A legacy over a goodbye

Every fan is invested in the career of their favourite players, and I’d rather remember a great legacy like that of Kumar Sangakkara than a grand goodbye like Sachin’s.

I loved watching Brian Lara.

I was upset when Lara retired, not just because he would be no more, but because I felt he went prematurely. He retired in 2006/7, when he was 36, but when I was just 13.

This feeling of being robbed of some sumptuous Lara runs was compounded when contemporaries like Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid, Shiv Chanderpaul and others, continued right until they were 40.

The question of when to go is really a dilemma that bugs fans as well as players.

On the one hand, you want to see your favourite players play on and on, but on the other hand, everyone forges a legacy, that must end at some point.

I remember Lara walking off in his final innings, thinking that he could have carried on, but in recent years, I’ve had to change my view.

His abrupt ending was not right, but at the same time, Sachin Tendulkar’s legacy was arguably tarnished by his decision to play on too long.

He played on until 2013, when he was 40. But he had scored just over 500 runs in his last 15 Tests. He was playing for numbers and records, chasing a nice figures, like getting to 200 Tests, 100 international hundreds, and 15,000 runs.

Like the three bears, if Sachin played too long, Lara was cut off prematurely, one batsman got it just right, and is perhaps the model for future great retirees.

Despite being fifth on the all-time Test run scoring list, Kumar Sangakkara is so often overlooked as a true ‘great’.

But, perhaps one hallmark of greatness, is knowing when to quit.

His exit was slow, starting with International retirement in 2015, done at a time when he could have continued. He scored 1,400runs in 2014, averaging over 70. He left us wanting more.

Despite no more international ambition, unlike Sachin and Brian Lara, after retiring Kumar Sangakkara climbed down to domestic cricket. He scored a thousand First Class runs for Surrey, averaged in the mid-forties in List A cricket, and got through 46 T20s in 2016.

He recognised that retirement is a process that requires the sequential relinquishing of responsibilities.

This week, in an interview with Island Cricket, the Sri Lankan Legend shows no regrets. Speaking about his retirement, he said: “..my mind was made up at that time and I was not going to think of reasons that were quite selfish [to continue].

“..in my view, when you know it is time to go, no matter what is in front of you, you have to make a decision and stick to it..”

He fulfilled his desire to carry on in some capacity, whilst not jeopardising the legacy he’d built up.

Sadly, he has got to the bottom rung of the ladder.

He has just been dropped by his Big Bash League side, the Hobart Hurricanes after scoring just 173 runs at 14.41 without a fifty.

Damian Wright, the coach spoke about dropping Sangakkara, saying it “was comfortably the hardest thing I’ve had to do… because of the quality person that he is”. He says: “You could feel he probably knew it was coming. He was pretty apologetic that he hasn’t gone as well he would have liked it.’”

Retirement might be hard, but remembering a batsman’s retirement is the biggest curse a player can have.

I’ll remember Sachin walking down the steps for the last time, and I’ll remember Lara walking off for the last time. I can’t remember Sanga’s last Test.

He showed no regrets about retirement or bitterness from his decline. He showed no greed to carry on for Sri Lanka, but a hunger to continue in another capacity.

Not being able to remember Sangakkara’s finale is the biggest complement one can pay him.

Let’s stop this race to the bottom

If poor quality cricket is seen as more entertaining then good quality cricket, then all that will happen is the degradation of the sport.

Last week two Tests concluded.

Australia lost to South Africa, after being humiliatingly bowled out for just 85 in 32.5 overs.

England drew with India, after two mammoth totals were unable to separate the teams.

If a martian landed on earth, and had the option of watching cricket for the very first time, I have little doubt which they’d chose.

They chose the calamitous collapse down under, not the hard grind in the sub-continent.

Fortunately, Test cricket’s popularity is not determined by extra-terrestrial beings, but by fans of the sport.

In the concluding day of these two test matches, a martian seems to have written an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald however.

This particular being, known locally as ‘Malcolm Knox’, claims that “While Australia destroy themselves, England destroy the game”.

He writes in his article, “…while Australia are lambasted for playing their own way, a feckless younger generation putting entertainment ahead of survival, Cook cruises like a stately zeppelin towards his fifth Test century in India, more than any other visitor. 

As he did so, televisions were switched off across the subcontinent, and left on only in places where the only alternative was to look at the rain”.

His logic, is: ‘Sure Australia were bad, but at least people watched it’. It’s is the kind of lowering of standards, that does long term damage. It’s the kind of attitude that encourages people to say “what’s the point of Test cricket..”

What’s more, India and Australia have fairly similar win records at home. The difference, is Australia lose a lot more, because they are more gung-ho, or perhaps more willing to take risks.

Since 2007, when a number of Australian greats retired and the IPL was set up, India and Australia have fairly similar records for home test wins.

Out of 52 home Tests in Australia since, 33 have produced home wins (63%). India have won 28 out of 45 home Tests (62%).

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India’s home record since January 2007

The difference, is Australia have lost 10 Tests, India have lost four.

Australia think results are key. 82% of home Tests have produced definitive results. Yet, India know how to draw. They have produced 13 of them (28%).

Malcolm Knox may consider a draw to be ‘boring’, but one needs to look at the bigger picture.

Most teams would rather draw in the short term to win in the longer term. You’d rather be 0-0 in a series than 1-0 down. Right?

If a batsman, or a team is capable of holding out, then fair play to them. Right?

England, and indeed Alastair Cook, certainly showed this during his 235* at the Gabba, Malcolm?

This simplistic view that Test cricket must produce results or else it’s boring, is exactly the type of attitude that will kill the game. It’s selling the game’s soul for a cheap illusion that it’s exciting.

The entire point of Test cricket, is that it tests you. It’s supposed to be an endurance race. A long game, and sometimes, an indecisive dead-heat. Indeed, some of the best Tests ever seen have been draws.

Sometimes it can be frustrating to watch Alastair Cook.

But, he did exactly what was required of him, leading a side that just slipped up against Bangladesh.

They served a moral victory in many respects.

Whilst every team wants to win matches, forcing results for the sake of it, and branding it ‘entertainment’, is a lowering of everyone’s standards.

It’s a race to the bottom that Test cricket just doesn’t need.

England’s search for instant success has damaged long term options

The way in which England have disposed of their opening batting options in the short term has made it difficult to reselect them in the longer term without unbearable pressure.

The main credentials needed to fill the poisoned chalice has been a good record in domestic cricket, and who can argue with that convention in theory.

Yet, one only has to look at the returns to realise that all have been inadequate. 

Only Nick Compton managed more than one century, and with the exception of Joe Root who averaged 37 in the role, all others averaged 31 or below. 

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They all have similarly disappointing records because they were all picked and dropped with a similarly impatient attitude and unreasonably unbearable weight of expectation.

Even those with moderate success, such as Michael Carberry who scored 281 runs in a disastrous tour to Australia, were dismissed. 

Indeed, invincible Joe Root, who had the best least worst time, was taken out of the position. 

They were all removed because they didn’t translate their county runs into international runs, instantly. 

There was a plethora of reasons as to why:

Sam Robson showed frailty on both edges.

Despite being second top run-scorer for England in the 2013/14 Ashes, Michael Carberry continuously failed to convert starts to fifties. 

Nick Compton got tangled with mental and technical knots and Adam Lyth looked as if he lacked control outside off stump.

Almost like a frankensteins monster of openers problems – they all had frailties. 

But problems can be solved. 

All of the players were expected to have an instant success, and when they didn’t were got rid of, only for the next to be expected to do the same. 

In reality, this process was ill-thought, because none of these openers are really any better than the other. 

They are all successful domestically. They all scored runs, all had a shot at the big time, all failed, all dropped, all re-integrated back into domestic cricket, all scoring buckets of runs once again. 

If these openers are ever reconsidered, which judging by Alex Hales performance in South Africa may be likely, there needs to be a clearer message as to expectation.

It would be unreasonable to re-select a player for example, for the exact same reason as before (good domestic form), with the hope of immediately translating that on to the international stage.

England need to say why a player should be re-selected; such as a technical improvement, but they also need to be more patient. Sometimes batsmen do struggle when they first emerge, especially in such a high-pressure position. 

By the position’s every nature, openers are exposed right away to the toughest conditions. If an opener fails they leave virtually no impact on the game. 

The way England exhausted their options so rapidly has made the position taboo.

England have given an unreasonably small margin of error for failure, and even smaller room for improvement in the role. 

Reselecting any of the discarded openers must come with a clear message of faith in ability or improvement. 

All cricket is #ProperCricket but County is more proper than others

If County Cricket is ‘#ProperCricket’, then what does that make non-County Cricket? 

As the county season and IPL cricket launch at the same time, they have to compete with each other for viewers and players.

With a new sponsor in Specsavers, County Cricket launched a brand new hashtag for the season: ‘#ProperCricket’, to try and drum up support, and importantly, give it some identity. 

Unlike in previous years, when it was sponsored by Liverpool Victoria insurance company, and the hashtag was simply ‘#LVCC’, this year, organisers have decided to make a point.

2016 is the year of proper cricket. 

All that improper cricket can stop, right now. 

When I first read this, I wasn’t sure if I was missing something.

Maybe organisers were referring to cricket as seen in the Mitchell and Webb show? I mean it’s unique.

It feels like an arrogant assertion, that County Cricket is ‘proper’. Almost like other forms of cricket are less-so? If one looks up in the dictionary, the definition of ‘arrogant’, it is: “having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.

I know it’s only a hashtag… no doubt some will now whinge at me for being petty.

But, its no coincidence, that it has been launched at the same time as the Indian Premier League begins, and just after the World T20 ended. 

If you want proper cricket, you can watch any kind of cricket. There’s no such thing as ‘proper cricket.’ It’s jus called cricket. 

Perhaps organisers of County Cricket could explain the definition of ‘proper cricket’ beyond it being ‘unique.’ Why is unique proper?

The IPL is watched by millions. 50 over cricket is watched by millions. Test cricket is probably not followed by as many so regularly. But because it’s the oldest, it doesn’t make the longest format ‘proper.’

It uses the laws of cricket. It uses many English cricketers, that opt for it instead of playing ‘proper’ cricket.

I know it’s only a hashtag, but perhaps it’s a signal of a part of First Class cricket’s problems.  

It needs to get past the notion that it is the pinnacle of the game. I, and millions of others, follow County Cricket year on year, but it’s not mutually exclusive with other forms. 

 

Why the hosts have ‘failed’ at the #Wt20

The lack of success for host nations at the World T20 shows more about the rapid evolution of the format, than the disadvantages of holding the tournament. 

There is no ‘reason’ as to why host nations fail at the World T20 (yet). It has been held all over the world, and all different teams have won it, which shows it’s a highly open and competitive tournament. 

There have been six winners since 2007. Two sub continental teams were victorious outside of the sub-continent, England won in the Caribbean and West Indies won in Sri Lanka and India.

Historically it is clear that host nations have not just failed, but they aren’t even within touching distance. Eight different teams have made it to the semi final stage, but only twice has a host nation made that grade (in 2012 and 2016).

This is a lesson however, not so much about the drawbacks of hosting necessarily but of the nature of the format and the tournament itself.

The reason host nations have struggled is because T20 has matured .

It developed as a format, negating teams home advantage. It’s no longer kamikaze hitting and headless fast bowling playing to the masses, nor is it a format which lends itself to teams be familiar with their conditions or surroundings.

It bleeds unpredictability and the possibility of anyone having success, which is a key reason as to why people love it so much now.  

This change has been driven by a bowling revolution.

Spin and pace off the ball is now king, and batsmen have not yet really adapted to this, wherever they’re from. 

In the top 15 bowlers with the ‘most wickets’ in World T20, eight are spinners: Shahid Afridi, Saeed Ajmal, Ajentha Mendis, Shakib Al-Hasan, Nathan McCullum, Samuel Badree, Graeme Swann and and R Ashwin. 

Seven are seam bowlers: Lasith Malinga, Umer Gul, Dale Steyn, Stuart Broad, Morne Morkel, Dwayne Bravo and Shane Watson.

But, of the seven seamers, only three; Steyn, Broad and Morkel are ‘out and out’ quicks. And of these, Steyn only played two games in the World T20, taking one wicket (and didn’t play a T20I all of 2015) and Stuart Broad and Morne Morkel didn’t make their respective squads.

The remaining seamers use variations in pace and length as their staple, trying to prevent batsmen from getting in or become familiar with the game. The out-and-out quicks have largely been discarded.Wickets

The spinners have become especially potent, because they are not only wicket takers, but they are very economical. 

Much to the disbelief of those who thought T20 may decimate spinners, they have given their teams control.

Of the top 10 most economical bowlers in World T20 history, only one is a seam bowler; Angelo Mathews, and even he is a bowler who uses less pace than his contemporaries. 

Economy

The reality is, T20 cricket has evolved at a rapid rate, and batsmen haven’t quite kept up. 

Bowlers have taken the format by the scruff of the neck, and forced batsmen to create their own success if they want it. 

They have to create their pace on the ball, take risks at their own peril, because there are less ‘hit me’ bowlers. 

Pace has come off the ball, and as much predictability as possible has been sucked from the game. A non-spinning spinner opening the bowling with a new ball is a challenge to an India, an Australian or anyone. It’s a new and different challenge.  

Host nations have been failing because conventional factors like conditions and familiarity  that prepare sides for success in their own back yard are far less important. 

If and when a host nation wins in the future, it is not going to be because they play certain types of bowling well or are familiar with the pitches. It will be because they are ready for anything, and have the resources to tackle it. 

 

Why we shouldn’t ‘move on’ from Gayle’s comments, until other players get the point

Sexism in sport, especially in ‘the gentleman’s game’ can be subtle, and hard to identify and root out.

It is especially hard to crack,if it is played down, justified or outright denied as having happened when it occurs. 

As a sports journalist, Mel McLaughlin was interviewing Chris Gayle about an innings he had played.

The response she received was contempt for her capacity as a reporter, as Gayle asked her out for a drink, before telling her ‘not to blush’; ignoring the cricketing question. 

Banter? Or disrespect? One thing is for sure, he thought he could get away with it.

As it was live on air, everyone saw it. It led to the West Indian opener being fined $10,000, and making a grovelling apology.

There was real no malice in the comment, but at the same time his apology is somewhat hollow.

He said it was ‘a simple comment, a joke’ that “wasn’t anything at all meant to be disrespectful or offensive”, showing he doesn’t understand that what he did was unprofessional at best, and sexist at worst.

There is a time and a place for flirting, and it isn’t during a live interview. I dread to think what he thinks he’s entitled to do off-air. 

Mel followed by accepting his apology, adding she wants to ‘move on.’

At which point, many took the opportunity to continue to play down Gayle’s comments. 

BBL commentator and ex-England star Andrew Flintoff began proceedings, by calling Gayle ‘a bit of a chop.’ 

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Before it’s time to ‘move on‘, nothing to see here.

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Other public figures trivialised the matter too.

Ireland’s Niall O’Brien said Gayle ‘asked a lady out for a drink live on TV’, whilst Paul Nixon, retweeted a comment that it was just ‘humour’ adding that people should ‘move on.’

Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.23.17Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.11.58

Then Aussie Hockey star Georgie Parker, and Piers Morgan, were both retweeted by Northants batsman, Josh Cobb.

Parker, instead of saying it’s wrong whoever does it’, ultimately says it’s better to try it herself out next time herself, to prove it’s OK when a woman does it too. 

Whilst Piers Morgan dismisses Gayle’s total lack of respect for a female journalist as ‘being a bit cheeky’.

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Following Parker’s comments, England women’s legend, Clare Connor, contributed something a little more thoughtful, outlining alleged double standards, which Parker was referring too.

Instead of just saying ‘I’ll do it too’, she raises the question of whether it’s right. 

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Cobb, then adds that he needed a little explanation.

Maybe he should get in touch with Clare Connor for a lesson?Screenshot 2016-01-08 11.26.27.png

Ex-England allrounder Adam Hollioake said ‘you can’t have it both ways’. Chris Gayle is a bit of a character, therefore it’s OK for him to be unprofessional and ridicule a woman interviewer.

I guess women should just put up with this type of humiliation? It’s just banter after all.. move on, move on,

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What he doesn’t get, is that it isn’t about a lynchmob baying for justice.

It’s about other professional cricketers saying ‘this isn’t acceptable’,  and setting an example.

Like the ever-reliable Chris Rogers, who said:

“From my time at the Thunder [with Gayle] I was very disappointed with his attitude and his behaviour, and I’ve not been a fan since.

People see these one-offs, but this is a pattern of behaviour. If you know the guy, you see it over and over. To defend it, I think, is not right at all.

I listen to that and I don’t think it’s funny at all – he says it’s just a joke, well it’s not just a joke, is it?

And Waqar Younis and Shoaib Malik:

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And ex-Kiwi bowler, Iain O’Brien:

Whilst it may be the case that what Gayle said was nothing demonstrably spiteful, the lengths others are going to excuse it is baffling, as it’s ultimately the root of the issue.

For that reason, Gayle should not be made a scapegoat. He shouldn’t be banned, and a fine was a both symbolic and a pittance. 

There needs to be a more fundamental approach that challenges a culture in a male-dominated sport. 

The wise head of Harsha Bogle perhaps summed it up best:

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Why England should consider recalling Kevin Pietersen for the World T20

Kevin Pietersen has been in the international wilderness since 2014, but there are sound reasons to give him one last hurrah.

In 2016, the ICC World T20 will be held, and it would be a perfect opportunity to both patch up relations with England’s highest run-scorer, whilst squeezing that last bit of juice out of him.

On a basic level, it’s no secret that Pietersen has experience and quality that would be beneficial for England.

He is not only England’s leading run-scorer in all formats combined , but in T20 cricket, he is England’s second top run scorer.

Of course, it would be odd if someone with that quality wasn’t already selected.

The reasons he was omitted from the side still remain somewhat a mystery. But, what is clear, is that issues which were the cause, have largely been removed or changed.

The coach is different, various players who had friction with him have retired. And, If Pietersen were to return, it wouldn’t be long term thing anyway.

He wouldn’t be back to the Test or ODI side. It would be a short-term deal to help England at the World T20, which when England won in 2010, he was the man of the tournament.

Another important factor, is that it’s in India, not only because of his time at IPL, which he has been a part of in 2009, 2012, 2013 and 2014, but also because of his success there for England.

He has played nine Tests in India, including four in 2012, in which he scored two incredible and match-winning centuries.

He knows the conditions, how to attack and score runs against spin, and the crowds like him too, which is something that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Unlike most opposition batsmen who receive a deathly silence and an empty stadium, Indians flock to see KP, because he is an entertainer.

That would help England.

These factors add to the benefit his overall knowledge of the format would bring.

In 2015 alone, he played in the Ram Slam in South Africa in which he was the second top run scorer, the Caribbean Premier League, in which he was in the top 10 run scorers, the Big Bash, in which he was third top run-scorer, and which he helped his side get to the final. He recently signed up to the Pakistan Super League too.

So, why would he fit back in just this once?

England have a new coach. Andy Flower is gone, and the new man, Trevor Bayliss is a Pietersen-type coach.

He has given ‘Ben Stokes a licence to play his natural game‘ which is in the vein of KP’s, whilst also moving the aggressive left hander back up to number six, after time spent at seven and eight.

Bayliss is also more of a background coach. He isn’t a pencil pusher and clipboard-holder, a dictator.

In October, Alastair Cook credited Bayliss for his improvement as England captain, saying: “He’s a really relaxed guy, he lets the captain run the side and that is one of the big differences from the other guys.”

And, Bayliss’s recall of James Taylor, Nick Compton, Jonny Bairstow, Garry Ballance and selection of Adil Rashid, all shows a willingness to try something different, whether new or old.

England’s T20 side is jam-packed with young players, who lack experience.

 In 2015, in the overall list of run scorers in T20 Internationals, the highest England run scorer was Eoin Morgan at number 38. This is due to such a low number of games (just four) played by England internationally.

They need someone to shepherd them. There are very few senior leaders, or players with the experience and hunger that Pietersen still has. Reselecting him for one last time could be a stroke of genius.

He could marshall a young side, in an unfamiliar format, in foreign conditions and with nothing to lose.

There’d be no prospect of a long term impact on the side or interference in other formats. It’s a cricketing one-night-stand.

More than anything, as a fan, this could ensure that one of England’s greatest ever batsmen does not depart the game with the bitter taste of regret, but the sweet one reconciliation and perhaps even success.

And, it sounds like he’s up for it…

https://twitter.com/JackMendel4/status/685396514311696384

No Graeme, you don’t need to average over 45 to have an opinion

Graeme Swann’s dismissal of anyone’s opinion that averaged below 45 in Test cricket is both naive, and shows a lack of credibility as a pundit.

The notion that a someone’s opinion is only valuable if they’ve been there and done it, is a load of nonsense.

Some of the best journalists and coaches in the world never played cricket, such as Gideon Haigh, widely regarded as one of the best writers and cricket historians, ever, and most of the staff at ESPNCricinfo, who work tirelessly to cover our game. 

Not to mention, New Zealand’s coach, Mike Hesson, who has never played a first class game in his life, but has taken his side to dizzying heights of success. 

England’s coach and assistant coach, Trevor Bayliss Paul Farbrace neither played Test cricket. They played under 100 First Class games between them.  

So you see, when on Wednesday, Graeme Swann sent a tweet, saying “I will accept ‘lack of footwork’ or ‘should’ve been forward’ from anyone with a test average over 45”, many people who for a long time thought he occasionally lacks credibility as a pundit, had their fears confirmed. 

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One can only assume he doesn’t mean a Test match average of over 45, but an IQ Test average, because if it were the former, he would quickly be out of a job himself.

As would most of his colleagues and ex-colleagues, such as: Graeme Gooch (ex-England coach), Mark Ramprakash (current England batting coach), David Gower, Mike Atherton and Andrew Strauss (all of whom work for SKY as pundits, and are all ex-England captains).

Others he wouldn’t listen too include Graham Thorpe, Marcus Trescothick (two of England’s best batsmen in the last 20 years),  Nasser Hussain and Alec Stewart (both ex-captains), Ian Bell (technical master), Colin Cowdrey, John Edrich, and two more ex-captains, Michael Vaughan and Ian Botham, just for good measure. 

And there’s more. Allan Lamb, Mike Gatting (ex-captain), Mark Butcher, Paul Collingwood, Matt Prior, Jonathan Trott and Andrew Flintoff (ex-captain.) These are of course, just English players.  There would be a long long list of players from around the world. 

Oh, and any bowler that has ever played the game.

Or any batting coach around the world that has never played a First Class or Test match. 

 Whereas Swann was a fantastic off-spinner who gave England fans a lot of joy, in a single comment, he has shown himself to be immensely shallow as a commentator on the sport.

Why Test cricket must reclaim its sixes

If Test cricket wants to survive it must claw back its name as a diverse format in which hitting sixes is a vital part of its fabric.

Test cricket has an image problem. It’s image is one of competition with T20, the infant of cricket that’s taking the world by storm.

It has an image problem, because T20 has successfully captured the hearts and minds of young, and indeed older fans as the home of sixes.

People want to see big hits and crashing fours, and will pay big money for it.

This makes the format very lucrative, especially as the games are so short. You can come after work to indulge in a short sharp burst of power.

It draws players towards it, that perhaps would have one day dreamed of playing in whites.

T20 has championed aggressive batting, as crucial to its existence.

The association has become so strong, that as Ben Stokes smashed his way to 258 off just 198 balls, the murmurings on social media was about the influence of T20 on Tests.

Instead of it being seen as a rapid Test innings, some were saying it was fundamentally a T20 knock.

And I’ve heard it before when David Warner has batted like that, or when Chris Gayle or Ab de Villiers have.

It is worrying, because it implies that hitting sixes and batting aggressively is owned by T20. But, Test cricket has been doing it long before T20 was even thought of.

Hitting sixes is as much a part of Test cricket as blocking and leaving is. Some of the greatest opening partnerships ever have been a mixture of aggression and caution; such as Strauss and Trescothick, Gibbs and Smith.

It’s multi-dimensional, and it helps give Tests the subtlety and variance that T20 can lack.

Whether it was Adam Gilchrist down the order, or Sanath Jayasuriya pounding the new ball, Test has always had a place for aggression. They found their niche. It was a strategy, not a necessity.

Most importantly, it was seen as healthy, either as a way to put the side in a strong position or as a way of giving impetus.

Time is rarely a constraint in Test cricket, so the need to bat aggressively is for a purpose.

In T20, batting aggressively is a staple. That’s fine. There is room for both subtlety and brute force within cricket.

The problem, is allowing aggression and caution to precipitate in to T20 and Test.

Big hitting batsmen are becoming associated, or expected to be interested in T20, more than Tests, if not exclusively interested in it. Whilst Test cricket is shepherded onto younger fans and players, as having to compete with T20.

Whether that’s choosing county over IPL bucks, or in a TV revenue sense, the conflict of interest is un-ignorable.

Tests are being shown in both regards as being about playing defensive or ‘boring’ cricket. It’s cricket, minus T20.

One must wonder whether the age of aggression in Tests is over, if some, like Andre Russell and Aaron Finch are unwilling to dip their toe in the pond, and if others like Alex Hales are ignored by their country’s respective selectors for so long.

The horrible question nobody wants to ask, is what would happen if a Kevin Pietersen or Chris Gayle turned up right now?

Would they really, honestly, want to play Test cricket over IPL and Big Bash? It would certainly be a dangling carrot.

Ultimately, if Test cricket starts to lose its aggressive stars, it will lose its subtlety. It will become one dimensional and boring.

If aggression and caution is allowed to separate out into T20 and Test, then Test cricket will become a bland and boring sport that will quickly die out.

 

 

Why England should beat a wounded South Africa

If England cannot beat a bruised South Africa, we will be able to see just how far behind they are against the world’s best team.

Despite a disappointing 2015 for the Proteas, major similarities still exist between the two sides.

Out of the seven Tests South Africa have played this year, they have only managed to win one, versus the West Indies.

More pressingly, the main reason for this is a lack of top order runs.

In 2015, only one Test century has been scored by a South African batsman, Ab de Villiers. The star man is languishing at number 38 on the international Test runs list for the year.

Whatever the averages on paper, it’s just not sufficient to maintain their space on the rankings.

South Africa have lost many players due to retirement and injury over the last few years, and this has placed a huge burden on de Villiers and captain, Hashim Amla.

It’s clear they are struggling, but is their position strong enough to overcome England?

In some respects, the same issues exist for England, but in a different way.

There is an over-reliance on two key batsmen for the touring side, but unlike the South Africans, these two have hit form, so the issue has not been as exposed.

Over the last year, the world’s top two run-scorers have been England’s Alastair Cook (averaging 59) and Joe Root (averaging 61).

Contributions from elsewhere have been few and far between, with the only other centuries coming from Adam Lyth and Ian Bell (both dropped), Gary Ballance (unsure as to whether he’ll play) and Ben Stokes.

So in the touring party, it really is two batsman from either side pulling the weight.

If England want to win they must press South Africa’s major pressure points, better than South Africa do to England.

South Africa, unlike England, don’t have a weight of runs behind them, and the introduction of inexperienced players will exacerbate this problem.

South Africa have uncharacteristically selected a lot of new faces. These include Dane Piedt, Rilee Rossouw, Stiaan van Zyl, Temba Bavuma, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott and Dean Elgar. None have played England.

Of course, England have selected new faces too. But they have played South Africa before, or at least, have had experience and some success in Test cricket before.

James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow, have faced the South Africans, whilst Nick Compton, Garry Ballance and Moeen Ali, are all in their mid to late 20s, with some Test success.

England and South Africa are both in no means good form. They both lost their immediate last series. In many regards, they face similar challenges, but the home side are feeling it more acutely.

Without runs on the board, the two sides’ bowling attacks; which have a mix of experience and pacey youth, will be under more pressure.

Whoever gets more runs on the board will give their bowlers a greater opportunity to have an impact towards winning Tests.

This could be England’s best chance to overturn the South Africans at home for a decade.

The Proteas side may have the advantage of reputation and playing at home, but England are about to play a wounded beast, and they really should win.

If they can’t overcome them, it will show that even a resurgent England cannot beat a weakened and bruised South African side, which goes some way to highlighting the gap in quality between the two.