It occurred to me as I rose this morning that, for good or ill, Ben Stokes’ extraordinary match-winning performance at Headingley yesterday in the third Ashes Test raises a number of talking or debating points.
First up, a positive (and to be honest unexpected) personal reaction to the demeanour of the man himself as exhibited in both his unofficial and official interviews on the television.
I especially warmed to his throw-away comment when asked at what point had he realised ‘it’ was on: the gist of his reply was that when England had needed 70 or so to win, his only thought had been that he may as well ‘give it a go’ … and it was only when the need was less than 20 that he began to panic slightly and almost over-think it!
Secondly, what is to be the place of Test matches in the future world of cricket?
Such is the nature of global sport these days – in terms of business, money, revenue-opportunities, sponsorship, image rights, television broadcasting, internet streaming et al. – that the demands upon players and athletes generally are relentless and ever-increasing.
Partly simply ‘because it is there’ but also because, with so many people determined to get involved in the hope or expectation of generating even more cash, the answer to everything is for more and more games, tournaments and more special events. Whither player welfare in all this?
At the moment (probably, despite occasional bleating by players’ trade unions, physical conditioners and doctors) nowhere at all.
However, sometimes ‘more is less’. Those of us with access to Sky Sports and BT Sport know that there are Test matches, ODIs and T20 games being played somewhere in the world practically every day, never mind every week.
Frankly, there is so much elite cricket being played it’s bewildering and getting difficult to differentiate between silly Mickey Mouse games and those that really, really matter.
Pardon the Western, white man’s, colonial perspective but yesterday’s epic finish to the Ashes Third Test – never mind the standards and tenseness of the play and the public interest in all three Tests so far – has done little to dispel the historic myth or truth that Test cricket played between England and Australia is the finest and ultimate form of Test cricket.
I’m not passing comment upon Headingley or the people of Yorkshire (or even of the United Kingdom as a whole) in mentioning this, but – viewing proceedings on television yesterday – the overwhelming majority of the crowd appeared to be white.
That is not to suggest that there weren’t also plenty of enthusiastic and fully-engaged non-white spectators on hand, (some of them sporting England replica shirts), because there were.
But I make two non-contradictory points here – the aforementioned fact both showed the diversity of the home support … and yet also yesterday I noticed the proportions.
Next, there’s a natural gulf between the ‘instant gratification’ demands of the modern world – in cricket epitomised by the exponential growth of interest in its short-form versions – and the often prosaic and/or pedestrian rhythms (occasionally leavened by swings to short periods of intensity and high drama and back again) that have been so beloved by fans of the five-day game over the near century and a half that it has existed.
Yesterday, even as the Stokes Match (as no doubt it will become known) moved into its final hour, the thought came to me that what I was watching wasn’t Test cricket as I used to know and love it as a small boy, but almost a form of hybrid: a four-day Test match with a T20 ending bolted onto it.
One of the odd facts that has stayed with me from my previous existence as a youngster was that the father of dear old Reggie Bosanquet, the wig-wearing, permanently semi-inebriated – or certainly giving the impression of being so – ITN newsreader of the 1970s was one Bernard Bosanquet, England cricketer and inventor of the googly.
[Stay with my word-association here, if you can!].
It so happens that one Pierre François Bosquet was the French general who famously commented of the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava on 25th October 1854 during the Crimean War:
“C’est magnifique, main ce n’est pas law guerre: c’es de la folie …” [translation: “It is magnificent, but it is not war: it is madness ...”]
The line seems almost suitably appropriate to the drubbing that Ben Stokes gave the Australian bowling attack yesterday.
How the Aussies must be ruing wasting their final umpiring decision challenge on a ‘not-out LBW’ only minutes before a similar on-field verdict was later shown to be wrong by the video replay?
And how much must their top spinner Nathan Lyon be regretting snatching at the ball and thereby fumbling a nailed-on run-out opportunity at the bowler’s end?
Of such things is history made.