From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.28 :: NO.49 :: Dec. 03 - 09, 2005
I have just watched two Tests in discomfort and a certain amount of danger and I am not happy. In Multan some 100 journalists, including broadcasters who need instant access to such material, could not see a scoreboard. In Faisalabad I could see a scoreboard but I risked breaking my neck every time I climbed the stairs to the Press Box.
This staircase has been in place since the World Cup, with the same wretched, stained carpet and the same steps which in cricket terms I have to say are of variable height.
The power points for the 40 or so print journalists in my section of the Press box were in no way conveniently placed which meant that wires had to be trailed across stairs and could easily have resulted in someone tripping or pulling a wire out of a socket with consequences no-one wants to see.
You will say that I am the wrong person to complain from my ivory tower. "You should see the conditions under which we watch the game," I can hear. Believe me I am on your side.
Two Barmy Army girls were pelted with stones by the Pakistani spectators as they left the ground and the police did nothing to stop it. The scanning of those entering the ground was cursory; but then most security is na´ve. I don't see how it can be anything else.
Of course, I am one of the privileged. I sit in a safe area, my pass and in Pakistan this was huge as if in some way its size was extra protection gives me easy passage around the ground, with access to many places barred to the ordinary spectator. My palatable, ample lunch is on my desk before the players have left the field, water is to hand, tea and cake comes twice a day.
Besides, I feel I should not abuse my free entry by complaining about the problems of my work. I go to cricket to earn my living, I travel the world expecting to have adventures in foreign climes and, on the whole, I enjoy every minute since I meet new friends in an atmosphere I love.
But what about those who in London may pay up to 60 pounds sterling for a day's ticket and those in Faisalabad who pay five pounds sterling for a match ticket?
It is on their behalf that I am asking the International Cricket Council to introduce standards, which must be met before a ground can stage a Test or a one-day international. Adequate drinking, feeding and toilet arrangements. Safety must be a priority, there ought to be good security and gentle policing and crowds controlled by trained stewards.
In recent years spectators have come back to the Tests as we have seen in these two Tests in the Punjab this month and that is not a fact that the game's rulers should just simply note and ignore.
We should try to keep those who want to see Test cricket. We should treasure those who are willing to travel to the big matches, whether it is 100 miles by car, a couple of kilometres on a Melbourne tram, or 6,000 miles by jetliner.
Cricket may be an addiction in the few, but most modern youngsters have a thousand interests compared with my own teenage years. If they find cricket is not prepared to lay on good conditions, they will try football, a pop concert, athletics or the Halle orchestra.
It is a job for the International Cricket Council to ensure that it is as enjoyable to watch a Test in Nagpur as at Trent Bridge. I reckon that objective is a better use of their energy than the chase after more countries playing at a lower level although I am not unsympathetic to their aim of a wider reach for cricket.
The top branch of the game should be distinguished by top facilities: good nets for players, the right accommodation for the media, better conditions for the spectators.
Cricket, for all it is beloved by many reporters, television commentators and radio producers, has no automatic right to publicity. It was only just saved from the loss of media interest by the arrival of Kerry Packer in the 1970s, and it has just had another shot in the arm from the glorious series in which England wrested the Ashes from the Aussies.
Unless the game is nurtured, the crowds gathered in, youngsters given cheap tickets and everyone feels welcome when they go to the cricket, it can still wither and die.
The ICC also ought to consider whether they should not devise start and finish times to fit local conditions instead of pretending that one size fits all as they do at the moment.
The second Test lost 70 overs two sessions and a third in five days. If those overs had been played a result might have been obtained. Is the answer to have more floodlights, to have timeless Tests in the subcontinent, or six-day Tests of five hours each rather than five days of six hours that will never be played? Should we have independent groundsmen so that pitches are brought back to life? Or should the match referee have the power to award Tests to one side or the other in the way boxing referees can go for a points decision?
Perhaps the world governing body should set up a commission to recommend standards. After that they need an inspector to go round grounds encouraging countries to improve facilities. Then they need to ensure the improvements are maintained.
It is a big job and it will not be accomplished in a few days but it will be worthwhile.
Having got that lot off my chest I wish to say that the second Test was fairly drawn even though 19 sixes which equalled the world record for a Test were hit in the four innings. That much big hitting ought to have been the sign of an attacking intent and therefore a result.
England lost much hope of winning when Michael Vaughan lost the toss and had to watch a master class in batsmanship from Inzamam-ul-Haq and a blistering attack by Shahid Afridi and a decent amount of support batting as Pakistan ran up 462.
Vaughan said afterwards that once again the seam attack had been outstanding and I think he is right but neither Ashley Giles nor Shaun Udal with only 33 of the 116 overs caused great consternation.
What a wonderful contrast Inzamam and Afridi provided. Science and great technical skill from the old hand at one end, good balance, soft hands, immaculate timing; and at the other end proof that, as Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan coach said in their magazine, Afridi is the most richly talented all-rounder he has ever seen.
Want the ball hit into the back of next week send for Shahid. Want a fully finger spun leg break at 80 miles an hour Afridi is your man. No doubt he can hit the off bail from 75 yards and catch a bullet too.
If you want a considered, correct, classical innings Inzy has the answer. If, as an athlete he compares poorly with Brian Lara still to be seen dashing up and down the pitch, using his dancing feet to get into the right position he can point to the scorebook which shows that at 36 he has nearly 8,000 Test runs. England got within 16 runs of the Pakistan total thanks to centuries from Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen "two young lads making our way in the game," said Pietersen and when Flintoff fired out Mohammad Yousuf and Afridi in two balls on the fourth evening England seemed to be set for victory to level the series.
Instead Inzamam made another century, announced his declaration in the middle of his celebration and sent out Shoaib Akhtar to capture the wicket of Marcus Trescothick in the only over before lunch. Naved-ul-Hasan got that of Andrew Strauss in the first over afterwards.
Four down for 20 but Flintoff and Pietersen, Geraint Jones and Giles steered England to safety and on that grey pavement of a pitch it was always going to be so.
I went across to the Press Conference afterwards but I wasted my time. No microphone and no loudspeaker, so many of us were not able to hear what Inzamam the whispering giant had to say and not much more of Vaughan.
It is simply not good enough. If I am one of the privileged few, how are the disadvantaged many suffering? Time for action.
Second Test, Faisalabad, November 20 to 24. Match Drawn. Man of the Match: Inzamam-ul-Haq.
Pakistan 1st innings: Shoaib Malik c Flintoff b Hoggard 27; Salman Butt c Jones b Harmison 26; Younis Khan c Pietersen b Flintoff 7; Mohammad Yousuf c & b Bell 78; Inzamam-ul-Haq (run out) 109; Shahid Afridi c Trescothick b Hoggard 92; Kamran Akmal c Jones b Giles 41; Naved-ul-Hasan b Harmison 25; Mohammad Sami c & b Giles 18; Shoaib Akhtar c Flintoff b Harmison 12; Danish Kaneria (not out) 4; Extras (b-5, lb-3, nb-15) 23; Total 462.
Fall of wickets: 1-53, 2-63, 3-73, 4-201, 5-346, 6-369, 7-403, 8-431, 9-446.
England bowling: Hoggard 22-0-115-2; Flintoff 29-2-76-1; Giles 20-1-85-2; Harmison 24.4-5-85-3; Udal 13-1-60-0; Bell 7-1-33-1.
England 1st innings: M. E. Trescothick c Kamran Akmal b Mohammad Sami 48; A. J. Strauss b Naved-ul-Hasan 12; M. P. Vaughan b Naved-ul-Hasan 2; I. R. Bell c Kamran Akmal b Shahid Afridi 115; K. P. Pietersen c Mohammad Yousuf b Shoaib Akhtar 100; A. Flintoff b Shoaib Akhtar 1; G. O. Jones lbw b Shahid Afridi 55; A. F. Giles b Shahid Afridi 26; S. D. Udal (not out) 33; M. J. Hoggard b Shahid Afridi 2; S. J. Harmison (run out) 16; Extras (b-1, lb-12, w-1, nb-22) 36; Total 446.
Fall of wickets: 1-33, 2-39, 3-107, 4-261, 5-272, 6-327, 7-378, 8-395, 9-399.
Pakistan bowling: Shoaib Akhtar 27-4-93-2; Naved-ul-Hasan 20-2-63-2; Mohammad Sami 19-4-51-1; Shahid Afridi 30.3-3-95-4; Danish Kaneria 32-3-102-0; Shoaib Malik 4-0-29-0.
Pakistan 2nd innings: Shoaib Malik c Bell b Flintoff 26; Salman Butt lbw b Udal 50; Younis Khan lbw b Hoggard 27; Mohammad Yousuf b Flintoff 20; Inzamam-ul-Haq (not out) 100; Shahid Afridi b Flintoff 0; Kamran Akmal c Jones b Harmison 9; Naved-ul-Hasan c Jones b Harmison 1; Shoaib Akhtar c Jones b Hoggard 14; Mohammad Sami lbw b Hoggard 5; Danish Kaneria (not out) 2; Extras (b-4, lb-5, w-2, nb-3) 14; Total (for nine wkts. decl.) 268.
Fall of wickets: 1-54, 2-104, 3-108, 4-164, 5-164, 6-183, 7-187, 8-234, 9-244.
England bowling: Hoggard 16-1-50-3; Flintoff 27.1-2-66-3; Harmison 19-2-61-2; Giles 17-3-51-0; Udal 14-2-31-1.
England 2nd innings: M. E. Trescothick b Shoaib Akhtar 0; A. J. Strauss b Naved-ul-Hasan 0; M. P. Vaughan lbw b Naved-ul-Hasan 9; I. R. Bell c Kamran Akmal b Shoaib Akhtar 0; K. P. Pietersen c sub b Naved-ul-Hasan 42; A. Flintoff c sub b Shoaib Akhtar 56; G. O. Jones (not out) 30; A. F. Giles (not out) 13; Extras (b-4, lb-8, nb-2) 14; Total (for six wkts.) 164.
Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-5, 3-10, 4-20, 5-100, 6-138.
Pakistan bowling: Shoaib Akhtar 11-2-61-3; Naved-ul-Hasan 12-3-30-3; Mohammad Sami 6-1-18-0; Danish Kaneria 12-4-27-0; Shahid Afridi 7-2-16-0.
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