener.
Pucowski at least is in fantastic state form, even though he also hasn’t been an opener till recently. I’d give him a go. His youth is I suspect the answer–alongside the fact that Labuschagne is batting in his usual position–to your Khawaja question: he’s simply a better long-term prospect. (Finch is 34, has a f-c average of 35 and a test average of 27, so he’s not the answer in the same way that Joe Denly was never likely to be the answer to a similar England problem).
As for Labuschagne–just no!! I’m rarely a fan of sorting out batting issues by moving your best player out of position.
Speaking of best players…one interesting Smith statistic. Since the last series in India four years ago, Smith has played 12 non-Ashes tests against five different teams in three different continents and averages 26, with no hundreds and only four 50s. In the Ashes he’s played nine games, averages 121 and has two double-hundreds, four other centuries and another five scores of over 75. So is he out-of-form, or does he just like the England bowling attack….asks the devil’s advocate?
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I watched Pucowski bat today in the third test. He got dropped a couple of times but made a fifty. However, I can’t remember any opening batsmen look so good as he did on debut. His hooking and pulling looks suspect but I was very impressed how comfortable he looked against some very good bowlers. He looks like a real find.
PS. listening to Kerry O’Keefe in the commentary team for Aussie vs. India has been wonderful, just the thing to keep your spirits up in a lockdown during a pandemic.