A few months ago we explored the subject of cricket computer games, and bemoaned the general lack of authentic, engaging and realistic electronic versions of our favourite sport.
Our investigator-in-chief was my colleague James Morgan, who is rather better versed than me in the world of consoles and gadgets. I had never owned such a device, or really played computer games at all – until Christmas, when my other half presented me with a Nintendo Wii.
My first response, as you can imagine, was to immediately plunge into eBay and acquire myself a cricket game. And as I am a total novice in this area, what follows below will seem rather gauche and obvious to a veteran gamer. So bear with me.
My budget being limited, and having no idea of what constitutes a good or poor game, I pretty much picked one at random – Ashes Cricket 2009.
The first problem which struck me is that the authors obviously had to guess at the squads some time before the series actually began, which leads to some curious selection issues. I, as England, am stuck with Ryan Sidebottom and have no Jonathan Trott, while the computer (Australia) is steadfastly loyal to Andrew Symonds, with no sign of either Siddle or Hilfenhaus. Instead, the Wii picks Ben Laughlin – who I’ve never heard of – but never gets round to putting him on to bowl.
The avatars of the real cricketers are a bit hit and miss. The Flintoff and Brett Lee ones aren’t bad, and the artists did a reasonable job on the ‘shark’s fin’ hairstyle then worn by James Anderson.
On the other hand, the white-skinned, dark-haired players all look virtually identical. Andrew Strauss and Ricky Ponting appear to be twins. There is an odd propensity towards broad shoulders, which means about two thirds of the characters look like Steve Harmison. Andrew Symonds, meanwhile, resembles a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Beppe from Eastenders.
In terms of how you physically play the game, you are meant to replicate bowling and batting actions, standing up, with the controller in your hand. This is a bit too much like hard work, though, and I quickly discovered that you can achieve exactly the same effect lying down on the settee, with a flick of the wrist. My sofa is not aligned squarely with the TV, but I am prepared to sacrifice some accuracy of line and shot selection in the interests of comfort.
Being both a coward and rubbish at games, I have not yet ventured beyond the easiest playing level – ‘village’. The problem is that it’s ridiculously easy, and once you get the hang of the timing, you can more or less hit a six every ball.
This leads to scorelines which would be astonishing in T20, never mind tests. At one point, I was about 260-1 in the seventeenth over. Brett Lee had figures of 0-160 off eight overs. And I confirm that Mitchell Johnson is just as useless on the computer as in real life; the best feature of this game is watching his avatar crumple in dismay as a fifth consecutive six sails into the stands.
The bowling is slightly harder, and the ability to obtain swing or turn seems to function at random. But if you can’t get a wicket with the ball, the computer helps by gifting you a run-out. In Australia’s first innings, they declined at one stage to 56-4 – all four wickets being run-outs.
The commentary is pretty good, and the authors haven’t skimped, hiring not only Jonathan Agnew as the anchor, but Tony Greig, Shane Warne, Ian Botham and Ian Bishop as summarises.
What I liked about the commentary is that they often drift into topics completely unrelated to the actual play – the art of spin bowling, using the new ball, the role of tail-enders – much like the way pundits digress in real life.
On the downside, the computer isn’t cute enough to tally the commentary to the match situation, which often makes it sound trite. And like all sports simulators, after playing it for a couple of hours, you’ve exhausted all the commentary material and it begins to repeat.
My progress to date is that I won the first Ashes test by a resounding 307 runs, after declaring (only two wickets down) in my second innings. I’m tempted to retire now, with immediate effect, to prevent any tarnishing of my illustrious record. If only we could select the ‘village’ option against the real Australians in eighteen months’ time.