The Top Spin: Testing times ahead as five-day game could be reduced to Ashes

Testing times ahead as five-day game could be reduced to Ashes

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UPDATED:

11:31 GMT, 27 March 2012

Top Spin

The sun sets in Galle at around 6.20, and quite a sight it is too. But when, one wonders, will it come down on Test cricket

It may sound like a perverse time to ask the question. This Test match is bursting at the seams, both inside the ground and beyond, with fans booking their spaces early, high up on the ramparts of the Dutch fort.

The action is a little distant, but the experience of catching some Test cricket for free, in the sun, by the sea, from the walls of a UNESCO heritage site, is too good to miss. It’s one of the reasons Sri Lanka remains high on our list of places to watch cricket.

Yet there is a strangely end-of-empire feel in the air. The British Empire, you may know, finished some time ago, but in moments like this it seems to linger. The good seats here are all filled by white faces, and St George crosses are draped from the fort walls with the presumptuousness of another tourist cliche – the German poolside towel.

Fan-tastic view: Supporters watch the first Test from the top of the 14th century fort near the stadium in Galle

Fan-tastic view: Supporters watch the first Test from the top of the 14th century fort near the stadium in Galle

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The locals, meanwhile, are limited to
two spots: the worst of the stands, set back well beyond deep extra
cover/backward square leg; and the grassy bank, where a single tree
offers shade and a pair of portable loos go almost unused (in these
parts, you sweat it out).

It’s a good job there are 30 or so Sri Lankan flags lining the fort, plus a view onto the road beyond the Portaloos, where parasol-toting ladies elegantly sidestep the tuk tuks, smarter taxis and tatty buses. Otherwise we might forget where we are.

The other empire belongs, arguably, to Test cricket. And the worry is that, without the preponderance of travelling fans out here, we would instead be looking at another sparsely attended five-day match.

Strictly speaking, it isn’t the case that the locals have been priced out of this Test. Those standing on the grassy bank paid 25p for their tickets; it’s just that Sri Lanka Cricket did not go out of their way to advertise the knockdown price.

The Brits are paying 25 – a means-tested move that would inspire at least some approval if we could be sure SLC will spend the money wisely. They are grumbling, which means they are in their element: a Test match on and a moan to be had. But how many fans from the other cricket nations would regard this as some kind of nirvana

The answer is not merely an economic one. Affluent supporters in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa do not follow their team abroad with the same fervour, and the large Indian crowds at recent Test series in England and Australia can be mainly ascribed to their huge diaspora.

Only English fans travel in the kind of numbers that make Test cricket feel the love it will need to sustain it in the Twenty20 era. And when they do travel, there is always the risk – as here – that they will end up feeling exploited. The first phenomenon papers over the cracks; the second is in danger of reopening them.

What a view: But England fans would not have been happy on day two as the team struggled

What a view: But England fans would not have been happy on day two as the team struggled

High, we're up here: England flags fly on the walls of the fort above the first Test with Sri Lanka

High, we're up here: England flags fly on the walls of the fort above the first Test with Sri Lanka

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None of this, let’s be clear, is to
denigrate the travelling support. It’s hardly England’s fault that Test
cricket still grabs the imagination in that country like nowhere else,
except in Australia during the Ashes.

But one senior administrator
admitted to me last week he was worried that, in a decade’s time, Test
cricket would be the Ashes and nothing more.

In
that sense, the sea of white faces in Galle provokes mixed feelings. On
the surface, all is serene. Beneath it, Test cricket may well be
paddling for dear life.

THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS

Wise after the event

Accused: Aizaz Cheema (right)

Accused: Aizaz Cheema (right)

Congratulations to Bangladesh for singlehandedly generating interest in the Asia Cup, but why sacrifice the goodwill by bleating about an incident in the last over of the final, which they lost by two runs to Pakistan Bangladesh are convinced Pakistan seamer Aizaz Cheema deliberately blocked Mahmudullah as he turned for a second run – a dastardly deed they believe should be punished by five penalty runs. In other words, Bangladesh believe the trophy should be theirs.

Maybe Cheema’s block was deliberate. But this way madness lies. If outcomes can be reversed after a game has finished, cricket will become the preserve of ambulance-chasing lawyers. Oh, and England would never have won the 2005 Ashes – just ask Mike Kasprowicz.

A fine line

Sachin Tendulkar raised an interesting philosophical question last week when he said: ‘I feel those who say you should retire at the top are selfish, because when you are at the top, you should serve the country instead of retiring.’ What he was less explicit about was whether he truly regards himself as being ‘at the top’.

Long time coming: Sachin Tendulkar finally hit his 100th century against Bangladesh

Long time coming: Sachin Tendulkar finally hit his 100th century against Bangladesh

Tendulkar may have earned himself some breathing space with his 100th international hundred (even if it became a belaboured innings that ultimately condemned India to defeat against Bangladesh). But the suspicion is that his 369-day wait to reach the landmark was about more than pure pressure. Selfishness comes in all shapes and sizes.

Queuing up to be knocked down

The decision to award Chris Cairns damages of 90,000 following Lalit Modi’s 2010 tweet falsely alleging Cairns’ involvement in match-fixing in the Indian Cricket League could not have been more clear-cut. According to Mr Justice Bean, the array of Chandigarh Lions players lined up to give evidence against him left rather too much to be desired.

Gaurav Gupta, TP Singh and Rajesh Sharma were ‘not to be believed’, the evidence of two others was ‘inconsistent and unreliable’, while that of Karanveer Singh fell ‘well short of sustaining the defendant’s case’. It’s the stuff of the Romans in The Life of Brian. And it does little for the credibility and integrity of start-up Twenty20 leagues, of which the game is now full.

Aamer: a lesson learned

Congratulations to Mike Atherton for securing an exclusive interview with Mohammad Aamer. It proved revealing in more ways than one. And it gave rise to an instantly memorable rule of thumb: when you’re bored over dinner, do not – under any circumstances – text your bank details to a random bookie. And, no, Aamer didn’t appear to have an explanation for his behaviour either, other than to explain – with an eloquence and passion astonishing for one so young – that he been a bit silly.