James Lawton: Test game needs another dose of Gabba high drama

We didn't need an extra morsel of edge or pressure when the Ashes were stirred into life again here in this cockpit of a cricket ground in the smallest hour of the English morning. But we had it all right – and especially those who worry that arguably the most absorbing and intriguing form of international sport is under siege as never before.

By a quirk of history it was, give or take just a couple of weeks, the 50th anniversary of another crisis of the sport when Australia's Ricky Ponting and England's Andrew Strauss went out to the green, rain-freshened strip for the calling of the coin toss that could give one of them a huge strategic advantage.

December 1960, was when two other captains, Frank Worrell the most elegant of West Indian batsmen, and Richard Benaud, a former crime reporter and fine practitioner of both leg spin and polished batsmanship, went out here also conscious that the future of Test cricket was under grave threat.

Then the problem wasn't a surfeit of near-beer, pyjama-game Twenty20, of dancing girls and fireworks and instant gratification, but a dull sense that something adorned by men like Compton and Miller, Bradman and Hutton and the three Ws of the Windies, Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott, was in danger of dwindling into some passé remnant of a more thrilling and intriguing game.

The perception was that Test cricket had become predictable, a sagging drama with an unbending plot.

What followed, of course, was a stupendous rebuttal of the charge. Cricket had rarely lived so vibrantly as when the teams of Worrell and Benaud slugged it out for the tie which came when brilliant fielding by Conrad Hunte and Joe Solomon ran out the last two Aussie batsmen with just one delivery left in the final eight-ball over hurled down by the formidable Wes Hall, a God-fearing man so capable of conjuring hellfire.

No doubt it is asking too much of the men of Ponting and Strauss to reproduce quite such pyrotechnics over the next few days but there is, no doubt, a clear challenge. It is to present the best face of Test cricket at a time when even Australia's commitment to the classic form of the game is being widely, and in some cases, angrily debated.

Ponting, particularly, emphasised the need to build on the dramas of recent Ashes series when the captains made their eve-of-battle speeches.

Strauss and England's coach Andy Flower had already laid down their priorities for the most stringent preparation, banning the presence of wives and girlfriends until the series has taken some shape in the first two battles, here and in Adelaide next week.

The order left superstar Kevin Pietersen particularly inflamed but the message could scarcely have been more blunt: four years ago England were the opposite of a fighting force and one of the re-polished jewels of Test cricket, genuinely revived competitive Ashes cricket, was turned into a parody of a great contest. Ironically enough, Pietersen was an English cricketer above suspicion when he topped the averages and produced a superb innings at Adelaide, which might, with better stewardship by captain Freddie Flintoff and coach Duncan Fletcher, have turned away the possibility of a shattering whitewash.

Here this week England's new resolve sparked unrest among the burghers of Brisbane when not a single player showed up at a reception lavishly supported by local business. Strauss sniffed that his team had more important matters on their mind – and former captain Nasser Hussain was required to fend off the complaints and claim that a new England had come to protect the spoils won at home last year.

Yesterday a streamlined Ponting – he has shed nearly a stone in his effort to turn back the ignominious possibility of losing three Ashes series in an otherwise superb career – stressed the need for Test cricket to reinvent itself, most helpfully by re-kindling the spirit of the superb series in England in 2005.

The Australian captain has long been anxious about the threat to Test cricket from the lavish pickings of the instant game – and he was rendered incandescent by the decision of Cricket Australia to order Test candidates for the recent pivotal series with No 1 Test nation India, Mike Hussey and Doug Bollinger, to put their obligations to the big-money Indian Premier League before preparations with the rest of the Australian squad.

For Ponting this was a worrying confusion of priorities. The deeper fear is that the Australian board may already have made a potentially fatal decision to put the big rupees before rebuilding a Test team which has slid so far, so quickly from the days of demigods like Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist.

What can Ponting do? Most immediately he can whip a fragile looking Australia into the intense battlers who so ruthlessly demoralised England here four years ago. "You can't flick it on like a switch," said the captain earlier this week, "but I do have reasons to believe we will show plenty of it in the next few weeks. The Ashes are important not just to Australia and England but all of cricket. It is one of the great contests in the highest form of the game."

It was something he recognised most clearly in the defeat at Edgbaston five years ago, when England held their ground after being overwhelmed by McGrath and scored a series-turning win that in suspense at least matched the achievements of Ian Botham and Bob Willis at Headingley 24 years earlier. In victory one of the great heroes, Flintoff, bent to console the beaten Brett Lee – and froze for ever an image of Test cricket at its best.

Such examples of character and passion were again the imperatives in the small hours of this morning. Ponting was fighting for a brilliant career and Strauss, so far cool and admirably statesmanlike, was seeking to enforce last year's hard-won advantage.

Impressively, both men also seemed aware that they might also be having something to say, and do, about the future of the greatest but most imperilled form of the game.

News
people
News
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence