If ever anything showed the gaping gulf between the world of professional sport and the more realistic sphere inhabited by the rest of us, it was the sorry goings-on at the Sir Vivian Richards Ground in Antigua. The match was abandoned after 10 balls due to the fact that the outfield was made of sand, an idea which sadly will probably never catch on in test cricket. An unfit outfield? Please. What do you think the rest of us play on every summer?
How the test should have been played
Aside from the fact that, on recent form, 10 balls should have been plenty of time for the West Indies to bowl England out, the situation was clearly salvageable with the exercise of a just a modicum of lateral thinking. Hands up who doesn’t enjoy beach cricket. Thought so. It’s a fabulous game but apparently is beneath the pampered players of England and the newly-made millionaires of the West Indies.
And part of the fun is accepting that the track and the outfield may not be out of the top drawer. Why only last summer I was just beginning to see it well when I received a wide delivery just fuller than a good length and threw myself into an expansive cover drive. The ball promptly hit a hole left by my front foot while playing a similar and rather more successful shot the previous ball. It cut back about 45 degrees, rolled along the ground and cleaned me up, sending 2 stumps cartwheeling. I allowed myself no more than a passing accusatory glance at the offending area of sand before passing over the bat and making my way into the shallows in the cover region to perform the dual task of preventing quick singles and stopping any unsuspecting kids from getting beaned on the back of the head by a well-struck lofted drive. No whinging, no protesting, just a firm resolve that next time I would either play the ball later or get down the track to prevent any similar mishap befalling me in my next knock.
Why do international teams think they are above this sort of thing? It makes them seem alien to the paying spectator, like people to whom we will struggle to relate and our support can never be better than lukewarm in such circumstances. Think how much more respect we would have for Kevin Pietersen if we could watch him walking off with a wry smile, a chuckle on his lips perhaps, after being yorked on the second bounce by a delivery which first pitched no more than 4 feet in front of him. Or for Freddie Flintoff if he sighed stoically as if to say ‘ah well, that’s life’ after a 90mph middle stump yorker hit a divot and flew over both the stumps and the ‘keeper’s head for 6 byes. We would feel that each of them is one of us, that they face the same day-to-day challenges to the rest of us, namely how to gain a crucial edge in a game which is essentially a complete lottery.
There would also be a sort of perverse pleasure in watching the crème de la crème struggle in such a way. Perhaps the best way to level the playing field is to make it as bumpy as possible. It was argued that the ground was unsafe and could lead to injuries. Well just do what the rest of us do; come in off 2 paces, hurl it down in the general direction of the stumps and hope that the sort of divot which cut me off in my prime last summer can do a job for you. And for the batsman, clear the front leg, fix the eyes on an unspecified point directly above your head, all but remove your top hand from the bat and give it hell.
The international cricket teams of England and the West Indies missed a golden chance to reconnect with the cricketing public yesterday and the game is poorer for it. When Andrew Strauss shook his head sadly and announce that ‘the game of cricket doesn’t need this’ I would like to think he was expressing the same sentiment as me, although I rather doubt it. Their claims of a duty to the fans rings hollow because I am sure most of the people who had paid good money to get over there would have been happy to watch Matt Prior become the first player to concede a century of byes. It may not be the entertainment they had in mind but they would forever be able to say ‘I was there when the West Indies were bowled out for 6 and the match lasted a mere 41.2 overs’. And so what if the match only lasts one day instead of 5? They’re in Antigua for heaven’s sake, I’m sure they would cope.
by Stuart Peel