The Saturday of a Test match at Lord's, whoever the opposition, is of course one of the great days in the sporting calendar.
When Test cricket's top-ranked nation provides the opposition, and when the match brings to 2,000 the number of Test matches played since England and Australia inaugurated the whole glorious shebang in Melbourne in March 1877, the occasion becomes even more noteworthy.
Yet Test cricket's reluctant obituarists have been out in force these last few days, wondering what can be done to save the ultimate expression of the game and asking whether it will live to celebrate its 3,000th match. Given that more than a century passed before Pakistan and New Zealand contested the 1,000th Test, but less than 27 years before M S Dhoni's Indians arrived at Lord's for the 2,000th, there seems every chance that it will. All the same, and partly as a consequence of the proliferation of fixtures, dwindling crowds in Test match arenas everywhere but England – dwindling in some cases to the point where they can hardly be said even to constitute a crowd – tell a dispiriting story.
It's almost a relief that John Arlott is not around to hear it. Test cricket fed the great man most of his best lines of commentary, including his assessment of the tentative batting style of Australia's Ernie Toshack, one of the 1948 "Invincibles", that it evoked an old lady poking at a wasps' nest with her umbrella. Well, I wouldn't ever want to tempt comparison with Arlott on the imagery front, but it's not entirely fanciful to see the five-day game itself as that same old lady wandering haplessly and disorientated in front of the twin juggernauts of one-day cricket and, although it is bearing down less ominously than it once did, Twenty20. Without some quick thinking or uncharacteristically nimble movement, she will be flattened.
Bob Willis reached for the imagery too when I had lunch with him 10 days ago. Once of Warwickshire, England and the Hair Bear Bunch, now of Sky Sports and rather less extravagantly thatched, Willis likened the differences between Test and one-day cricket to those between chess and Ludo. A relatively low-scoring Test match unfolding over five days on a deteriorating pitch is one of the most intoxicating contests sport can offer, he rightly asserted, and cricket's administrators and marketing strategists must do all they can, which means a good deal more than they are currently doing, to preserve it.
I asked him what Twenty20 amounts to, alongside the chess and the Ludo. Tiddlywinks, perhaps. Willis thought, and then in his splendidly deliberate way, said: "Well, tiddlywinks is probably a very skilful game. Twenty20 is probably quite skilful as well, but I'm not sure it should be an international game. But it is, and [removing the international dimension] is like giving a kid something then trying to take it off them. I follow cricket avidly but I can't get excited by the Indian Premier League. That blancmange doesn't grab me at all."
I don't know what Arlott would have made of the image of being grabbed, or not grabbed, by a blancmange. But of the sentiment behind it, I'm sure he would have approved.
Don't bet against our correspondents picking the winners
Scrutinising The Independent's sports pages can be seriously good for your wallet. On the morning of the Epsom Derby last month, my colleague Chris McGrath, our racing correspondent, not only tipped Pour Moi to win, but the 25-1 shot Treasure Beach to come second and the favourite Carlton House third. The odds against that happening were later calculated at 707-1.
Then, in this newspaper on the eve of the Open Championship, our golf correspondent James Corrigan recommended an each-way flutter on the veteran Ulsterman Darren Clarke. Available with some bookmakers at 200-1, big Darren's worst price was 125-1.
That is impressive tipstering, by any standards, and of course shows that Messrs McGrath and Corrigan really know their stuff. And if they hadn't been so busy at their keyboards, they might even have got round to supporting their wonderfully astute tips with actual bets. For the record, and both men should look away now, £10 on McGrath's triple followed by an each-way tenner backing Corrigan's hunch would have netted just short of 10 grand.
Let the fun and Games begin
There was something ineffably British about the disruption to the parliamentary quizzing of James and Rupert Murdoch on Tuesday. In certain other countries, the invader who managed to dodge security would have toted a gun, or a knife, or a bag of explosives. And in not a few further countries, it has to be said, there would have been no breach of security at all. But what do we get? A joker with a plateful of shaving foam.
I couldn't help thinking, as I watched the foam flying, of something I wrote in this column earlier this year, after I had spoken to a policeman pal of mine about the security operation at next year's Olympics. At the sailing venue of Weymouth, he told me, the concerns are less about al-Qaida and a motorboat packed with Semtex, and more about the lone Fathers 4 Justice campaigner in a pedalo, dressed as Batman. After Tuesday, I'd say they should crank up the concern from substantial to severe.
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