Popping up in my Facebook feed are the latest Cricket Australia ads promoting something called the ‘Magellan Men’s Ashes’.
It turns out they are plugging tickets for the most iconic fixture on the world cricket calendar: the battle for The Ashes between the Australian and MCC cricket teams. Given England’s ascendancy at home this northern summer, and that Australia’s middle order folds like an accordion, it should be an interesting tussle, and where else to be on Boxing Day other than the MCG, as the first ball of the Boxing Day Test is bowled?
The strong odds that the Poms will hold on the Urn are annoying enough. Giving tawdry sponsor naming rights to this most sacred contest of cricket, to some obscure financial corporation, is even more galling.
What really gets my goat, however, is the promoter’s presumption there are men’s and women’s Ashes, just as there are men’s and women’s draws in the Australian Open tennis tournament.
Since 1934, there has been a women’s cricket competition between Australia and England, which has officially been called the Women’s Ashes only since 1998. There’s no question the quality of the cricket between the two sides, and the quality of the cricketers who play in these matches, is excellent. Like women’s tennis, women’s cricket depends less on raw power and more on subtlety, skill and elegance. It is enjoyable to watch.
But to call this international contest the Women’s Ashes is wrong.
The Ashes is, and has always been, a Test cricket competition, two-innings-a-side matches of grit and determination lasting up to five days. That’s the way it’s been since 1877 when the first Test was played at the MCG, and since 1882 when the London Sporting Times ran its immortal obituary for English cricket that created The Ashes legend. Test matches do just that – test the skills and talents of the eleven male players of each side at the very highest level of the game.
Some succeed: many are found wanting. For every Don Bradman, there is a Ken Eastwood (Who? Exactly). Unlike one-day or the ultimate hit-and-giggle, Twenty20, men’s Test matches require teamwork, stamina, patience and guile, as well as individual batting, bowling and fielding skills. Until recently, representing one’s country in Test cricket was the highest honour any cricketer could desire: now the lure of lazy Twenty20 riches lures many a young player instead.
On the other hand, the women’s Ashes used to be a comparable Test series of four-day matches, but since 2013 it has been something entirely different.
Instead, it is a multi-format affair. This summer, it will comprise three 50-over one-day internationals, three Twenty20 games (that don’t deserve the dignity of being called a ‘match’), and just one long-form Test match. Matches earn points, and the team with the most points at the end of the competition wins the trophy. Presumably the rationale, besides getting spectator bums on seats, is to allow players to excel in different formats according to their talents, with the very best excelling in all three.
It may be high quality, it may be exciting, but the women’s Ashes is not a Test series. It is something entirely different, and to label it an Ashes contest is an insult to the intense competition at the highest level and highest format that is an England-Australia Test series.
If the women again play a five-Test series parallel to the blokes, that could presume to be called a women’s Ashes. But the current mixed-format hit fest is not that. It should be given a name that does not pretend this competition between English and Australia female cricketers is something it really isn’t.
Gender equality is all the rage these days, but hijacking yet another tradition in its name is wrong. Yes, sporting organisations like Cricket Australia want more women to play their sports and put more spectator bums on seats. But while intense and aggressive debates about other social traditions rage elsewhere, the traditional highest form of cricket is five-day Test cricket between the two original Test-playing nations. It must stay that way.
No matter its standard, an England-Australia cricket competition that is not a Test series doesn’t warrant being called The Ashes. It is politically incorrect to dare suggest it, but for traditionalists and lovers of cricket there can only be one format, Test cricket, and therefore only one competition worthy of the name The Ashes.
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