Do Believe the Hype

I recently looked at some TV listings from the summer of 1994. The BBC were still covering Test cricket then and it seemed impossible to imagine anyone else doing so. The day in the autumn of 1998 when it was announced that the broadcasting rights for home Test matches had been awarded to Channel Four was still years away and everything bumbled along as it had since Bob Willis was a boy. It was the natural state of affairs.

On the morning of a Test match day coverage began at 10.55, usually just in time to see the umpires walk out. Every hour they would cut away to a news bulletin which was nearly always exactly the same as it had been an hour earlier. On many an occasion coverage was interrupted to allow other sporting events to be shown, the most memorable (for all the wrong reasons) being the time a minor horse race (to me all horse races are minor, but we'll leave my prejudices to one side) was deemed more important than the fact that Graham Gooch was 299 not out and about to score the first triple century in English Test cricket since 1965.

Now we have Sky. Coverage begins an hour before play starts to allow enough time for the revolving cast of ex-Test players to cogitate, to speculate, to fulminate and occasionally (with tongue firmly in cheek, for the party line demands that the day's play which is about to commence is sure to be the greatest day in the history of cricket), to reminisce.

Nothing is ever underhyped. Over-analysis is all. Occasionally, shafts of reality intrude.

This time, though, the start of the series has lived up to the advance billing, with much of what has happened being beyond prediction or rational assessment.

The sun shone and temperatures rose in a way which anyone who has lived through the last few British summers could have been forgiven for wondering would ever happen again. The tempo of the match soared and dipped like a swallow riding the breeze.

While England, ultimately victorious, still look the more versatile and experienced of the two sides, the game had the feel of the type of tight, resonant Ashes contest which was familiar down the years and decades which preceded Australia's era of dominance and the crash which followed. The feeling is that there is more, much more, to come.

For all Ian Bell's timely judgement, the mature Anderson's now-routine brilliance and the arguments over Stuart Broad and DRS, the game's most significant story may just have been Agar. People - understandably getting carried away - mentioned Sobers and Lara, but for me the most apposite comparison was with the young Yuvraj Singh, batting in the Champions Trophy in Kenya in 2000. Youth, flamboyance, a backlift for the gods and, with his maturity and vivacity, a stunning future. His bowling, with its loose-limbed echoes of Daniel Vettori, carries plenty of promise, but his batting is of a different hue. When Sobers made his Test debut for the West Indies against England at Sabina Park in early 1954 he batted at nine and bowled slow left-arm. Expect to see Agar much higher in Australia's order in the future.

As ever, as one career begins to flourish, another one, somewhere, comes to a conclusion, and, as Agar was settling in at Trent Bridge, Ricky Ponting was bringing the curtain down on his time in the game with an innings of 169 not out at The Oval. If Agar, with his fresh-faced teenage insouciance, represents the future of the Australian side, Ponting signifies its hard-nosed but peerlessly successful past. Jon Hotten, The Old Batsman, a writer with many of the qualities of Ponting's greatest days, described it in a way few could match.

We knew Ponting. We now know Agar. We know Anderson, and Bell, and Cook. We are in this for the long haul.

My train for London leaves at 6.52 on Thursday morning.


Unknown said...

Nice article. It was a fantastic and fascinating test match. I'm not sure the Aussies can keep it up as their batting frailties won't be covered by the tail 2 matches in a row.

Though their tail has been punching above their weight for a long time.

The Old Batsman's blog on Punter and Agar was a pearler. I hope it gets plenty of reads.

SaraB said...

If you could post this link to the Keith Bradshaw Cancer Appeal I would be very grateful but completely understand if you don't deem it appropriate.
Thanks for your consideration and eternal gratitude in advance.
Kind regards,
Sara Bradshaw

Brian Carpenter said...

Many thanks, both. Sara, as an MCC member who knows what Keith did for the club, I'm happy to post the link and wish him well.

Cheryl said...


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