Thursday, 7 December 2006

The death of the tour game

England are playing three consecutive days of cricket in preparation for the Third Test. Some hard-fought days would appear perfect to boost the morale before the next Test.

Unfortunately, they are playing two games, against a Chairman’s XI and then a two-dayer against Western Australia. And, rather than take the former game seriously, England have chosen to play a mixture of squad and Academy players, in addition to a trio of retired men – Alec Stewart, Robin Smith and Adam Hollioake. What exactly is the point?

I can see the logic in playing those men on the periphery of the Test side, in case they are called upon later. But selecting three ex-players ahead of those who could do with the confidence – such as Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss – is rather bemusing. Perhaps Duncan Fletcher’s sole priority is avoiding a humiliating loss against a series of unknowns. If the side do lose, he can point to the fact that none of the 11 who played the first two Tests are participating. So England are effectively writing off one of their three days in preparation for Perth.

Nonetheless, it will be intriguing to see how Monty Panesar and Sajid Mahmood fare, two men who could well play at Perth. And Jon Lewis is being mentioned in dispatches as England’s answer to Stuart Clark; a strong showing could even lead to an unlikely Ashes debut.

Michael Vaughan, who has made only nine in his two innings for the Academy to data, looks set to play in the two-day game against Western Australia. Given Alastair Cook’s poor form to date, he will know that a big score will give him a decent shout of playing in the Third Test. And, certainly don’t listen to Fletcher’s assertion that Vaughan has no chance of even appearing in the last two Tests. His mere presence would shock the Australians; some may perceive it as a sign of desperation, but England are desperate and need his calming figure.

The problem with a two-day game, of course, is it is near-impossible for batsmen and bowlers to spend a satisfactory amount of time in the middle. The dream scenario would be to bowl Western Australia out with an hour of the first day left, then bat till the end of day two. But, given the way the tour has gone to date, what are the chances of this happening?

What England need is a chance to test fringe players at Lilac Hill before a competitive four-day game against Western Australia, in which the likely Test 11 would play. In a bygone age, such matches were genuinely worthwhile affairs, and offered some sort of compensation to those not fortunate enough to secure tickets for the Tests; Australia’s clashes with Yorkshire used to be called the ‘Sixth Test’. No longer.

Typical in an era when coherent thinking is replaced by expediency – in this case, keeping tour games to a minimum to slightly reduce players’ bloated schedules – the players have been denied the match time they so patently need.

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Nick Gammons said...

I'm not a huge fan of lots of tour games, but there should be at least two or three meaningful matches at the beginning of a series and a few scattered between Tests. It is the length of the matches and the quality of the opposition that counts. Only in the heat of true competition can a touring team get itself ready for a Test match.

Chrispy said...

Had this one been three days we might have seen Michael Vaughan. With them playing 14 players so often now would one more day have mattered? I think not. After all the England management have only put more pressure on themselves by letting Alex Stewart play as captain and get 69! It just highlights how rubbish our current options are!