Friday, 12 July 2013

For The Cricket Tragic Who Has Everything

The best of the summer game.
Swann congratulates Agar.
Cricket is a simple game.

It's so simple we complicate it in the hours it takes to watch, in what we write about it, in the limits we place on our imaginations, in accepting the lowest common denominator in our learned discussions and in refusing to allow for miracles.

The later is something only the English once did but we are all now guilty, fat and lazy on our fast food diet of coloured clothing and razzmatazz which has done to cricket what organised churches have done to human love. With so many games looking so similar, we no longer believe in Santa Claus. In a bland world, devoid and debunked of fairies and Peter Pan and the magic of our childhood, we allow such little hope that we don't believe people can dream or by dint of character, make them come true.

Cricket, the perfect reflection of life, refuses to accede to our sad banalities and even in its nomenclature, describes the platform from which the truest hearts stand and shout through performance of indomitable spirit, of character. Its not called a Test without good reason.

A Trent Bridge, for the first two days of a traditional, attritional rivalry at the very core of the game, players from Australia have not only refused to bow to the discreditors and disavowers of the media and the anger of their own supporters but they have played hard, spirited cricket. Siddle, Smith, Agar and Hughes haven't just flipped us all the bird and sulked off, they have performed with as much backbone as any of the heroes we choose to constantly judge them against.

Aston Agar is the stripling of Banjo Patterson's heroic "Man From Snowy River", incarnate into real life and the watchers will tell the story of his ride. Batting with his ill fitting Cricket Australia helmet that flopped about with every pull shot, he came and played just as though cricket was a simple game. When all is boiled down, the game is about mastery over the ball. He didn't have it in his few nervous overs yesterday but it was his today, from the moment he drove his second ball from Swann confidently through the covers. Swann bothered him once and he should have been given out but Marias Erasmus, resting his laurels on technology, invoked cricket's great unwritten law and gave him benefit when really, there was no doubt. He found no such generosity later in the day for Trott. Agar was 6 and the score 138.

Botham had early luck at Headingley in 1981. Have no confusion or doubt. Agar's innings was of that ilk.

Everything that followed was glorious youth, unafraid of consequence and taking on an English attack which can be dynamic and dreary. Agar was helped by some dreadful captaincy by Alastair Cook and some even worse bowling by Steve Finn, who was content to bang the ball in short and watch it disappear to the boundary. England, in the box seat after an hour, were back in the foyer an hour later.

At the other end, Phil Hughes, maligned fairly by most and with a technique that may have been
Phil Hughes made a courageous 81x
tweaked but still isn't Test standard, stayed the course. Courage is a word overused in sport. Real courage is darker, more concerned with wanting life rather than death and sometimes looks as easy to the outsider as getting out of bed in the morning but in the context of his damaged and inconsistent career, he earned the term yesterday. He had his only luck just before the end and took on Swann, the man who all expected to account for him, with patience and a dogged refusal to let his mates down.

Trailing by 98 after five wickets fell in less than half an hour, Agar and Hughes set records - never before type records - in Test number 2090. Highest partnership for the tenth wicket, highest score by a No 11 ... well others will outline the statistics. Like this writer, others will also point to the character of men such as these. Young men trying to make their mark but in doing so, never once concerned for that as an outcome. No, this was batting for their mates. This was higher stuff.

Steve Smith was impressive and the middle order is right for him. His excitement at getting to fifty fooled him into thinking he was on top but Jimmy Anderson gave him another lesson. Young men need such things but watching the collapse which followed would have been more instructive and vision of the change rooms indicated he was attentive. At 9-117, there was no reason to think other than many of the Australians had been reckless, unlucky and outplayed.

Trott's decision was harsh
Bowling again with a lead, Starc bent the ball about and removed Root and Trott. Bowlers will tell you otherwise, but any time a batsmen snicks a ball waist high and way outside leg stump, you have secured a bonus. Trott was desperately unlucky. There seemed good enough reason to believe he may have taken the inside edge before Starc found his pad. Clarke pause before referring, Trott's stunned reaction and Aleem Dar's raised arms and shoulder shrug when the word came down, were all indicators that Trott had been robbed. The technology that would have saved the batsman, the side mounted Hot Spot, was otherwise occupied in preparation for a TV audience to see the previous ball to Root. The angle of Trott's bat didn't allow for the bowler's end Hot Spot to come into play. It was another reminder of how much TV coverage and its director's dominate the game. In the end, Erasmus had at least the same doubt he had over the Agar stumping but wouldn't exercise it twice. Pressure doesn't just affect players.

If you didn't watch it, you can always claim you did but you'll have to live with yourself. There's not long to wait until the next one day series.

I'll be settling in again tonight.