Telford – an unassuming Shropshire new-town – has been the unlikely centre of this week’s biggest sporting controversy.
Its junior football league triggered a rumpus after organisers decided to publish results only as 1-0, 1-1, or 0-0, whatever the true scoreline. The intention was to spare embarrassment for their schoolboy players in the event of a hammering.
Following widespread criticism, the league has withdrawn the policy. But is there more to the idea than meets the eye? As an England cricket supporter, I can’t help wishing a similar system was used in the Ashes. OK, we’ve done well of late, but things weren’t always so rosy.
Under Telford rules, we could look back, say, on the 1989 series (actual result England 0 Australia 4) and say – ah well, we only lost one-nil. Pretty close, really. Then in 1993, 1994/5, 1997, 1998/9, 2001, 2002/3 – each time, we were unluckily pipped by just a single test match. And as for 2006/7…wouldn’t Australia 1 England 0 seem a rather more palatable scoreline than what actually transpired?
Speaking of Australia, the Baggy Greens begin their tour of South Africa this Sunday with a T20, followed by three ODIs, and – ridiculously – only two test matches. As ever, an Aussie-Saffer clash poses a predicament for us England supporters. Who do we want to win? It’s like being a Spurs fan when Arsenal play Chelsea: impossible to derive pleasure from the success of either team. It’s a shame both sides can’t lose.
In one sense, Australia are the underdogs (how wonderful it is to write that phrase) and it would be good to see those cocky biltong-munchers taken down a few pegs ahead of their tour here next summer. A South African defeat would also underline our own status as world champions.
But would an Australian victory – especially coming after their success in Sri Lanka – mean Michael Clarke’s team are on the way back? The confidence boost might be critical in itself. Australian cricketers are like cockroaches: very difficult to exterminate and with an insidious capacity for resurrection. Better safe than sorry. So for that reason – much as we might hate to see Graeme Smith smile – it’s probably best if the Saffers kick their ass.
Finally, am I alone in my lack of breathless excitement about our ODI series against India, which began today? Am I mistaken, or haven’t we just played about 500 matches against them over the last few months? And won almost all of them. There’s hardly much doubt over who is currently the superior side.
Sure, sure – the conditions will be very different, and this will be a stern test for our bowlers. But did the series really have to be scheduled quite so soon after the one that’s just finished? Is there anyone in either country who right now is thinking – I’d really like to watch some more ODIs between India and England?
The reality probably is that the BCCI (India’s cricket board) have TV schedules to fill, and are very difficult people for the ECB to refuse. It’s a shame though that corporate gluttony has turned what might have been an intriguing contest into little more than a chore.