Lost Weekends in Test match Cricket

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How sad that the Caribbean cocktail hurricane served up this week in the Midlands had destroyed itself by the time it touched our lips.

This should have been the aperitif to the main South African course, which was in itself undercooked.

The international summer in England has not been a vintage one. Four landslide victories and a total no contest are not what keeps Test match cricket menus alive, even for the fast food fans..

Much was made about the first day/night Test match at Edgbaston. But the fact is that we were only here three days (and semi-nights) to appreciate it.

This is the West Indies, remember, the team that was responsible for a lost weekend at Leeds 17 years ago when Gough and Caddick were blasting through Lara and company within 48 hours.

Much has been written about the loss of West Indian’s best players through disputes with their own board. But the fact is, even with Gayle, Bravo and company, the team have always been susceptible to collapsing in a heap when they don’t fancy it.

Nowadays, a visit to the garden centre on Sunday is likely to see more action than a Test match. And to think we used to have rest days on the Sabbath to give players a break.

When a game starts on a Thursday, the Lord’s prayer must be an option for ticket-holders holding their breath in the hope that they see men in whites other than the priest.

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the world, Sri Lanka had already fallen in a heap at home against the Indians.

Again.This is a deadly time for the competitive streak of the five-day game.Trevor Bayliss doesn’t seem too concerned with England’s topsy-turvy win-loss column, but If Joe Root’s team were a Premier League club, they would be in mid-table. With so many top order players undecided and unpracticed against quality pace, this is a recipe for disaster in Australia.

When exactly did the soul of “over my dead body” leave us in Test cricket?

It appears there is only a certain amount a batsman can do against the control of a Broad and an Anderson when given a Headingley or a Trent Bridge. After all, hardened English county players such as Chris Rogers and Adam Voges desperately struggled against the moving ball in 2015. But that 60 all out at Nottingham, as fun as it was at the time, killed the dynamic of that Ashes series to the point where the victory felt flat as the Aussies just folded.

When conditions are favourable to bowlers, techniques are exposed, batsmen struggle to find their inner Bear Grylls and we find the game ridiculously advanced to the point where the winner is virtually certain after a day and a half. Scoreboard pressure has never been so useful. Get 350, and watch the opposition bat as if they are trying to keep the ball out with Terry Wogan’s Blankety Blank microphone

By the time the weekend comes around, the most entertainment to be found is watching a squadron of Flintstones or a human telephone box arrive at the ground with Michael Vaughan wittering on about some stuff of nonsense.

That leer of expectation that Test cricket is hard as nails and that no one will give way has disappeared. Strokemakers used to be a treat to look forward to after the opening pair stung the life out of the new ball.

Nowadays we have Heino Kuhn and Keaton Jennings parading as openers, but looking like they will get out every other ball. Is this what we want?

It was refreshing to see Alex Hales fight against himself and play a patient hand in against Sri Lanka last summer, before the natural urge to launch something one day style became impossible to resist.

But when someone like Nick Compton is as torn as he was in South Africa in 2015, vacillating between total limpet status and trying to thrash quick runs in order to look part of the speed culture, you know that true tortoises are an endangered species. Compton went so far as to write an open letter this week on how to stay around in an England team built on fast forward.

Entertainment is a sad currency when just counted in runs and wickets. When two teams stand their ground, the subtle fight for supremacy is all the more riveting even if the game appears to be standing still for those with the attention span of a gnat.

Sometimes, cricket needs periods of chess, when nothing appears to be happening, but it is all bubbling under the surface. Otherwise there is an emptiness, a certain feeling of being cheated of the true dynamics of the game.This summer, cricket has been about gorging on chocolate cake without being able to even think about the oeurs d’oeuvres.

By Tim Ellis