Monday, June 04, 2007

The (un)predictable game

At least for inveterate fans like me, the charm of cricket lies in its unique amalgam of predictability and unpredictability. And I am not referring to the events that unfold on the pitch, but to those that precede it. Which is why I felt a little disappointed to read what John Carr, director of England cricket, said when he released England’s cricket calendar for 2008.

The 2008 season will include a Wednesday start as well as four Thursday starts and two Friday starts for npower Test matches. In a busy summer we feel that this sequence gives the players the maximum opportunity for rest and recuperation.

One more of the game’s predictables falls. There was a time when all test matches in England used to start on Thursdays. In the earlier days, they used to have a rest day on Sunday, three days into the game. However, the rest day gradually disappeared and so Sunday used to be day 4, thus giving us viewers time to watch the middle part of a test match without affecting our weekday schedule.

It was part of the beauty of the game, the predictability of the scheduling of the game in the English summer – a Thursday start to a test match, a 11 am start to the day, a few scattered showers, an English defeat, some incredulous excuses and on to the next test.

Not any more – the scheduling is about as predictable as Steve Harmison’s bowling (apologies for using Harmy as an example so often – he just seems so appropriate for so many aspects of the game so accurately) and matches can start on any day of the week and end on any day as well, not necessarily on the fifth (but that was the case when England were getting beaten by the West Indies with monotonous regularity in the 1980s as well, so I’ll take that).

On the other hand, one of the interesting pre-match unpredictables, the final choice of the playing eleven, seems to be disappearing as well, with England announcing their playing eleven a full four days before the toss.

This was another of those great events one used to look forward to – who would be in and who would carry the drinks. It was a great indicator of how the captain expects the pitch to behave. Watching the toss and waiting for team names to be announced was as exciting as watching the first ball of a test match.

On average, I suppose these two changes cancel each other out, but I’d rather go back to the earlier system. Let a test match start on any day, as long as it’s a Thursday. And let Michael Vaughan tell me after the toss than James Anderson will be accompanying the drinks trolley for the game. On, you said it, Thursday.

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