Cricket: A genuine Test of the game's traditional strengths

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The Independent Online
It's Sunday, traditionally a day for reflection and any true believers among Test cricket's followers should not let this opportunity slip to look back on the career of the former Australian captain Allan Border, his toughness and, an aspect not always appreciated, his wisdom.

We need to cast our minds back nine months, to a Test match in Delhi between Australia and India, a one-off affair which the Australians lost by seven wickets. "Mark Taylor's newly crowned world champions of Test cricket went down in under four days to yet another demonstration of the Indian spin trick," was one observer's judgement, a kindly suggestion that there had been some skulduggery afoot.

The former skipper Border had a different view. After the loss, which was more the product of a second-innings batting capitulation than anything else, he was asked to respond to two points:

1) Was it reasonable for the Australians to excuse the Test loss by damning the turning Indian pitch?

2) Did Australia miss having someone such as David Boon (he had been gently talked into retiring six months earlier), or a Border, in the batting line-up?

Border's response was notable because in addressing what was an obvious problem in the Australian team, he also invited those outside the squad, trendy admnistrators in particular, to develop a greater understanding of the traditions of the game.

Border said: "It is a question of playing your innings according to the circumstances and the pitch of the day. That is what Test match batting is all about. You can't be a one- dimensional player. You have to be able to play the ball between waist and chin on a fast bouncy wicket and, you've also got to learn to play the long, dour innings on a difficult turning track."

On the second point, he said: "I'll tell you. Australia's disappointing loss in Delhi won't be the last occasion when an ugly five-hour Test century or a typical David Boon innings would be seen as a blessing. For the first time in a decade he wasn't there to waddle to the crease, chew thoughtfully on his gum and ponder what the moment called for."

The phrase particularly to reflect on is: "You can't be a one-dimensional player." This is Border beseeching the next generation of Test batsmen, and not just Australia's, to develop, and retain a bit of character. The natural question that raises is, why should he have to do that?

The answer is simple if you agree with the proposition that one-day cricket is one- dimensional, and therefore unlikely to develop batting character, which is multi-dimensional. It's true. One-day cricket does have a negative influence on traditional cricket, not technically so much as mentally.

One-day cricket encourages more urgent running between the wickets, but what else? Hitting into the gaps hardly requires much thought so widespread is the field, and avoiding bouncers is easy because they're banned - does this perhaps offer us some insight into the present plight of Michael Bevan, an established star of the one-day circuit but struggling to know what to do with the short-pitchers in Test matches?

In one-day cricket, the tactic of building an innings, so expertly played out by the likes of Geoff Marsh, has been consigned to the waste basket, courtesy of cricket's version of a basketball slam-dunker, the ballistic Sanath Jayasuriya. With it went character building.

Now, every team craves a goer such as Jayasuriya, so we have the wonderful talents of middle-order players such as Sachin Tendulkar and Mark Waugh compromised, sent out to open to get on with it.

What a tragedy is the career of Tendulkar. No sooner had Sir Donald Bradman publicly accorded the brilliant young Indian the status of "similar in style to me" than his country's administrators shoe-horned him into so much one- day cricket he could be forgiven if one day he forgot to turn up for the second day of a Test.

In life's expressway that is the Nineties there might not be time to listen to Border's wise counsel, yet there is much to consider: if it's glamour, glitz and bright lights that most influence the young cricketers, and the administrators of tomorrow, does that mean the "Rockys" such as Boon will be extinct by 2000? Is grit to be superseded by grunt-only?

If we assume that some administrators are really serious when they propose limited-overs Test matches, then the need for debate about the future directions of the two forms of the game becomes much more important. Otherwise there is a risk that the mindset of the one-day game, at -present akin to the forget-about-tomorrow urgency of a one-night stand, will invade the Test arena.

That was Border's point about Delhi, and it was directed at the younger batsmen rather than Steve Waugh - yes, only one Australian batsman made 50 in the Test and, as you might have guessed, it was Waugh.

True believers should take time out to reflect on this: imagine if Old Trafford had been a limited-overs Test; could we possibly have expected Australia to have batted first on that dicey pitch? Would we then have had the pleasure of two such remarkable batting exhibitions from Steve Waugh?

Waugh's magnificence at Manchester was more than just a personal milestone. It was a memorial to Border and a reminder to those in world cricket hell- bent on tampering with the Test game - wake up to yourselves.

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