Ashes contest draws on years of tradition

As it was: Australian openers Bill Woodfull and Vic Richardson walk out to bat in 1933.

One of cricket’s fiercest rivalries will recommence in Cardiff today in front of a sell-out crowd. But can a traditional five-day game survive in the fast-paced modern world?

In July 2009, England enjoyed one of their greatest cricketing escapes in the first ever test match to be played at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff. Their two weakest batsmen, James Anderson and Monty Panesar, came together and defied Australia’s bowlers for the final 50 minutes of a five-day game. A capacity crowd roared after each of the 69 deliveries which allowed England to secure an unlikely draw.

As England and Australia return to Cardiff today, tickets have again sold out for at least the game’s first four days. The historic rivalry between England and Australia seems guaranteed to draw crowds, even when they are taking part in the third Ashes series in just two years, the home side’s form has been patchy and the touring team, who won the last series with a 5-0 whitewash, are widely considered favourites.

The two sides will take part in five matches over the next eight weeks. The winner will be granted ownership of the tiny Ashes urn which was created when a set of bails were burnt, placed in an urn and presented to England captain Ivo Bligh in 1882. Ashes series have been characterised by intense rivalry since then, best shown by contests such as the ‘Bodyline’ series of 1932-3, which created a diplomatic incident between the British and Australian governments.

But there is concern that the Ashes may be an exception to the rule, and that five-day test matches are under threat. Attendances at them have now been dwindling globally for many years, with declining interest in the game, high ticket prices and inappropriate scheduling all cited as reasons for the trend.

The most notable competition to tests comes from Twenty20 cricket (T20), which lasts only three hours and is played at a much faster pace than tests. Since it was first played in 2003, interest in T20 has grown very quickly: crowds have flocked to games, TV companies and sponsors paid vast amounts for rights to them and players have been paid far more to play it, particularly in India.

Ashes to Ashes

Some see the death of five-day cricket as inevitable. The format is an anachronism. A game which drags on for such a length of time, involves long breaks for food, is dominated by strange rules and meanders gradually towards a result belongs to a different era. It is out of place in a world where people expect instant gratification.

But cricket pundits such as former England player Alec Stewart say that test cricket remains the best form of the game. Its success has spanned generations, in large part because of its pace and traditions. And sporting crowds will always want to see those participating in the contests in front of them tested, mentally and physically, as fully as possible.

You Decide

  1. Who will win the Ashes?
  2. Does test cricket have a place in the modern world?

Activities

  1. Create an advert (on paper, or on video if you have the technology to do so) for the Ashes series.
  2. Write a letter to the International Cricket Council (ICC), advising them what they should do about test cricket. Either: a) Explain why they should protect it, and give three measures you would take to help; or b) Explain why you wouldn’t protect it, giving three reasons in order of importance.

Some People Say...

“Most of the interesting art in our time is boring.”

Susan Sontag, writer and filmmaker

What do you think?

Q & A

How can I keep in touch with the action?
If you’re not lucky enough to have tickets, they will be tough to get — though there will be some available for the final day of the first test at Cardiff if the match lasts that long. But Sky Sports are showing the matches live and you can also watch an hour’s highlights of each day’s play every night at 7pm on Channel 5. BBC Test Match Special can keep you up to date on Radio 4 longwave or 5 live sports extra.
How can I get involved in cricket?
Use the Play Cricket website provided in the links to find a club near you. If you don’t want to play, you can always volunteer to get involved by helping out, for example by umpiring or scoring at a local club. This applies to girls as well as boys: the number of girls’ teams is growing nationwide.

Word Watch

1882
The term ‘the ashes’ was coined when Australia defeated England in a close, low-scoring match in August 1882. After the match, a journalist from the Sporting Times wrote a mock obituary to English cricket which said ‘the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia’.
‘Bodyline’ series
This series proved controversial because Douglas Jardine’s England side deliberately bowled at the Australians’ bodies. The Australian cricket board called the tactic ‘unsportsmanlike’. The British government responded by threatening to call in loans owed by Australia’s government, at a time of great economic hardship.
Inappropriate scheduling
Observers of international cricket have noted that more games are now played than used to be, potentially making each game less interesting. Fitting the games in has meant that many games now start at stranger times of the week, making it harder for people to attend.
India
Teams in the Indian Premier League bid for players who make themselves available. Powerful batsmen, in particular, can make a great deal of money from playing in the tournament.