Lions and weasels
The Archers and Test cricket: words you rarely find in the same sentence and more’s the pity as there’s not much else that can give greater innocent pleasure. But could these magnificent institutions be in the midst of some existential crisis? On peaceful old radio, the writers seem devoted to purging The Archers of the Archers: David, Ruth and Jill could be junking Brookfield for Northumberland, Tom Archer hasn’t been seen in Ambridge since that unfortunate incident in the vestry; Elizabeth should be hounded out soon for sexual witchcraft; and then there’ll be just Shula and Kenton.
Pretty much like international cricket, which is being stripped of some of its performers. Remember the West Indies? In the 1980s and early ’90s, they were the best team. Now they have abandoned their tour of India in a shambles over money and might not play Test cricket again.
Pakistan haven’t played at home since 2009 and are losing support. They are playing in Dubai and have whacked Australia by 221 runs, with Younis Khan scoring a century in both innings. How sad that so few saw such a game. Meanwhile, New Zealand tailor their schedule to when the Indian Premier League will let them have their players.
Zimbabwe are flaky and Bangladesh uncompetitive, although they have just finished a fascinating Test which might signal the future. Bangladesh won by three wickets in Dhaka, chasing just 101. They lost their first three wickets before a run was on the board, giving the bracing scoreline of 0-3. But is it a good thing that a Test is over in three days, thrilling though it may be? Or will the public soon prefer that to a five-day boreathon on a dead wicket? Heaven help us.
South Africa were at home to Australia in a laughably short three-Test series this year, but a thrilling and brilliant set of games was played in front of tiny crowds. India seem to have lost interest in doing well in Test cricket, though they will be in Australia for a series this winter. There is a meaty-looking series next month between Australia and South Africa, but it is entirely one-day cricket.
Meanwhile, tickets have gone on sale for next summer’s Ashes. England is one of the last countries that can still sell out Test matches, but this will be the third home Ashes series in six years. Will Tests soon become afterthoughts, as wave upon wave of forgettable one-dayers sweep over the game? The Indian Premier League is king, but Australia and West Indies both have growing T20 leagues.
Test cricket doesn’t have a divine right to exist: just think of the West Indies and the days of Lloyd, Richards, Holding and Marshall. Even Brian Lara seems to belong to a forgotten age, though it was only a decade ago that he became the first man to make 400 in a Test innings. We should treasure and nourish the things we love. Otherwise, the Ambridge single-wicket contest will be the only cricket left.
What’s not to admire about the great Irish three-quarter Brian O’Driscoll? Quite a lot, to judge by his memoirs. In a long, self-righteous and mean-spirited passage about the final Lions Test against Australia last year when he was dropped, quite rightly, he lays into all and sundry and particularly coach Warren Gatland. But instead of O’Driscoll’s weaselly effort, how about this version of events which I would buy? ‘Coaches select, players play. I believe in a separation of roles. So I’m sorry for having a hissy fit about being left out (on merit) and asking my mates in the media to assassinate him. Credit to Gats for being right. I really screwed up there.’ That’ll be the day.
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Roger Alton is executive editor of the Times.
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