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Old October 13, 2003, 08:21 AM
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Default Are there enough genuine tests in cricket these days?

Are there enough genuine tests in cricket these days?
By Damien Berry
October 11, 2003


First and foremost, all Australians should take off their hat to Matthew Hayden, in recognition of his achievement of scoring the highest innings in the history of Test cricket. What a magnificent accom-plishment, regardless of the opposition. The level of concentration required to bat for 622 minutes, face 437 balls and not give a chance until the Australian record of 334 set by Bradman and Taylor had been gobbled up, is testament to an extremely dedicated and determined man.

Hayden waited a long time for his day in the sun, and there is no better example of making hay while the sun shines.

Much has been said and written about Hayden, however not enough attention devoted to what his innings indirectly says about the state of Test cricket worldwide. In short it is awful.

The dominance of the Australians over the past decade and the decline of many other countries, combined with the introduction of Bangladesh to the Test arena, has quite simply made the game somewhat predictable.

Watching Hayden on Friday afternoon was like watching a school bully torment and then destroy the most timid youngster.

His innings will go down in history, but the way he humiliated the Zimbabweans is a sad reflection on what all cricket lovers hold so dear to their hearts.

Test cricket, now played by 10 nations, is unquestionably in a lot of trouble. Many cricket enthusiasts speak about the situation, but in a manner which suggest they hope it will go away; in a cautious tone, hoping that perhaps they are wrong.

On Friday morning, I met up with Shane Warne, for a game of golf. We strolled the course between showers and gale force winds, and talked about his recent trip to England and Scotland, where he played golf in the Dunhill Links Classic partnering Peter O’Malley. Inevitably, though, the conversation turned to our number one sporting passion, cricket.

In the next four holes,Warney’s concentration was broken enough to allow his brother Jason to sneak past him on the scorecard. The reason he became slightly distracted was because an interesting debate had devel-oped between us. A dispute we have had several times recently. I suggested that Test cricket has lost its way and he strongly defended the opposing view. Like most current players,Warney is very protective of the medium in which he applies his craft. I think if he were to concede my point of view, then in some way he might feel it devalues his 491 Test wickets.

Obviously you can only perform against the opposition provided and in no way am I detracting from Shane’s amazing career, Hayden’s 380 runs or Steve Waugh's captaincy record. But I do believe that the standard of Test cricket of recent times leaves some of us with a hollow void. In all honesty, not since the enthralling Indian series in 2001, when Hayden was like a beacon at the top of the order, has the Australian team moved out of second gear.

Sure, Australia lost a Test last summer to England in another notorious dead rubber after the Ashes had once again been defended. Then, without Warne’s leg-spinning wizardry to bowl the West Iindies out in a dead rubber in Antigua, we had a slight hiccup.

Since then, the embarrassment that was Bangladesh and now, enthusiastic as they may be, heaven forbid Zimbabwe. Darren Lehmann could have scored those consecutive centuries against Bangladesh batting right handed. On Friday, Warne could see I was getting the best of the debate, and threw in a low blow. "What would you know anyway Chuck, how many Tests have you played?" It’s a pretty common response from any of the elite 385 who have had the honour of wearing the Baggy Green, but not good enough to win this debate.

The facts are as plain as the nose on your face, even though mine was a little disjointed after Warney’s jibe. Apart from Australia, maybe South Africa, and perhaps India and Sri Lanka on home soil (or should I say dust) how many others are genuine top-class Test nations? I concluded my argument in the clubhouse over a toasted cheese sandwich in front of the television, as Hayden and Lehmann smashed 70 runs in 20 minutes. I turned to Warney and simply said, "So this is Test cricket? I don’t think so mate."
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