Trevor Bayliss: Has his reign come to an end?

After a shock defeat to Scotland and a string of poor performances, the England head coach is under immense scrutiny this summer.

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Tom Foster

After a shock defeat to Scotland and a string of poor performances, the England head coach is under immense scrutiny this summer.

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©cricketcountry

As the touring Australians arrive in town for the start of a One-day International Series, last Sunday’s game against minnows Scotland was portrayed a gentle warm-up game for England. None of the Scotland side are currently employed as professional county cricketers, (Opening Bowler Omar Sherriff & Top Order batsman Callum Mcleod have subsequently been picked up by Derbyshire for the T20 Blast), and the game was supposed to be a routine win for Eoin Morgan’s men.

However, this turned out to be anything but. After a strange decision to put Scotland into bat by Morgan, England was run ragged by some power hitting from Scotland’s top order. Despite the tiny boundaries and excellent wicket, 370 was always going to be tough chase, and with a feverish crowd sensing an upset, and Scotland played the game of their lives. England ended 10 short, and thoroughly deserved to lose to a Scotland team that outplayed England in every department, including worryingly, commitment and desire. Although Scotland has improved steadily in recent years and was extremely unlucky to fail to qualify for the 2019 World Cup, this was a shock of the highest order for England, the likes of which haven’t been since a Kevin O’Brien inspired Ireland stunned us in 2011. Which begs the question, has Coach Trevor Bayliss taken England as far as he can?

England’s One Day record in recent years has papered over ever-widening cracks that have been appearing for some time in the England set-up. Their performances in Test Matches away from home has been nothing short of woeful in recent years, with a 4-0 defeat away in India in 2016, leading to the shambolic performances this winter in Australia and New Zealand, which saw England fail to win a single game in the longer format. The defeat in the First Test of summer against Pakistan at Lords further heightened the public dismay towards coach Bayliss, and if results fail to improve this summer in the Test Series against India, then the ECB must surely be considering a replacement in the longer format before Australia return to English shores next Summer for the Ashes.

Although Bayliss has proven to be a popular figure in the dressing room, a number of perplexing decisions in recent times that have diminished his credibility. His admission that he “hasn’t got time to watch County Cricket”, has hardly warmed him to English cricket fans, and it appears to be apparent with recent England selections. The unforgivable omission of Adil Rashid this winter in favour of Mason Crane, an uncapped spinner who rarely plays for his county Hampshire in the longer format, was a decision bordering on stupidity. Coupled with the unmerited recall for James Vince, whom once again flattered to deceive, and the ongoing failure to find Alastair Cook a partner at the top of the order, England appear to be lurching from one disaster to another. It is important to note these decisions don’t rely solely upon Bayliss, and the English selection panel has since changed from the Winter down under (for the better it would appear), but a more hands-on approach from Bayliss would have been not only welcome but expected in his role.

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Ex England bowler, Darren Gough has been critical of Bayliss in recent times ©givemesport

Despite the horrendous winter, England endured in Test Matches, their One Day performances remained steady, with series win’s in Australia and New Zealand to confirm their status as the best side currently in the world. Bayliss was initially brought in as One Day specialist by Andrew Strauss, and in that area, there is no doubt that England has improved significantly. Unfortunately, despite this, they are still yet to win a major trophy under Bayliss’s tutorage. As with most England sides over the years, they continue to become unstuck at vital moments, such as the last over in the 2016 20/20 World Cup Final, and with the underwhelming performance against Pakistan in the 2017 Champions Trophy on home soil. This inability to get over the line in vital moments has become a hallmark of Bayliss’s reign, both in the longer and shorter formats of the game.

This summer’s fixtures will present a great indication of where England are currently at. The upcoming Test Series against India, the No.1 ranked side in the world in the longer format, will prove a huge challenge to England. One would suspect England should prevail in home conditions, but crazy scheduling sees all 5 Tests played after the 1st August, and this will certainly play into India’s hands. If previous summers are to go by, then dry, dusty wickets will greet both teams, and India will be delighted – not only should their spinners enjoy conditions similar to home, but England’s seam attack will be nullified somewhat.

Strangely, for a proud Test nation such as England, the upcoming ODI series against Australia, and then to finish the summer, with India, may be crucial for Bayliss to retain goodwill amongst the powers that be. A defeat against a severely weakened Australian side, with a number of key players out with due to injury or suspension, would be a huge disappointment, and if the Test team fail to deliver again, then defeat by India in the ODI series could be a knockout blow.

With such a huge year of cricket ahead of England in 2019, Bayliss needs to up his team’s game in all formats. Although he may have gained enough credit in the One Day arena to keep his job for the 2019 World Cup, one more poor Test series should be enough for the English Cricket Board to split their coaching priorities into two and appoint a specialist in that format. A more radical suggestion is to dispense with Bayliss at the end of the summer and allow the new coach time to bed the side before the summer of 2019. Due to England’s conservative nature, this remains highly unlikely, although more poor performances may be enough to see the axe fall.

Tom Foster

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Bancroft, Smith and Warner: Cricket criminals

The shocking behaviour of the Australian Cricket Team continues to reverberate around the sporting world.

Harry Everett

The shocking behaviour of the Australian Cricket Team continues to reverberate around the sporting world.

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Cricket Australia has begun an investigation

Ball tampering and match fixing, probably the two offences that contravene the spirit of cricket above all else.

In recent years it seemed cricket was finally coming out of the dark ages, there have seemed to have been far less instances of match fixing and ball tampering of late. The days of Kiwi match fixer Lou Vincent, jelly baby gate and Faf du Plessis’ use of his trouser pocket zip to scratch the ball seemed to be in a recent, but somehow different era. Even the Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals are being reinstated into this April’s IPL after their own match-fixing scandals.

What thousands upon millions (of not just cricket fans) across the Globe have seen, pictures of Cameron Bancroft ball tampering under instruction from the Australia test team leadership group, somehow seems even worse than all of the above. Arguably the biggest test nation, the Ashes holders, led by a man dubbed second only to Don Bradman by many have gone and ball-tampered. And this was not one slight scratch, this was thoroughly thought out, planned cheating, out-and-out cheating.

The fact that Steven Smith readily admitted to the press how the leadership group encouraged rookie opener Cameron Bancroft to use a small piece of sandpaper to rough up one side of the ball makes this scenario even more galling. It was as if the world’s best batsman did not see this as a problem at the time. Having won the Ashes just two months ago, are they really that desperate to win the deciding test in South Africa to see cheating as the only way of making this possible? They have generally been outplayed by South Africa so far, and to be honest it never seemed that a particularly roughed up ball helped their cause anyway. This test has seen multiple ball changes, whether this is down to Bancroft’s scraping or simply natural, fair deterioration is not particularly important, but what is, is how on earth Smith, Warner, Bancroft or anyone else in this so-called `leadership group’ thought it a good idea to bring the game into disrepute for what would probably only be marginal gains.

To make this whole affair even more stupid and daft from an Australian perspective, they chose to use yellow sandpaper. Yes, that’s the same yellow, that is used by cyclists to make them more visible in the dark, one of the brightest colours available that is used to enhance visibility. For years we may have thought Warner stupid or thick, since punching Joe Root in Birmingham’s Walkabout bar back in 2013, but most of us believed Smith to be more intelligent than all of this.

It is also slightly ironic that just a few months ago Smith and Bancroft were in a press conference before the Ashes series commenced to act as grassers telling the press all about Jonny Bairstow’s `welcoming, friendly head-butt’ on the very same man at the centre of this controversy, Cam Bancroft. Now this is clearly a different story, but it is worth mentioning the comic irony of the same two Aussies speaking in a much-publicised press conference so soon after. Yet the first occasion saw them beaming at the trouble their arch-enemies England were getting themselves in, whilst the second saw them sheepishly trying to explain any reasoning for the trouble they had inflicted upon themselves.

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The players in question were critical of the Jonny Bairstow incident ©By Mcadge

The ICC have rightly fined Smith and Bancroft the majority of their match fees (Smith 100%, Bancroft 75%), given Bancroft three demerit points and suspended Smith for the next and final test match, but it does seem slightly odd that the perpetrator gets a smaller fine than the person who supposedly was in charge of telling him what to do. We are not talking about a 14-year-old Bancroft being told this is a good idea by an all-dictating under-15s coach. This is a 25-year-old man who has played seven test matches, surely he can make a decision for himself and see right from wrong by his own accord? Or was he simply too scared of going against his skipper’s wishes, desperate to impress, whilst his place in the side is so vulnerable? Maybe this shows he’ll do anything he can to give him one more chance of opening the batting for Australia in test cricket.

From an English County Cricket perspective, the main worry now is that Cam Bancroft has already signed as Somerset’s overseas for the coming season. Now where does this leave Somerset’s leadership group? One would guess they will have to sit down and Mr Hurry, Abell, Kerr, maybe even experienced heads such as Trescothick and co will have to decide if they still want to play and work alongside a proven cheater. Bancroft is hardly a world beater; thus they will have to work out if it’s worth risking tarnishing Somerset’s proud reputation to employ a man with this now permanent cricket-criminal record?

For Steve Smith there are already rumours that he will be sacked as Rajasthan Royals captain before the 2018 IPL that starts in less than two weeks’ time. Even vice-captain Davey Warner may get the chop as Sunrisers Hyderabad skipper such is the honest culture and expectations to follow the unwritten rules of cricket in India more so than other countries perhaps. Developments are ongoing as this is written and as you read, but whatever the Aussie’s excuses, whatever the outcomes or their given punishments, it is clear from the initial reaction that there is no excuse for ball tampering in cricket, and it has no place in the game.

Harry Everett

Rashid and Hales right to choose white ball cricket

With the amount of money now available white-ball cricket, players are turning their back on the longer format of the game.

Jack Witham

With the amount of money now available white-ball cricket, players are turning their back on the longer format of the game.

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Alex Hales playing for England ©Ben Sutherland

As many of you will already know, both Adil Rashid and Alex Hales have both agreed to only play white ball cricket for their counties. For fans of Nottinghamshire, or fans of Yorkshire, this decision might seem like the wrong move. For England fans though, they will see this as a step in the right direction, and hope that many other English players follow suit. It’s about time the International team took first priority.

For many county cricket fans the red ball game should come first, but the bigger picture has to be looked at. Adil and Alex will both want to be as white ball prepared as they possibly can be, and with the tournament being played in England and Wales, the nation must fancy their chances of winning a first ever World Cup, adding to the three runners up medals. Hales was overlooked in the 2015 World Cup, only playing twice, making scores of 27 and 37 as England yet again suffered a miserable time at a major tournament. Adil did not make the squad for the 2015 World Cup. He was left at home, whilst ‘Tricky’ James Tredwell got the nod. A slightly odd decision to pick a spinner who doesn’t spin a ball.

Since this tournament, England have changed their playing style, very much suiting Hales and Rashid. Captain Eoin Morgan installed a brand of cricket allowing players to play with freedom. Rashid has been a huge factor in England’s recent upturn in form. A spinner who can spin the ball both ways, creating confusion for the batsmen, finally England have got one.

It certainly will be nice for England fans to have one of these bowlers in their team, rather than watching the batsmen get traumatised by mystery spinners. In fact, since the end of the 2015 World Cup, Rashid has picked up the most wickets out of anybody in ODI cricket (Dec 2017). Wonder now why he wants to just focus on his white ball skills? He really is an unsung hero in the England side.

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Adil Rashid playing for England ©Ben Sutherland

Okay, he picks up wickets in the longer format, but he has to completely adapt his game. He has a field designed for him in ODIs. He will bowl the odd bad ball; he’s a wrist spinner, only Shane Warne doesn’t bowl bad balls. With his field, he can often get away with this. Not in the 4 day stuff. He can go through his variations in ODIs, when he knows the batsmen will be coming after him. Not in the 4 Day stuff when they know a bad ball is just around the corner. He didn’t have a very successful test career, despite taking a five wicket hall on debut. A strike rate of 66 in tests is compared to a strike rate of 35 in ODIs, showing which format he thrives in more. Surely this shows his decision is a good choice, why would we want him to change his skills again?

The chance for the English International players to go and play overseas is surely an appeal to all. There is no hiding that in the Sub Continent, England have really struggled. Fair enough only a certain few have been selected to play in the IPL, but that’s an improvement on previous years. With Ben Stokes in the team, the country can easily argue that they have the most valuable player in International cricket playing for our country. For England, that doesn’t happen often.

Both Hales and Rashid have secured CPL deals. England should be encouraging the rest of their international stars to do the same, rather than seeing them play in April, playing a dull brand of cricket. Rashid is not likely to get much of a bowl early on in the season, when the wickets are green and slightly damp, favouring faster bowlers.

Simon Hughes researched that if Adil Rashid played every white ball game for Yorkshire this upcoming season, regarding he bowled his maximum amount every game, he would bowl 136 overs. He bowled 290 in the 2015 season. This would amass to over 400 overs without including is England duties. Even for a leg spinner, that’s a lot of overs.

He recently admitted that his head wasn’t fully there when playing red ball cricket, so surely he’s doing Yorkshire a favour by not playing.

Fans of the current England One Day International team may be happy to see players signing white ball deals, but for some fans of the county game and lovers of the longer format, it is evident why this might start to worry people. If people are starting to do it now, big names as well, then surely this might be the catalyst for more people to do so.

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Is there a lack of interest in longer forms of cricket? ©JMSPORTPIX

For the traditional fan, this could be damaging, as the county game could start to deteriorate even more than it is now. Already low crowds could become even worse if popular names are not participating. There has to be worries about certain players. Players such as Chris Jordan, Sam Billings, Jason Roy and Jos Buttler are very much classed as One Day specialists. Could this mean they may also be about to sign the dotted line on a white ball deal with their respective counties?

For some counties, this concern won’t be as big as it is for others. Look Yorkshire for one. With Adil Rashid already focusing just on the white ball, there is concern others may follow suit. David Willey and Liam Plunkett are two huge players for Yorkshire, probably players Yorkshire can’t afford to lose, but maybe they want to keep their skills for the white ball game as well.

It also brings the question “Is Test Cricket Dying”. Players now aren’t even considering playing test cricket, and younger players seem to have all the shots in the book, but can’t see out a day’s play. Not like Boycott who really would drop an anchor at one end. That’s classed as the good old days, not the modern era.

So white ball contracts seem to be the most talked about thing in English cricket at the moment. The question is how many rather than if it will continue, because there is no doubt that many players will follow suit. It won’t just be in this country, but many others will also have just white ball contracts.

Jack Witham

 

 

Why cricket is so important for Afghanistan

World Cups, IPL players and the introduction of Test Cricket. The amazing story of a war-torn nation changing the face of sport.

Liam Moore

World Cups, IPL players and the introduction of Test Cricket. The amazing story of a war-torn nation changing the face of sport.

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© By Spc. Michael Germundson

You would be excused if the initial thought of Afghanistan that entered your mind would be war. It could even be conflict, violence or corruption. Thankfully, the nation’s cricket team is changing that perception as they continue to rise to the highest level of the sport.

Many children dream of playing for their country; returning to their safe neighbourhood and having the leisure of watching live cricket throughout the year. For Afghans, this way of life is simply non-existent. Since the 1970’s, Afghanistan have been plagued with war. In 1979, The Soviet government invaded the country, propping up a communist government. They would occupy the land for ten years before moving on, allowing a civil war to break out.

In 1997, the Taliban were recognised by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as the rulers of the country. The organisation had over two thirds of the nation under their control and enforced hard-line Islamic beliefs. Two years prior to this, two Afghan refugees established the Afghanistan Cricket Federation (AFC) in 1995. Taj Malik and Allah Dad Noori were currently residing just outside of Peshawar, which was a popular northern city in Pakistan that many Afghan refugees settled in.

Unfortunately for the residents of the Asian country, the conflict did not come to a halt. After the terrorist attack that took place on the World Trade Centre in 2001, then president of the United States, George Bush, responded by launching missiles into Afghanistan. What followed would be years of conflict, as both the United States and the United Kingdom deployed troops into the country. Those troops are still present in war-torn Afghanistan, desperately fighting the Taliban – a conflict that has lasted for 17 years. It would appear implausible, amidst all the devastation the country has had to endure, that something sensational was quietly brimming.

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©Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=466186

1999 was a memorable year for the AFC. Stuart Bentham, who was a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club, was present in Afghanistan as he was on a business meeting. At the time, the Afghan national cricket team were training in Kabul. Bentham witnessed the team in action and was inspired to help the nation obtain better cricketing equipment. Once he arrived back in England he persuaded the MCC to donate, further supporting Afghanistan’s cause for international status.

The fall of the Taliban saw a lot of refugees return home which rapidly increased the growth of the sport in the country. In 2003, the ACF held their first trials for the national team. This truly was the start of something special happening to the country as the years that followed would bring much success.

Only 12 years after its establishment, Afghanistan had won its first tournament. The Asian Cricket Council T20 Tournament was an event for the lower ranked nations throughout Asia. Afghanistan were joint winners after their final against Oman finished as a tie. In 2010, Afghanistan recorded their biggest victory of that time after defeating Ireland for a place in the T20 World Cup. They had done it. They finally reached the global stage of cricket. Unfortunately, they didn’t win a single game of the competition. Nevertheless, this was a big stepping stone for the country.

From 2013, the progress the nation made was simply remarkable. Due to consistently good performances, Afghanistan were promoted to associate from affiliate by the International Cricket Committee (ICC). They also qualified for their first 50-over World Cup, beating Scotland to make history for the newly promoted country.

Three years later and Afghanistan were at it again. The 2016 T20 World Cup was hosted by India and Afghanistan won their group, beating all three teams. Their group consisted of Scotland, Hong Kong and Test-playing nation Zimbabwe. For the first time in their history, they had qualified for the second round of an ICC competition. They did not progress further, but they did give England a scare when they reduced them to 57-6 and they beat eventual winners West Indies.

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©Harrias  https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11432547

These dates mentioned are imperative to understand the progress Afghanistan have made. However, none of these dates can compete with the event that took place last year. On June the 22nd 2017, the ICC introduced the country as a Test playing nation. For those who are not too fond of cricket – there is no higher status than being a Test playing nation. Many professionals around the world took to social media to congratulate the nation on its incredible progression. They are expected to play their inaugural Test match in 2018 and have become the first admission – along with Ireland – to Test cricket since Bangladesh in 2000, when Afghanistan were only five years old as a cricketing nation.

Despite being surrounded by war or being plagued with violence, Afghanistan have refused to bow out. The Telegraph reported that cricket was so popular in Afghanistan, even the Taliban were playing the sport. Speaking to Tim Wigmore, country captain Mohammad Nabi said: “It brings peace to every tribe”. So, it would appear cricket is beyond a sport for this small Asian country. Cricket has represented itself as an escape for many residents of Afghanistan who have become accustomed to daily violence.

Unfortunately, it is still no simple task for Afghanistan to play cricket. There is still conflict in their country and they are forced to play their ‘home’ games in the Indian city of Noida due to safety concerns. Debatably, there is one man who can epitomise playing professional cricket in Afghanistan better than any other – former New Zealand coach Andy Moles. Moles, who spoke to The Cricket Monthly, coached the team during the 2015 World Cup and his own submission of training allows one to grasp what life is like for Afghan residents:

“Sometimes you hear a boom go off somewhere when coaching in the middle. You see Black Hawk helicopters flying over the ground, going on missions and coming back. It’s Like coaching in a war movie. Actually, it is a very surreal situation because I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel scared when leaving for work in the morning.”

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©Master Sgt. Brian Boisvert https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39405576

The players the nation are nurturing are worth mentioning, too. Rashid Khan, a 19-year-old leg-spinner who is a key figure in the Afghanistan cricket team has completely taken the world by storm. He’s ranked first in the world in both the ICC T20 and One Day International (ODI) bowling rankings. The incredibly skilled youngster has already taken 86 wickets in ODI cricket. He is a role-model for young cricket fans in Afghanistan. They have someone to look up to, someone who they would like to emulate one day.

Afghanistan have been welcomed into an elite set of cricket nations and continue to rise. The accomplishments of those involved will always be remembered for bringing joy to a country that has suffered for far too .

Liam Moore

Obsessive shortening of sports: Is humanity’s attention span dwindling that much?

Americanised, short format sport is taking away the pure style that has been played for hundreds of years.

Harry Everett

Americanised, short format sport is taking away the pure style that has been played for hundreds of years.

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©Sportexamined

Twenty20 cricket becoming T10 cricket, Tie Break Tens and Fast4 Tennis, Golf Sixes are all examples of traditional English sports being shortened to try and generate more interest. Injected razzmatazz from loud, pumping music, to freebie flags and signed equipment all have the idea of appealing to the lesser sports fan.

But does all this Americanised, short format sport take away from the pure form of the sport that has been played on our shores for hundreds of years?

What if Novak Djokovic or Rafa Nadal was to obtain a serious injury during the Tie Break Tens, four days before the Australian Open which puts them out of the entire first Grand Slam of the season? Yes, injuries can be obtained doing almost anything in life, but a risk/benefit analysis comparison can weigh up what it’s best or worthwhile partaking in. When the pay-cheque is $250,000 for three tie-breaks to 10 matches, it is easy to see why some of the biggest names signed up to the third event of this type in the Margaret Court Arena last month.

Golf is perceived to be one of the slowest, dullest sports to watch by many, but the introduction of a shot clock, very similar to the 30 second countdown used between Tennis serves, is hoping to change that. There has also been the increased participation in Speed Golf of late. The inaugural World Championships in 2012 show that this sport is being taken seriously worldwide and offering yet another variation on a quintessential British sport. The professional golfers well known globally do not participate in this new phenomenon of Speed Golf, it is an entirely new form of the sport, allowing a completely different crowd of people into a sport under the `umbrella title’ of golf.

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©Sportexamined

It’s worth recognising that not all sports have only had reduced forms created in recent times, Rugby Sevens was played as far back as the 1880s in Scotland. The world-famous Hong Kong Sevens event was launched in 1976 and has inspired many other tournaments from Wellington to Dubai to spring up and, come the turn of the millennium, form the World Rugby Sevens Series. This competition has since expanded to consist of ten tournaments in ten different countries, played in five different continents. Ruby Sevens is loved for more attacking, ball-carrying rugby, but others could argue Rugby League provides this over Rugby Union, it could be argued Sevens simply takes the League principles to even more of an extreme away from the scrums of Rugby Union. Rugby players tend to commit and be an expert in one particular format, but this does not stop players switching codes or dabbling in playing sevens as part of a professional Rugby Union/League career.

Cricketers however commonly play three different formats at professional level, whilst at grass-roots, club cricket leagues are only played as one-day competitions in England. The problem of players having to work meaning they can often only give up one day at a weekend to play the sport. It would be interesting to see how many current club cricketers would be interested in playing numerous-day cricket if it were offered to them though. Cricket is perceived to be a very slow-moving sport, and this is a fair description of the longer formats in the professional game. During T20 cricket however, fielders spend far less time faffing about between balls and overs, they all run to their fielding positions quickly, not waiting for the captain’s instructions, knowing exactly where they are wanted for a left or right-hander respectively. You do not see this in test cricket as much, when they are only expected to get through 13 overs in an hour, and that is without regular fetching of balls back from the crowd. If test cricketers were encouraged to hurry up a little between balls, thus speeding the game up as a whole, it could encourage more people to spectate and keep more people captivated in an age-old traditional sport. Players are so fit these days that the skill-level would unlikely deteriorate if the Umpires encouraged swifter movements between deliveries.

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Is red ball Cricket fading? ©JMSPORTPIX

If you were to (like me) have followed nearly every match of the recent India tour of South Africa you would notice that there was far more interest and Social Media comment on the South Africa v India test matches than the one-day matches, despite the former being very low scoring affairs. The perception that modern cricket fans only want to see big sixes launched into the crowd is not as widely thought. Some of the most exciting matches in all formats in recent years have been on bowler-friendly-pitches where both sides have really struggled to get the ball to the boundary, requiring real skill and concentration from determined batsmen to do their job. It would be silly of me to say that test cricket is not, to some extent, dying amid the short form love-in, but different people have different desires as sports spectators and because of that these new creations of short format sports should not have to extinguish the traditional longer forms. All forms of tennis, golf and cricket should be allowed to co-exist in harmony and the fan allowed to follow whichever format(s) they wish, as it seems to work quite fine in the different forms of Rugby.

Harry Everett