THESE THINGS TAKE TIME
There’s an article about Mike Brearley in this month’s Prospect (forwarded on to me by Dr Batty), in which the ex-England captain and president of the British Psychoanalytical Society compares Test cricket with psychoanalysis:
“Cricket matches, like works of art and psychoanalytic sessions, are usually uneven. Even in the closest and best contests there are passages of entrenchment, of defensive play, of phases where one side or both are keeping things ticking over.” Sometimes, just as on long days in the outfield, the psychoanalyst has to have “the ability to stay with not knowing.”
Despite the success of 20:20, the repute of Test cricket is a little further from the doldrums than psychoanalysis. It is true that, while we cricket fanatics are feverish with excitement about the first session of the Ashes tomorrow morning, most of us will be unable to watch it without recourse to pirate websites or countless hours down the pub. It is 1410 days since England last won a Test match against Australia, and exactly the same amount of time has elapsed since Test cricket stopped being free-to-view. It is, as the Chair of the ECB has said, a travesty that people who cannot afford to donate £30 a month to Murdoch's empire, are funding off-shore grandees with Nazi fetishes and, er, Nazi sympathies.
But let none of this detract from the matter in hand. Notwithstanding the appalling five-day weather forecast, the first chapter of the Ashes will begin tomorrow morning at 10.30. Those who seek assurance from precedents will have heard the news that Brett Lee is unfit for the first two Tests and been reminded of Glenn McGrath in 2005. Whether England would have won in 2005 if McGrath had played all five matches is a moot point, but the signs were that Lee may not have played in Cardiff anyway. Elsewhere, precedents are rather thin on the ground: neither team has ever played a 5-day match in Cardiff; none of Australia’s bowlers will ever have played a Test in England; half of the 22 players in each starting line-up will never have played an Ashes match before.
The number of new faces makes it difficult to call how the series will finish (2-2 seems the most likely result to me). There are obvious talismen in both teams: Ponting and Clarke for Australia, Pietersen and Flintoff for England. Australia look to be stronger with the bat, England with the ball – but both these assertions depend on Hussey regaining his form, on Hughes fulfilling his maverick potential, on Anderson reverse-swinging it, and on Broad throwing the odd screaming Yorker into an otherwise relentless line-and-length approach.
This article by Graeme Smith and Mickey Arthur is worth reading: you dismiss the Australian top-order, they say, by probing, pace and the odd ball that tempts them into playing the shot of their dreams. Apart from bowling as well as they can, England’s seamers (I suspect neither Swann nor Panesar – nor for that matter Hauritz – will play a huge part in this series) must hope for the best and accept Brearley’s tenet that sometimes the cricketer has to have the ability to stay with not knowing.