World cricket booms as England face Aussies

Global appeal: Cricket is played in more than 125 countries across the world.

Is cricket the greatest sport in the world? England are taking on Australia in the first Ashes Test match. And as the pros do battle, the game flourishes in all corners of the globe.

For many it is the greatest rivalry in sport. And after weeks of training, warm up matches, and a fair amount of trash talk, the Ashes are finally underway.

Nothing gets the blood boiling quite like it. In recent weeks David Warner, Australia’s vice-captain, declared his “hatred” for England, promising them “war”. And bowler Nathan Lyon hopes to “end the careers” of England players.

Last time England visited, that is exactly what happened. Aussie fast bowler Mitchell Johnson terrorised them — launching ferocious bursts of 90 mph bowling which batsmen did well to avoid, let alone hit for runs. England lost the series 5-0 and several players never represented their country again. Now England want revenge.

The series is the latest instalment in a rivalry that started over 140 years ago, when James Lillywight took his England XI on a 48-day voyage around the world to face Australia.

In those days cricket matches had no time limit, and players would battle for days on end before the game was settled. In 1939 England were locked in a gritty test match with South Africa in Durban. After twelve days neither side had won, and they were forced to agree a draw as England were about to miss their boat home.

But as the pace of life increased, cricket moved with the times. New T20 matches, which only last a few hours, have taken the world by storm. In 2016 over a billion people tuned in to watch the Indian Premier League: a cricket tournament famous for its big hitting batsmen and carnival atmosphere.

But cricket culture stretches far beyond the giant stadiums and big money leagues. Website Sporteology estimates that there are 2.5 billion fans of the sport — many of whom play their own games on the backstreets of Delhi and the beaches of Brisbane. Even scientists in Antarctica play cricket matches on the ice — although one year play was disrupted when a rogue elephant seal parked itself on the pitch.

So is cricket the greatest sport in the world?

I don’t like cricket…

Nothing else comes close, some argue. No other sport requires such a range of skills: from the subtlety of spin bowling to the brute force of smashing sixes. Then there is the psychological side. Surviving spells of lethal fast bowling takes courage, and catching requires total concentration. Cricket is the ultimate test of physical and mental strength.

Absolutely not, others say. The sport is being left behind. How can a game that takes five days to complete, and can still end without a winner, be considered fun? It is slow, old-fashioned, and boring. What is more, only a handful of countries are actually any good at it. High-octane contact sports like football and rugby are far better.

You Decide

  1. Is cricket the greatest sport in the world?
  2. Does sport bring people together, or push people apart?

Activities

  1. Name as many famous sportspeople as you can — they can be from any sport. Out of all of the athletes you thought of, which person do you admire the most and why?
  2. What is your favourite sport? It could be anything: from football or rugby, to table tennis or snooker. Now imagine you can make up a new rule to improve your chosen sport. What rule would you make up and why?

Some People Say...

“I tend to think that cricket is the greatest thing that God ever created on earth.”

Harold Pinter

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Australia are currently ranked fifth in the world test cricket rankings, with England above them in third. England have also won four of the last five Ashes series. However, Australia are generally much stronger when playing at home. In the last 20 years England have only won two series in Australia.
What do we not know?
We do not know who will win, although most experts and pundits expect an Australia victory. Former England captain Michael Vaughan thinks that England will lose the five match series 3-1, while Australian pundit Jim Maxwell thinks they will lose 4-1. However, ex-England spinner Graeme Swann is more hopeful, predicting a 2-1 England victory.

Word Watch

England XI
Although it was the first Test match between the two nations, it is not seen as an Ashes game. The concept of “The Ashes” came about in 1882 when The Observer newspaper wrote an obituary of English cricket after Australia first won in England. The obituary claimed that English cricket had died, and “The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.”
Twelve days
South Africa had set England a target of 696 to win. By the time they had to leave, England had almost chased it down reaching 654 for 5. Modern test matches are now limited to five days.
T20
A T20 match consists of 20 overs per team, meaning each side faces 120 balls. The short format of the game encourages batsmen to play more aggressively than in a test match.
2.5 billion
According to these figures cricket is the second most popular sport in the world, behind football.
Scientists
Australian researchers at the Casey Station research base. See the final link in Become An Expert.