On the Front Foot: If the critics are abused, what happens to rational debate?


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The Independent Online

Few centuries in the history of cricket were accorded such acclaim. When Andrew Strauss, the England captain, reached his 20th Test hundred on Friday the genuine feeling of universal jubilation was matched by the outpouring of relief. Strauss was perhaps the first cricketer whose form, or lack of it, was the subject of perpetual debate and sniping on the social networks.

Its prominence there led to greater scrutiny in more traditional forms of communication such as television, radio, newspapers and plain, old-fashioned conversation. There was an unpleasant aspect to the debate, which may inadvertently have increased the pressure on Strauss and have set an unfortunate precedent.

Those who sought legitimately to question his form were castigated, often anonymously and usually on Twitter. It rubbed off on the England team, so that a player as senior, articulate and well-rounded as Graeme Swann described the treatment of Strauss as a witch hunt. Strauss's lack of runs took on a life of its own well beyond the field. This sort of coverage of sport, probably of life, is with us to stay.

Strauss had made one Test hundred in 50 innings, his average during that period was 32.75. Crucially, England then lost four Tests in a row last winter. Not to have questioned Strauss would have been the wrongdoing. And all those who did the questioning were as desperate as the man himself for another hundred.

The one-eyed support he received, which may have demonstrated the deep appreciation for his inestimable contribution to English cricket, was much more unhealthy than the constructive doubts being expressed. It was also downright nasty and rude at times, an immense downside to modern sport.

Aggers versus the Twitters

Shortly after Strauss removed the monkey from his back came news that one of the Twitterati's leading practitioners had quit.

Jonathan Agnew, ace broadcaster for BBC Test Match Special and top chap, decided he had had enough of the idiots who sully the networks with their odious presence. By yesterday morning Aggers had rescinded his decision.

A jolly good thing too, because the wretched entity needs amusing voices like his rather than the malicious creeps who would seek to dominate. David Lloyd, Bumble of BSkyB, left for a few months, tired of the insults and offensive language. He has returned in style, trying to ignore the dolts, and it was Bumble who led the quickly formed committee at Lord's which persuaded Aggers to return.

Samuels the secret weapon

Marlon Samuels took his 20th Test wicket in his 38th match when he had Kevin Pietersen caught behind in England's first innings at Lord's.

A star man to have in such a short victims' list, you may think. But Samuels has also had on his CV – and no need for embellishment here – Michael Slater, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis, Justin Langer, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid (twice). Who said occasional off-spin was dead?

Samuels' average for these wickets is 72.85. Only one other bowler in Test history has taken 20 wickets or more at a higher cost. Ian Salisbury, the England leg-spinner, took 20 in his 15 Tests at an average of 76.95.

Crashing the IPL party

There was a sense of schadenfreude when it emerged that the Indian Premier League were under investigation for spot-fixing and illegal payments. It has long been said that the tournament was open to infiltration by ne'er-do-wells.

That much became apparent when the after-match parties became as important as the match. The Board of Control for Cricket in India have acted quickly by suspending five players. But the damage is done, and all the guff talked by foreign players about the magnificence of the IPL may be questioned more diligently in future.

IPL audiences have fallen for this fifth version, and the standard of play, which should be the key to everything, has fallen slightly more.