Outside Edge: Why didn’t England try a summer of tri-nations?
There is, of course, only one international sporting competition that anyone’s really interested in at the moment…and the exciting ODI tri-series involving West Indies, South Africa and Australia is certainly living up to its billing. See what I did there?
Actually though, the three-way tournament currently being played in the Caribbean is a reminder of the possibilities available for engaging interest in England’s international summer. As things stand, we have a raft of one-dayers against Sri Lanka coming up, then Tests against Pakistan, followed by more ODIs against the same opposition. The ECB has tried to add context to the bilateral meetings by creating ‘super series’, with points awarded for games across all three formats. But thus far, the idea has not exactly set the imagination of fans ablaze. With a bit of rejigging, wouldn’t it have made more sense to involve all three teams in competition with one another?
The danger with a tri-nation tournament is that England can’t be guaranteed to reach the final. And there is a risk too that matches not involving the home side are under-supported, although that isn’t a foregone conclusion. On the plus side, the potential for multiple meaningless matches is reduced, while players are encouraged to adopt a tournament mentality – something England have lacked in World Cups for instance (at the 50-over version).
Better still would be a reversion to holding a one-day series as a precursor to Tests – an appetiser before the summer’s main event. In the present state of things, ODIs are more likely to be the soggy chocolate soufflé on the cricketing menu.
If any further evidence were needed of the changing nature of cricket in the Caribbean, just take a glance at the list of wicket-takers in the aforementioned Tri-series being played there just now. Gone are the days when pace bowlers dominated on fast wickets. Instead, the leading bowlers are all spinners. Top of the pile is Imran Tahrir, with 13 in four matches, followed by fellow leg-spinner Adam Zampa, then Sunil Narine and Aaron Phangiso. Between them, they have 36 wickets at a little over 17 runs each.
Go back 30 years and West Indies’ ODI approach was rather different. At Sabina Park in February 1986, England faced an attack comprising Joel Garner, Patrick Patterson, Courtney Walsh and Malcolm Marshall. Roger Harper was the fifth bowler but didn’t pick up a wicket. England had John Emburey and Peter Willey but they only managed one scalp between them in 16 overs.
So have slower pitches resulted in slower bowlers, or have pitches been prepared to suit the available personnel? There is no sure fire answer to that, but it is interesting to note that in the last ODI series that England played in the Caribbean during the 1990s, there were already signs of things to come. Walsh and Ambrose both played bit parts, while the new generation of West Indian quicks, Merv Dillon, Franklyn Rose and Nixon McLean took just seven wickets between them. Those who made the most of the conditions comprise a Who’s Who of medium-pacers, including such luminaries as Matthew Fleming, Phil Simmons and Mark Ealham. The decline of the Caribbean as a centre of pace bowling has been long indeed.
After he scored his maiden century for Hampshire’s first XI this week, opener Tom Alsop told BBC Radio Solent that he was indebted to his parents, who had “scarified so much of their time” driving him to and from cricket matches.
It is a familiar tale, cricket being one of those sports which can be as demanding of parents as it is of their children. My mother, who took me and my brother to hundreds of matches over the years, fortunately came to love the game. There must be other parents for whom the endless journeys to dismal grounds is nothing less than hell on earth. And with individuals living ever more busy lives, one wonders whether many parents are able to find the time they were able to in the past. The decline in junior club cricket may be as much a product of reduced parental participation, as of any lack of interest on the part of their children.