Stumps: England (259-3) lead West Indies (243) by 16 runs
It’s that time of year when we observe one of English cricket’s newer, but no less tenacious traditions. Every year we make the same observation, and emit the same moan: it’s too bloody early to be playing test cricket.
When I was growing up these were still the low-key early weeks of the English season, during which our game was diffidently feeling its way out of hibernation. These days, we’re already into the hurly- burly of test cricket, even though the weather is too cold, and the spectators aren’t yet ready. If you remember, at the Cardiff and Durham tests against Sri Lanka last year, almost no one turned up.
There are two particularly puzzling things about why our international season now starts so early. The first is the unfathomably long break between the summer’s two test series. This one ends on 11th June, and then more than five weeks elapse before the first test against South Africa on 19th July, during which there’ll be nine ODIs. Instead of starting the first test on 17th May, couldn’t the ECB have simply dispensed with a few of those one dayers, or played them first – before the tests?
The second puzzler is how early in the season the test cricket finishes. The final match against South Africa is due to end on 20th August. Late August and even early September is a much nicer – and warmer – time of the year for cricket than mid-May. So why are the authorities so determined to ignore both our climate and our sensibilities – perversely preferring to stage cricket in sombre spring to mellow, sun-dappled late summer?
The answer, I suspect, is to be found within the fixture list of a different sport. By an extraordinary coincidence, the Premiership football season ended four days before this test match began at Lord’s. The next season kicks off on 18th August, two days before the last test match of the summer ends.
In other words, the English international season fits perfectly – almost to the millimetre – into the non-football window of the summer. Which is very handy for Sky Sports, who have airtime to fill when there’s no football, and who also prefer not to waste their premium products by having them overlap.
Sky are the ECB’s paymasters, and they tend to get what they want. Of course, there are those old fashioned types who might argue that the English cricket season should be arranged not around the commercial imperatives of a private corporation, but rather the interests of spectators. But hey, we only pay for it, after all.
If you’re wondering why I’ve ended up discussing this subject at such length, it’s partly because today’s play at Lord’s wasn’t particularly interesting, alas. It unfolded pretty much as everyone expected, and even Strauss’s century had a certain inevitability about it.
I imagine every England fan was as chuffed as I was to see the skipper reach his ton. The huge roar from the Lord’s crowd, when he cut to the boundary to bring up three figures, spoke volumes for the affection and respect we have for him. Watching his recent travails has not been fun.
West Indies performed very decently today, with all their bowlers – Edwards especially – sticking to the task and working hard. They just lack much in the way of a cutting edge – and the pitch is slow.
Kevin Pietersen missed out on a gilt-edged opportunity; he could have really gorged himself on the bowling tomorrow, given how dynamically he batted in his cameo today. Instead, we hope that tomorrow will be Johnny Bairstow’s day. Let’s all wish him luck.
Meanwhile, what price for Stuart Broad taking a wicket with his first ball of the West Indies second innings? That would give him a hat-trick – with each of the three balls bowled on different days. I don’t know about you, but I love the thought of that.