The Home Ground Advantage

13 January 2017

Ian Chappell told Pakistan not to bother coming back to Australia after their recent drubbing, and he’s right.

Something needs to be done to increase the competitiveness of test match cricket. Thrashings have become commonplace and a good contest a rarity. When a team wins abroad, it’s a Herculean feat.

Why the discrepancy?

The condensed nature of modern tours is partly to blame. Touring sides are not afforded enough time to adapt to foreign conditions and are ill prepared when the real Test begins.

Tours are only getting shorter too as more fixtures are crammed into the international calendar, so the solution lies elsewhere.

Scrapping the toss is a good starting point. Hopefully, other domestic competitions and eventually international contests will follow the ECB’s lead, after they gave the decision to bat or ball to the away side for the 2016 county season.

Though it may seem subtle, winning or losing the toss can be the difference between winning and losing a test. Australia’s Gabba dominance is a classic example.

Excluding the current Australian summer, typically the first test is held in Brisbane, a fortress for Steven Smith and his men. Win the toss. Bat first. Accumulate 500 or more and watch the opposition wilt. Not only is the first test decided by the end of day two following an Australian declaration, but the series too, as momentum often knocks out any chance of a fight back.

Eliminating the coin toss is only part of the solution.

The unfamiliarity which touring sides have with foreign wickets is arguably the biggest factor that leads to their demise. The home side is accustomed to the wicket, so why is there an insistence to bias the wicket, further negating the opposition?

Creating and enforcing strong regulations regarding pitch preparations is an important step. Remember, this is not for the benefit of the away side, but test cricket as a whole. When a side gets crushed inside three days, fans lose interest in the great game.

Furthermore, if nations cooperated, helping one another to produce practice wickets, which emulated the pitches of other countries, a much better contest would result. Players’ preparation would improve greatly, resulting in cricketers who can play in all conditions.

I can hear the traditionalists arguing these changes will take away the home ground advantage. Fear not! You only need to look to the likes of football where there are only slight changes in conditions, yet a thorough advantage continues to exist.

There is more to be gained by bringing equality to test match cricket, the tight contest being the most obvious drawcard.

Compare matches between countries with similar conditions and you’ll often see a good old-fashioned tussle, with all factors equal. Australia and South Africa have had some cracking contests in recent years.

On the flip side is the recently completed series between India and England in the subcontinent. While the score line doesn’t always accurately reflect the nature of the contest, in this case, the 4 nil drubbing was picture perfect as the Poms were simply outclassed.

Administrators need to begin installing changes now or test cricket will lose it all.

 

 

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Will We Ever See A Balance Between Bat And Ball?

11 January 2017

The gulf between bat and ball continues to widen.

David Warner’s display during the Sydney test was the perfect illustration. During the second innings, he played nothing more than a subtle nudge through backward point, and the ball careered into the fence for four more.

There’s no doubting Warner’s quality as a batsman, though that shot should have been a single at most.

Something needs to be done about this gross imbalance.

Suggestions have been offered to even the scales. Creating bat restrictions, adjusting the rules to give bowlers more freedom and increasing the size of the boundary, are all reasonable proposals and wouldn’t be difficult to implement.

So, what’s the hold-up?

Administrators are worried about the short-term implications.

While quality bowling and wickets are exciting, they’re not as exhilarating as boundaries and big scores. Twenty20 draws in people who wouldn’t normally think cricket as entertainment.

The Big Bash and other Twenty20 leagues around the world are revelling in record crowds. Why would those in charge change anything?

Because cricket’s future is at stake.

Governing bodies are failing to recognise the negatives created by the imbalance. How many youngsters are looking to become the next best bowler? Head down to your local park and you’ll see kids emulating Steve Smith, not Josh Hazlewood. The result: a greater discrepancy between bat and ball.

Batting too is starting to lose its craftsmanship. Last night I saw Ben Hilfenhaus, a genuine tailender, strike a six with a peculiar tennis-like stroke. There is no longer a need to manipulate the field with delicate shots, nor piece the covers to reach the boundary. Simply swing, and swing hard and you’ll likely be rewarded with a maximum.

Will big scoring games lose their appeal too? Scores below 300, in ODI’s, are already leaving fans disappointed. This loss of appeal will only grow. There is now an expectation for the ball to regularly make it to the boundary, and if this can’t be produced consistently, supporters will stay home.

There’s been enough talk. And enough reasoning. Making changes to recreate balance between bat and ball has to happen, and soon. While the public may grumble a little, cricket will maintain its long-term appeal assuring its future.

 

 

Roger Federer And The Expectation To Win

19 January 2017

His return to tennis was two-fold.

He was making his way back after a 6-month injury layoff and it was his first Hopman Cup since the early thousands.

Perth Arena was packed, over 13,000 fans filled the centre. As full as it’s ever been – for a tennis fixture anyway.

Most were there for the Swiss master.

Federer made his way out of the change rooms to a standing ovation. With that characteristic smile on his face and a shy wave of acknowledgement, he set down his gear and began to organise himself.

There is an aura about the man.

As he eased himself into the warm-ups there was a sense he had already won. The casual way he glided around the court gave the impression he had no doubt over the end outcome of the match.

There was no arrogance about nor disrespect to his British opponent, Dan Evans, just an indescribable surety in his own ability.

Some say there’s a necessary path to becoming utterly confident in your ability. Arnold Schwarzenegger was brash in his younger years. He walked around like he was already Mr Olympia, a movie star and Governor before he reached these dizzying heights.

Federer never showed arrogance.

As he progressed from unknown to grand slam champ his belief followed like a shadow.

While ‘fake it till you make it’ may work for some, Federer has shown there is a pure way to greatness. A way trademarked by humility.

Sure enough, victory came easily that night with barely an hour elapsing. Federer remarked how he was overwhelmed by the standing ovation upon his arrival, while there was a sense in the crowd that such an act was a necessity of the man and the occasion.

At 35 the great man may not have any slams left in him, but he’s OK with that. And it’s not because he’d likely need to build a new room to house any more trophies (though I can imagine how frustrating that must be).

He’s content.

He has a love for the sport and recognises it has given him a lot. Though his tennis days may be numbered, there will always be more opportunities for growth and enjoyment.

Federer knows this.