February 2009, Barbados: I know I can afford it, once at any rate, but the trip cost me a fortune. Lovely hotel and beach, catamaran trip to the famous Sandy Lane Bay, swim in the cool water, a rum punch or three as the sun set. Then, next morning, it was off to lovely Kensington Oval, and I had a seat high in the Hall & Griffith stand. What could be better this side of heaven?
But there the enjoyment ended. Not all at once, not abruptly. But end it did.
England scored runs; a lot of runs. Strauss and Cook, Bopara and Collingwood all made hundreds, or near-hundreds. Then it was West Indies’ turn. Sarwan got almost three hundred on his own. Ramdin scored over 150. Our 600 for 6 was eclipsed by their 749 for 9. Second innings: 279 for 2: Cook got a hundred as the game crawled to an inevitable draw. I wasn’t there to see the end. A final day spent lounging on the beach had more appeal than this sort of cricket: 5 days, 1628 runs, just 17 wickets.
I believe that cricket is at its best when there is an even contest between bat and ball. I accept that preparing a pitch is not an exact science and that even the best groundsman cannot guarantee the perfect pitch, but if there must be variation from the ideal then let it be in favour of the bowler, please.
I also believe that batsmanship involves not only skill and judgment, but also courage; physical courage. Not all the time, but often enough to identify those who haven’t got it and to elevate the status of those who have. This is no less true of club cricket than of county or test cricket. We all know who the wusses are on our own team!
I love cricket, but the sort of game we saw in Barbados, where batsmen smash helpless bowlers for meaningless centuries, is boring, boring, boring. Even when they do it with the style and finesse of a Sarwan, it’s still boring, ultimately. Grace and beauty are a by-product of cricket played well, not the reason for playing the game.
Nor do you have to go to the West Indies to see this barren sort of cricket. Almost any county ground will do. At Headingley the pitches are low and slow and don’t spin; boring and bad for cricket. Yorkshire have not won a 4-day game there for almost two seasons, and we haven’t lost many, either.
I’m not advocating a return to the old days when batsmen used to break fingers all the time – but bowlers are people too, so give them a place of work that isn’t a torture chamber.
Elsewhere it is even worse. Taunton. Don’t get me going about bloody Taunton! Somerset should be docked 25 points every time they play there. Edgbaston is the same, I’m told, though I didn’t experience the place in 2009.
Even the grounds where we won – Basingstoke and Hove – gave us slow pitches. However, there was some turn on the 4th day for Rashid and Wainwright, and both games produced memorable performances with bat and ball. It was sub-continental cricket, I suppose, and not ideal, but it was better than the usual Headingley exercise in tedium.
I understand there’s a valid counter-argument. Even in Barbados there was one bowler, Fidel Edwards, who managed to shake up the batsmen. He was let down by lack of support from the other end and by the useless West Indian fielding. It was rightly said that the old great four-pronged West Indies attack would have caused the England batsmen problems and would probably have been able to win the game, even on that strip of rolled plasticene.
So I don’t believe the bowlers should be spoon-fed all the time. But come on, you groundsmen, give the poor devils something to smile about from time to time.
Because you’re strangling the life out of the best game ever invented.
In India vs WI, If David Wainwright can consider himself unlucky to be in the same Yorkshire squad as Adil Rashid, Yorkshire can consider themselves highly fortunate that he is. As after several years where Wainwright’s path to a regular place has been blocked, it now looks like he’s flourishing into a genuine all-rounder just as ‘Team England’ are about to drag Adil off never to be seen again.
As with Bairstow, we need to temper our expectation, but the century at home to Warwickshire, made when he came into bat at 99/7, and the impressive 85 not out at Hove, have proved the maiden first class century from the final match of last season was no flash in the pan. Wainwright it seems is a batsman of some skill – this late season innings against Sussex was played with a fluency of shot that frankly embarrassed some of those already back in the pavilion. Perhaps more importantly, he‘s also a batsman with a tendency to play his best innings when his side are in greatest need.
There might be some in the Yorkshire backroom staff who’ve taken notice of the way Hampshire have developed the batting of their own slow left armer, Liam Dawson. But whilst Wainwright is more than capable of playing higher in the order than he has this season, we need to bear in mind his bowling remains the prime asset to us, as the word from Hampshire is that Dawson is now regarded as a batsman who bowls rather than the other way around.
Next year should see a further step up in Wainwright’s career. There can certainly be no more excuse for him not be to an ever present in the one-day side, his exclusion this summer from teams containing six bowlers was inexplicable enough. Similarly, only a combination of early season wickets and the brief appearance of Rashid from England duty can keep him out of our championship side now, surely?