Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Edge: how a world Test championship could work

The Sunday Times Cricket Correspondent suggests a way of hosting cricket's 'majors', questions Strauss's decision to bowl and lists the South Africa players with Dutch or French names

A world Test championship final could be staged in England in 2011, according to Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, who attended the opening of the South Africa-England series in Centurion.

The idea of a world championship final has been around for some time and the ICC recently gave the issue fresh impetus by setting up a working party headed by David Richardson, its general manager, to look into the best means of establishing one.

It appears, though, that the leading nations are in broad agreement that Test cricket needs a focal point and that a showpiece game, with the jostling for qualifying places near the top of the Test rankings, could provide just that. At about the same time as Lorgat was speaking in Centurion, the ICC president David Morgan was saying in London that there could be “real progress soon” on a “climax” to a world Test championship.

Lorgat says that the ICC’s aim is to attract more third-party interest to Tests. At the moment, most Test matches are followed closely only by die-hard fans and those who support the two teams involved. Lorgat believes that if places in a championship semi-final or final were up for grabs, cricket fans would be drawn into watching any game that might affect their team’s chances.

The original hope was that a biennial championship final might be introduced with the new Future Tours Programme which starts in 2012. However with Lord’s having been identified as the obvious choice to stage an inaugural final because of its status as the “home of cricket” and its excellent record of selling tickets, 2012 is a non-starter due to London’s staging of the Olympic Games.

The following year, 2013, is an Ashes summer in England, so thoughts have moved to bringing the proposed championship final forward - provided, of course, that an acceptable plan can be put before the ICC’s annual meeting next June.

The Edge’s main quibble with this idea is that it would place the climax to a world Test championship in the same year as the 50-overs World Cup. If a world Test championship and the two limited-overs World Cups - spanning 20 overs and 50 overs - are to flourish independently of each other, each event must be held in a separate year - and held every three years, so that every year sees one of cricket’s three “majors” being held.

One of the chief tasks facing Richardson’s committee is deciding how a knockout match such as a semi-final or final would be resolved in the event of a draw. First-innings lead is one option being considered. But Lorgat believes that modern teams are conditioned to going for the win and that given good weather draws would be rare.

Getting the call wrong

Was Andrew Strauss misled by the extravagant green appearance of the pitch 24 hours before the first Test in South Africa? It was certainly a striking colour and generated much media debate about what sort of attacks the teams might select. Strauss urged caution, warning that it was dangerous to read too much into pitches the day before a game, but his ultimate decision to bowl first - even though the pitch had taken on a much paler hue - was nevertheless striking.

It was the first time in 11 won tosses as Test captain that Strauss had opted not to bat and Graeme Smith did say - admittedly, maybe he had to say this - that South Africa would have batted first had they had the choice.

Perhaps it was a 50-50 decision and Strauss was going to be damned either way. But bowling first did appear to run contrary to his justification a few days ago for picking six batsmen and only four bowlers, which was that four bowlers could be enough if your six batsmen can create “scoreboard pressure”. Surely, then, bat first and bat big.

His decision with the toss didn’t back up the strategy he had espoused.

It was also a risky course of action given that his three fast bowlers were so obviously ring-rusty. James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graham Onions have all had fitness issues on this tour and all have been short of their best form with the red ball.

They were inevitably going to be feeling their way into the series, probably more so than the batsmen. Better, surely, to take advantage of South Africa’s inconvenience in being without Dale Steyn or Jacques Kallis’s bowling.

Broad was chronically lacking in rhythm in the warm-up matches and Anderson is on an increasingly desperate search for a first Test wicket since he had Shane Watson caught behind three Test matches ago. He went wicketless in the Leeds and Oval Tests and his desperation was apparent during 23 fruitless overs at Centurion.

When Strauss asked Anderson whether he wanted to ask for a review of his rejected lbw appeal against Jacques Kallis it was pretty obvious Anderson was going to say, “Yes please, skip.” But the replays suggested the ball had hit the pad outside the line of the stumps and hit bat at the same time as pad. To get a decision overturned the evidence has got to be overwhelming and if Anderson had been in a better vein of form he might have reasoned that.

Time will tell if Strauss made the right choice but after opting to bowl he would have been looking for more than four wickets in the day. Michael Vaughan put in the opposition eight times in Tests and never lost. The last England captain to lose after doing so was Nasser Hussain with his infamous bloomer at Brisbane in 2002.

All part of the plan

Graeme Smith’s dismissal - for his second Test duck in a row against England - aroused debate as to whether Stuart Broad was working to a plan. Did the England camp think Smith was perhaps susceptible to feathering a leg-side catch to the keeper? The clip off the hip is certainly one of his favourite scoring options but research suggested that although Smith has been caught behind off fast bowlers in international cricket around 40 times, this might be the first time it had happened down the leg side.

Where are you, fair maiden?

Another extraordinary bat-fest was seen in Jaipur this week, with India and Sri Lanka running up 825 runs between them in 100 overs. Curiously, both captains afterwards chided their batsmen for having not made as many runs as they felt they should have done. But spare a thought for the 13 bowlers, not one of whom managed a maiden. Some people have made a career-long habit of this, including Graeme Smith himself, none of whose 171 overs of part-time off-spin in ODIs has gone scoreless.


1. Edward van der Merwe (1929)

2. Pieter van der Bijl (1938)

3. Clive van Ryneveld (1951)

4. Peter van der Merwe (1963)

5. John du Preez (1967)

6. Fanie de Villiers (1993)

7. Martin van Jaarsveld (2002)

8. Zander de Bruyn (2004)

9. AB de Villiers (2004)

10. Friedel de Wet (2009)

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