Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Cricket: Ashes to ashes... [UPDATED]

Ahh, English sports journalists... Evidently it only takes one series victory against arch-rivals Australia for the press to lose all sense of perspective. The signs were in the offing after England had won the epic second test at Edgbaston by two runs-- now officially the greatest test match ever (but what about West Indies' one run win over Australia at Adelaide in 1992? Or Pakistan's one wicket win over Australia at Karachi in 1994, finally decided by a missed Ian Healy stumping chance that raced to the boundary? Or contemporary cricket's unforgettable Lazarus act when Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman engineered the biggest turnaround in cricket history at Eden Gardens in 2001, a match that nevertheless needed seven dismissals in the final session of the fifth day before a result ensued? trivialities...)


No cricket fan can begrudge the English victory, and this series has been one of the most engrossing in a few years, but this series, or more accurately coverage of this series, has revealed yet again the insularity that lurks at the heart of the English game. To hear the English press over the summer, it seemed cricket's funk had mirrored England's decline in the 1990s, and it took the present English team to enlighten the world to such wonders as reverse swing. Those of us who have grown up on Wasim/Waqar yorkers (not to mention Imran Khan and Sarfaraz Nawaz) can't help feeling a bit bilious: the great Younis/Akram performances of 1992 were shadowed by ugly-- and racially-tinged-- charges of ball-tampering. Though now that Simon Jones and Andy Flintoff do it, why hey it's a great and mysterious art. The lack of introspection on display was striking: by my reckoning not a single English article about the Ashes this year expressed any remorse, or even so much as acknowledged, that the reverse swingers of old were unfairly jeered (and even by some of England's most respectable journalists) as cheats.


The Ashes 2005 have revitalized cricket worldwide, or so we are told-- I remain skeptical as to whether this is true, given that the commercial center of cricket gravity has long since shifted to the sub-continent + Australia. I'll leave aside the little matter of the fact that the same claims were made for the 2001 India-Australia series, the 2003 India-Australia series, the 2004 India-Pakistan series, etc. (so perhaps the problem is not just insularity but also the sort of vapidity and breathlessness that have begun to haunt cricket journalism).


Look around you guys: the Ashes this year were great. But the Ashes are no longer the axis of world cricket (indeed in terms of quality of cricket they haven't been since the rise of the West Indies)-- but you wouldn't know it to read the English press.


UPDATED September 17: Nice to see the London Review of Books follow my lead...
UPDATED October 1: A nuanced piece on the topic this post started out with...

4 comments:

Satyam said...

You are on the money in many ways though I have also been led to believe that all the unfortunate jingoism popped up mostly in the tabloids (not unsurprisingly!) and that the 'standard' mainstream newspapers were a lot more muted.

Qalandar said...

I don't have links, as these articles were from rather long ago, but I do recall respectable publications (like the Wisden Cricket magazine) joining in the fun...

Qalandar said...

Wasim Akram is right on the money:

http://content-usa.cricinfo.com/england/content/story/219349.html

Kush Tandon said...

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