Who invited football to the Ashes party?

To switch metaphors, with a remarkable Ashes series getting more fascinating with every ball that is bowled, football seems like a clumsy interloper, a drunken gatecrasher at an otherwise wonderful summer party. If only football could be gently but firmly shown the door, and told to come back later when the party is over. Instead it will stay, loudly and brashly, and the best we can hope for is that it doesn't puke over the poached salmon.

That the third Test match is unfolding at Old Trafford, of all arenas, somehow makes the overlap with football seem even more pronounced. Never mind that Manchester United are away at Everton, on the first day of a Premiership season you expect the name Old Trafford to evoke the big round ball, not the small round one. Not this time.

Moreover, even at the beginning of a football season which will culminate in a World Cup, it is not Wayne Rooney from whom England currently expects, but Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff. And invidious though it is to compare Flintoff with England's last talismanic all-rounder, I can think of just one other barnstorming cricketer in the past 25 years who has acquired the cultural status otherwise enjoyed only by footballers, which is the situation in which Flintoff finds himself.

Indeed, on Test Match Special during the Edgbaston Test, I heard Henry Blofeld take the comparison a shade too far: "McGrath, running in now to Botham," he said. A cough from the back of the box alerted him to the mistake, otherwise I think he would have carried on, perhaps even turning Glenn McGrath into Terry Alderman.

As for the television coverage of the Ashes, that too offers a dispiriting contrast with football. But then cricket is made for a production team's ingenuity in a way that football is not. One of the best aspects of Channel 4's generally excellent effort is Simon Hughes' sporadic technical analyses from what looks like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. When ITV tried something similar with football, putting poor Andy Townsend in a van with lots of levers and buttons, he looked like someone who'd been handed a chocolate teapot and told to demonstrate its effectiveness.

Of course, it could be argued that football is such a beautifully simple game that it doesn't need the appliance of science. Cricket, on the other hand, thrives on it, to such a degree that I can hardly believe I was engrossed by the BBC's coverage of Test matches in the days when there was a camera at only one end of the ground, as opposed to now, when there are cameras in the batsman's nostrils and strapped to the umpire's forehead.

On Thursday I watched the morning session with my 10-year-old son, one of those many youngsters who previously only had eyes for football but has had his interest in cricket kindled by the thrills at Edgbaston. He loved the computer graphic which shows the direction and elevation of each ball in an over, and then projects them all at once, which may not be how 10-year-olds became interested in cricket in the days when Geoffrey Boycott and John Edrich were opening the batting for England, but to use a sporting cliché, it's not how you get 'em, but how many of 'em you get. What a time for terrestrial telly to be losing Test cricket; increasingly it looks, just to bring football back into the equation, like a truly disastrous own goal.

I wonder, incidentally, how many proper own goals there will be today? Doubtless there will be a spread bet available somewhere. But statistics in football are fripperies whereas in cricket they are part of the fabric of the game.

I was reminded of this when Michael Vaughan reached his marvellous century on Thursday, and up popped the essentially pointless yet pointlessly essential information that in the all-time list of batsmen converting Test 50s into 100s, England's captain stood third behind Don Bradman of Australia and George Headley of the West Indies. Football has no equivalent to these marvellous statistical nuggets, which were once affectionately lampooned on TMS by the late John Arlott.

"What I really want to know, Bill," came the glorious Hampshire growl, "is if England bowl their overs at the same rate as Australia did, and Brearley and Boycott survive the opening spell, and that the number of no-balls is limited to 10 in the innings, and assuming my car does 33.8 miles per gallon and my home is 67.3 miles from the ground, what times does my wife have to put the casserole in?"

Football has never had anyone to equal Arlott. But nor, in fairness, has cricket.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'