Cricket's great divide
By Mark Nicholas
-inserted as whole article as the source requires registration
Cricket is a game fighting for its credibility. Amid the euphoria of England's memorable, record-breaking year and of Australia's continued brilliance, there are major causes for concern. Players lurch around the world fulfilling fixtures that frequently mean nothing against countries who are no good. Neither Zimbabwe nor Bangladesh would cut it against an average state or county team.
It is unarguably awful for the credibility of the game worldwide that Australia are winning Test matches so easily. It is worse still that John Buchanan, the Australian coach, felt obliged to come out in defence of his players the day before yesterday. "Our job is not to mark time and wait for other teams to catch up. Our job is to keep improving, individually and collectively. It is upon the other teams and the ICC to work out ways to accelerate their progress." That he had to say as much, reflects the frustration in Australia. Australians love a contest and they are not getting one.
Pakistan were a disgrace in the Perth Test. They expected to lose and duly did so with embarrassing ease. Their captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq, moped around, batted feebly and spent much of the third day off the field with a stomach bug. And to think, his job is to inspire. Bob Woolmer, the coach, said he would seek psychological help for the players. What he needs is a miracle.
All this is part of a malaise that began infecting international cricket about a decade ago. Its effect has been a worry, now it is becoming extreme.
West Indies thought they had the formula bottled until lazy, overpaid cricketers replaced the marvellous ones who had set a standard that was taken for granted. There was no provision for the future and Brian Lara has carried the can. South Africa deserve sympathy because their future was always uncertain but claims that reverse racism is killing the game have nothing on the racism that preceded it and excluded the majority of the country from playing the game meaningfully.
England have had no excuse. Administration of the game has been painfully weak, shrouded in-house, short-sighted and selfish. To a degree, it still is. For a while the brilliance of Ian Botham and David Gower papered over the cracks but the English game had been an anachronism long before their tenure.
Of the major nations, only in India does cricket continue to convince, and even there the crowds for Test matches are shrinking and the power-brokers invest more in themselves than in the game for which they stand. Sri Lankans are in love with cricket but everyone wants a piece of everything, so the key figures play musical chairs and no one is left alone to embrace the wider picture and lead the advance to the next stage of development and quality.
The International Cricket Council have done untold damage by allowing Zimbabwe and Bangladesh Test-match status. Their presence lowers standards and diminishes an already fragile product. Test-match performances have been cheapened and do a disservice to those who have gone before. True, there have been other eras when series have been uneven but never to this extent.
Sachin Tendulkar made his highest score against Bangladesh the other day. Stephen Fleming did so a couple of months back but, be assured, both these fine cricketers would rather have their marker elsewhere. Lesser players than Tendulkar and Fleming can hide behind performances against these poor teams and begin to believe in them. Their records stand up even when they fail against Australia, so they are not motivated to take on the world champions and instead collapse, waiting for the horror of it to go away until the next easy ride when they fill their boots again. This is cheating the game they play, never mind the rich history they are inheriting.
Why can cricket's administrators not see this? Why is the greatest and most noble game being allowed to free-fall into mediocrity? Why on earth does this Australian team have to answer to their own country for being so damn good? It is a joke, and a very dangerous one.
Cricket is available on television just about everywhere and just about all the time. The less-is-more principle has long gone. Many matches are without frisson but still the producers and networks treat this old-fashioned sport with deference and care, striving to improve their product while the game fritters it away. Soon, they will wonder why they bother.
For the moment, thank heaven for the sheer bravery and optimism of Graeme Smith, who at least challenged England with a weakened but politically correct team. Thank heaven for Lara, who, four years ago, made a double hundred in Jamaica and a near unbelievable 153 not out in Barbados to single-handedly draw a series with the Australians.
These were his greatest hours and yet, admirably, he has stuck with it since, hoping, perhaps even believing, that West Indies cricket will come again. Thank heaven for the way in which India have resisted Australia with their mix of flair and confrontation.
Thank heaven, most of all, for Michael Vaughan's England who have transcended their masters and shown the necessary desire to improve. The thought and commitment which has gone into their play, the smile that comes with it, and their formidable results this year, mean that English cricket has its brightest face since that golden era of Botham and friends. Indeed, as Adam Gilchrist said yesterday: "England are shaping up to be formidable opponents." There can be no greater compliment from an Australian.
Of course, the global development of cricket is crucial and yes, real opportunities must be given to the emerging nations who require enormous help, financially and practically, if their potential is to be reached. But by compromising standards and devaluing performances, the future of the game is further threatened at a time when it is hardly on the lips of the world's sporting community. The ICC must understand this and act upon it – however cleverly England and Australia are pulling the wool over everyone's eyes – otherwise they are not fulfilling their responsibility.
The article speaks for itself. You do the homework & crits and I will stiffle my scream. OK.
'My question and amazement is this short phrase: -"cricket is fighting is for its credibility"-where?
Edited on, December 23, 2004, 11:47 PM GMT, by oracle.