by columnist Ben Roberts
It will soon be high time for Ricky Ponting to hang up the boots and retire his post as Australian captain. As is history's way it probably will take some time before the public feel any warmth in the memory of his leadership. But Ponting has presided over a team that can lay claim to continuing to propagate a modern scourge on the game of cricket.
At the conclusion to the 1995-96 Australian summer most cricket journalists had decided to wag a finger at least once at the conduct of the Sri Lankan team under their less than popular captain Arjuna Ranatunga. Great consternation was directed toward the time wasting activities of the tourists and their skipper. Of particular note seemed to be what were termed the 'Running men'. These members of the touring squad showed more potential as 400 metre runners than as cricketers as after each over they dutifully sprinted to the wicket holding gloves or drinks. They held up the play as they delivered a pearl of Ranatunga's wisdom (he was unlikely to run it out himself) and then ran off.
As I wrote that last paragraph the wave of hypocrisy that enveloped me was almost unbearable. I have just witnessed a summer of international cricket where the Australian team were able to lower the bar even further in falling behind over rates. The primary crime was exactly the same as the Sri Lankans 15 years previously. Constantly we witnessed 12th men running drinks out onto the field at every available opportunity; and with the modern game now incorporating pauses while umpiring decisions are scrutinised by video, the opportunities have increased.
With the Australian cricketing summer drawing to a close, recently I took the opportunity to witness a final day of first-class cricket before the long winter ahead. Even on a coolish March day, where most players saw fit to wear sleeveless sweaters, somehow it was imperative that drinks were delivered to the batsman constantly. I am someone who does promote that the stereotypical alpha male does more damage than good as a role model, but really chaps it is time to harden up. The most humourous irony in it all is that it is guaranteed that five minutes prior to a scheduled break in play the fielders will be running around desperate to squeeze an extra over in, when in the past two hours most of the spectators could have found an extra five!
Time wasting is not limited to the proliferation of refreshment breaks. Captaincy standards have slipped also. Andrew Strauss may have severely out-thought his opposite numbers during the Ashes series, but in the one day matches his reactive captaincy belied someone having absolutely no idea what to do. During the summer I had the pleasure of watching Australia chase down 294 and Shane Watson score 161 not out. Strauss' field changes were overly regular and generally too late. Having seen Watson club a ball to a particular part of the field you could be sure that prior to the next ball an adjustment would be made in the field and a man placed in that exact spot. Despite displaying no faith at all in his bowlers, Strauss holding all things equal every ball only succeeded in holding up the game further.
It never used to be like this. The stories of play during the first half of the 20th century indicated feats of performance and stamina that would simply be impossible to replicate based upon the terrible habits of our international cricket teams. So much different was it that during the early years of Sir Donald Bradman's career test matches played in England were strictly contested over three days only (four at a pinch). Experienced from a diet of wall to wall cricket during county seasons this was nothing to the English. (The Australian's would have to have adjusted from their own experience of timeless tests at home.)
The mention of Bradman led me to search out the records of one of his most famous innings as proof that cricket could be played at a far brisker rate. On the 1930 tour he of course scored the then world record innings of 334 – 309 of them coming during one days play at Leeds. Apart from the obvious need to return the balls from the boundary during the day that adds to time taken, no doubt with such a feat of scoring many standing ovations were given to the Don. That being said he would have simply doffed his cap raised his bat before continuing unlike the modern player who generally falls just short of a full lap of honour before passionately embracing at least on piece of his cricketing equipment.
Having delved into the record books I found that the first day had Bradman not out on his phenomenal score of 309 and the Australian on a huge total of 458 for 3. In these days matches were played to time so the recording of the number of overs bowled in days play did not occur, therefore we must do some rudimentary calculation to work out a rough estimate. On day two of the match we know Australia threw the bat and were dismissed for 566 in time enough for Hobbs and Sutcliffe to have taken England to 17 without loss by the lunch break. The total amount of overs (6 ball) that Australia faced in their innings was 168, therefore even disregarding the short period of English batting we can reasonably estimate that Australia faced near enough to 43 overs a session and therefore 129 overs on the first day!
Over rates have been a problem since the days of the four pronged 1980's West Indian pace attacks, but for them so dominant were they that they didn't require the extra time to roll through the opposition. It is an affront to spectators both live and through media alike that they are forced constantly to pay higher prices for the spectacle yet are constantly delivered less. The 1930 test match was of a different era and it would be unlikely to be easily replicated today, but it is by no means unreasonable to expect that teams should be able to easily deliver 90 overs in a day of test cricket and 100 in a limited over fixture.