Spectator sport

Every Test match should have a Ben Stokes (or even a Chris Gayle)

9 January 2016

9:00 AM

9 January 2016

9:00 AM

On Sunday morning a friend texted: ‘You watching the big bash, or the domestic stuff down in Australia?’ On one channel, you could be in Cape Town as Ben Stokes slaughtered the bowling attack of the world’s No.1 side; one click and you were in Brisbane at the Gabba to see the Heat play the Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash T20 League. What a joy to be in South Africa — well, via TV — for the most extraordinary innings of this century. It was quicker than most T20 matches and much more brutal.

I thought there were just three great batsmen in the world right now: Steve Smith, Joe Root, and A.B. de Villiers. With Kane Williamson thereabouts. But now add Ben Stokes. You would pay to watch all of them: but maybe now Stokes, like Botham, will bring the City to a halt as he walks out to bat. Let’s hope so.

If every day of Test cricket had a Ben Stokes in it, the grounds would be packed as Newlands was. But the crowds for the first Test at Durban were desultory. And if every day of Test cricket had Hashim Amla’s dogged 201 off 477 balls then even Test addicts like me might think twice before shelling out. In the final Test against India in Delhi last year South Africa scored 143 in 143 overs; yes a run an over. Amla batted an incredible 244 balls for his 25. At Newlands, Stokes’s 258 came off 198 balls. Outside the Ashes, even Aussie crowds for Tests are poor. Only in England do we deliver big crowds. It needs to be addressed or this great format of the greatest game will start to wither.


Meanwhile, Chris Gayle, the West Indies opener turned T20 cash machine, got a ferocious rollicking for some leery remarks to an alluring interviewer. He said Mel McLaughlin had terrific eyes and would she like a drink later? Not on, said a chorus of largely simulated outrage.

For heaven’s sake, Gayle is a graduate of the Tyson Fury school of political correctness and a man not known for his aversion to the opposite sex. At home in Jamaica he has a lap-dancing pole in his bedroom, mirrors on the ceiling and once said: ‘If you ain’t got a strip club in your bedroom, you ain’t no cricket player.’ Hmm, lovely. But what did anyone expect him to chat to Mel about? Chinese growth figures? Personally, I would rather this outrageously gifted player got a kicking for leaving the West Indies in the lurch, as their Test decline grows ever more melancholy.

Here is something to celebrate: in the top ten of the Premier League are Leicester, West Ham, Crystal Palace, Stoke and Watford. What a great time to enjoy football, even if a Chelsea/Liverpool meeting is just a mid-table clash now. Aren’t we all getting tired of the Travelling Wilburys of management: Hiddink, Ancelotti, van Gaal, Mourinho and the like? It’s why we admire Alan Pardew and Mark Hughes. Get out the rattles and rosettes and let’s be having you.

But I can’t imagine many women going weak at the knees over Pardew or ‘Sparky’ Hughes. Unlike Zinedine Zidane: news of his appointment to manage Real Madrid has made some girls I know start taking a keen and hitherto unknown interest in La Liga. Expect the viewing figures for Sky’s Spanish football coverage to leap.

Now here’s a tester for Eddie Jones, the new England rugby coach whose early days have been blighted by the usual cack-handed management of the Twickers stiffs. With David Strettle playing brilliantly for Clermont (as well as Steffon Armitage continuing to put in his usual hard shifts for Toulon) will Jones insist that he can pick the best players even if based in France? I hope so. And while we’re at it, let’s introduce a tries-scored bonus points system for the Six Nations.

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  • whs1954

    I wondered when we would have the inevitable comparison of Stokes’ innings to Botham. I didn’t expect it to be through the Spec but, if it came through the Spec, I didn’t expect it to be positive.

    You see, Botham slogged some sixes, but by 86-87 when we went down to Australia to defend the Ashes, the consensus was it was the battle for the global wooden soon. We had lost to minnows like India & NZ, against whom Botham played to half-empty stadiums and against whom his slogging made no odds.

    There was a piece here on the Spec a few months ago (I don’t have the link) about how Botham was a crude panto villain in 80s cricket, insisting that England’s path to success was swagger, arrogance, and drinking 20 pints at a BBQ on the Sunday (back then a rest day) of a Test. That article was right; lesser players than Botham were destroyed on his insistence they ignored strategy and drank what they could. That plan may have put the second-rate 80s Aussies under the table, but they didn’t work against teetotal Pakistan.

    No, Stokes’ innings was unfitted to Test match cricket, and comeuppance came within three days as England stared down the barrel on the 5th day. No, give me sound innings, real Test match innings, like Amla’s; not 20-20 slogs adapted to the 5-day game.

    • ADW

      Botham batted very well in losing causes against the Windies in 1984 – scoring more or less the same aggregate as Lamb (who scored three tons). I don’t think Australia in 1981 were a weak bowling side – Lillee and Alderman would give any English batting lineup in English conditions pause for thought. India in the 1980s were rubbish away but very hard to play at home.

      Stokes’ innings was genius. It was Cook’s declaration which was ridiculous. He was thinking of numbers, when he should have looked at (i) the time left – it was only midway through the second day and (ii) the state of the innings. Stokes was out but Bairstow was playing sublimely. He should have waited till an hour after tea – by which time England would have been past 750. He forgot the lesson of Adelaide. One of two things happens when one team gets a massive score. One is the other team collapsing and an easy win. The other is that the other team gets close enough. That means the team batting first is realistically the only one who can lose. That is what happened in Adelaide twice last decade – once to Australia against India then England against Australia.

      Stokes has done something extraordinary but let us wait for him to get an average over 40 with the bat and under 30 with the ball. At the moment he is not yet able to bear comparison either to Botham or to Greig – it’s forgotten now how good a player Greig was. Judge a man by his opponents – Greig got hundreds against two of the greatest bowling attacks in history. In fact you could make a case for them being against _the_ two greatest fast bowling attacks in history. As another yardstick, his teammates didn’t just fail against the same bowlers, a number of them (Amiss, Edrich for a start) had their careers ended by the experience.

      • Jingleballix

        I agree, Cook should’ve batted on at least till the days end = 750-ish.

        Agree about Stokes too – at the same stage of career, Botham had 107 wickets, to Stokes’ 47.

  • ADW

    Kane Williamson only thereabouts? Did you watch any test cricket over the past 12 months? Williamson scored two hundreds in three tests in Australia. The first was described by a number of Australians, including Allan Border – not exactly known for his charity to the opposition – as the finest century scored by a visiting batsman in Australia for many years. In 2015 he scored 1172 runs at 90. Joe Root is his closest rival for best batsman in the world.

    • Julian Kavanagh

      Very pleased to see someone else picked up on the Williamson point. I watched him in NZ recently and this guy is seriously, seriously talented. He plays the ball so late and with so much time that it seems as the bowler is bowling about 20 mph slower to Williamson than to anyone else. He is unbelievably good and will break all NZ records (just for a start).

  • #toryscum

    Fast and loose with the Chair(wo)man’s catch phrase but no mention of Norwich’s current PL standing?! sort it out Roger.

  • Jingleballix

    Why does a low-scoring rate in test cricket need to ‘be addressed’? It’s TEST cricket, the game lasts 5 days – everyone knows that when they buy the ticket. Amla’s slow-paced innings are called GRAFT, if he played too many attacking shots too early and got out, his side might lose……then what would the journos say?

    Test cricket is what it is…….a civilised day out, watching craftsmen at work as they chisel out a monument – major or minor. It’s for enjoying glorious cover drives whilst consuming a few slow beers, for swapping cricket stories/memories in quiet tomes with those sat immediately close by and to say one was there when so-and-so made this or took that.

    Stuff T20………it’s pants.

    Chris Gayle? Well, he was just flirting. Interesting to note two things; first, the howls of outrage from ‘feminists’ who went on to ignore the scarcely credible goings on in Germany, and, secondly that former Australian skipper Ian Chappell should call for Gayle to lose his livelihood buy being banned from playing cricket in Straya, if not the world.

    Chappell is a sanctimonious pig…….a man who encouraged the racial abuse of the Windies in 1975, and, I have no doubt, called more than a few sheilas sheila in his time……….now he tries to be a champion of PC. Disgusting.

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