xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: Testing Times.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Testing Times.

The first Ashes Test between Australia and England started at The Gabba in Brisbane today.
Thank God, for that.

I thank God, two reasons. Firstly, we can now watch the cream of Australian and English cricket engage in five days of brutal sporting warfare, without weapons of mass destruction, of course. Although, a brick hard cricket ball hurtling towards your head at 150 kph comes  close to being a weapon of mass destruction. Secondly, our nightly Television news and morning papers will now be filled with actual reports of actual events that actually happened in the Test match.

For the last three months, our TV sports news and newspaper stories have all featured a host current and retired players roundly criticising the other team, or the selectors for choosing players that are either too old or lacking in requisite skills. Or, lengthy stories about what could happen, might happen, should happen or would happen, but no actual facts about what really did happen.

As a parochial Western Australian, I also think some of these criticisms were aimed at the selection of Western Australian players. Those pontificating eastern staters firmly believe that if ever there is a selection choice between an out of form Victorian cricketer, or one from New South Wales, then it must be the in-form West Aussie chap who gets the chop.

Personally, I shudder when David Warner, or some other Australian test player, is interviewed saying that Australia will win five-nil and that England is too old and too frightened to have any chance of victory. Or how worried you really are.

I think these comments can only serve to make the opposition more determined and resolute. Past experience has shown that often, when things don't start out the way some outspoken Australian players have said they would, their team quickly disintegrates into a rabble. Why, oh, why do the Australian players provide ammunition for the enemy!

It wasn't always like that. I first took an interest in test cricket back when I was about 8 years old in 1946 when Walter Hammond brought his Englishmen to Australia to engage with Don Bradman's Australians. In those days players of both teams spoke respectfully of each other. The games were very competitive and played fiercely but there was no obvious disrespect for opponents.

Of course, there was no television, but even the newspapers refrained from quoting any players, except the team captains, and they always spoke in friendly and sporting terms about each other.

There was one exception, back in the notorious Bodyline series in Australia in 1932/32 when Douglas Jardine packed the leg side field and ordered his fastest bowlers to bowl directly at the Australian batsmen. The poor old batsman could do little more than take the ball on the body, or try to duck out of the way, as fending the ball off with the bat would usually give a catch to the many fielders crowded around.

In one Bodyline test, the popular Australian captain, Bill Woodfull, was felled by a painful blow to the chest, above his heart. While he was recuperating in the dressing room, the England team manager, Pelham Warner, came to see how he was feeling.

Woodful's famous remark, "There are two teams out on the field, Mr Warner, but only one of them is playing cricket." resonated in newspapers around the world and nearly brought an end to Ashes Tests between Australia and England. The MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club, the august body in charge of cricket) did not take kindly to being called cheats. They insisted that England's bodyline tactics were well within the laws of the game. The Bodyline series was won by England, but it left a nasty legacy.

Of course, Douglas Jardine introduced Bodyline for one reason only, to stop Don Bradman from scoring runs. It succeeded in doing so, but nearly wrecked the game. Bradman only made one century in that Bodyline series in contrast to his tour of England in 1930 when he made several centuries including a triple century and two double centuries.. In the Bodyline series, he only played in four tests, but he made more runs than any other Australian batsman made in five tests. He even made more runs than all except two of the England batsmen.  Bradman made one century in the series and scored fifty in at least one innings of each Test. His average for the series was 54. Throughout his test career, over twenty years, his average was 99.6. So, he was curbed alright, but any cricketer playing today would love to finish this current Ashes Test series with an average of 54.

When the victorious England team returned home in 1933, they played a series against the West Indies, whose fast bowlers started using the Bodyline tactics employed by Douglas Jardine. The English batsmen did not like it. In a very short time the MCC brought in laws to limit the number of fielders who could be placed on the leg side. With far less risk of being caught out, batsmen now started hooking the "bumpers" and "bouncers" to the boundaries and Bodyline was no longer a lethal threat.

Bodyline was long gone when I became a cricket fan and the Second World War had strengthened the ties between England and Australia. Of course, there had always been banter on the cricket field. This was usually friendly and gentlemanly repartee. Players like Bradman, Lindwall, Miller, Hassett, Barnes and Morris never resorted to what, in the 1970s, became known as sledging. This gave friendly banter a much more aggressive edge. It was a tactic aimed at weakening your opponent by psychological means. It involved verbal assault and intimidating gestures.

Sledging became more widespread in cricket in the 1980s when Kerry Packer turned it into game played by highly paid professionals. At the time Don Bradman expressed his displeasure at the amount of sledging and the nasty look it was giving his beloved game of cricket. He was asked about it by the press and he said that if any player had sledged in one of his teams then they would not have played in the next match. A lot of the "win at all costs" captains of those days thought Bradman's ideas were  so very quaint and old fashioned.

Well, sledging still exists, but there are now certain limits on player behaviour on the field. Umpires are quick to act and television replays highlight unseemly on field behaviour which may result in a fine or. in rare cases, suspension.

These days the sledging seems to take place well before the game, on television and in the newspapers, as players try to play psychological games with their opponents to gain some sort of edge. Often it has the reverse effect.

The lead up to this long-awaited Ashes series between Australia and England has been notable for the many derogatory public statements by Australian Test players and retired test players. Even Nathan Lyon, who has never, ever seemed to say boo to a blowfly on the field, was dominating the sports pages recently with rather harsh comments about the ability of some of the England players.

Thankfully, that is all behind us for a while. The First Test has started and, hopefully, the only cricket news will be reports about the state of play and who did what with bat and ball.

At least, I hope that is what happens. It is just that I have this image of The Castle's, Dale Kerrigan, shaking his head at me and saying, "Tell him, he's dreaming."

PS. I know that quite a few people in countries outside Australia read my blog, so next time I may try to explain what Test Matches are and why Tests between Australia and England are called The Ashes Tests.

I may even tell you that the very first international cricket match was not played between Australia and England in 1877, but about forty years earlier between Canada and the United States. Canada won, which explains why baseball suddenly became popular in the USA.

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