|Ben Cutting: deviated from the plan|
England are two warm up matches down in the build up to the first Ashes Test, and with one to go, what normally is an easing in period has become a battleground between the two teams and their boards.
England were unimpressed with their opponents in the final warm up match, which were essentially a New South Wales 2nd XI. One complaint to Cricket Australia later, and a deal was struck, a better team for England to warm up against, returned in kind by the ECB for the next series. Sorted, yes? Well, sort of. The teams may be happy, but the Australian media isn’t.
Malcolm Conn thundered in Australia’s Daily Telegraph, under an article headlined “CA crumbles and panders to pusillanimous Poms over pre-Test practice match”, “Having spent years capitulating to India, Cricket Australia has now caved in to England, giving the tourists an almighty leg-up just a week before the first Test in Brisbane later in November.”
Despite that agreement, the Australia A team for the second warm up match was woefully unbalanced, two fine opening bowlers, one decent spinner, one all rounder, and one Glenn Maxwell does not a bowling attack make
As Daniel Brettig pointed out for ESPNCricinfo, Ben Cutting departed radically from the plan to withhold quality batting practice from England, in bowling a fine spell of 2-17 off nine overs, on the fourth day. It’s the same script the BCCI played against England last year, withholding quality spin from the tourists in the three warm up matches. Not that it helped them, with England recording a famous 2-1 triumph in the Test series.
Another thing the BCCI does is ‘doctor’ pitches (not always to their advantage). Four big spinning, crumbly pitches helped them to a 4-0 win over Australia earlier this year, and the Australian cricket media were up in arms about doctoring. England ‘doctor’ pitches too - but in a subtler, more insidious way, serving up five flat, dry pitches this summer, which neutralised Australia’s pace attack and helped Graeme Swann.
In the long run pitch ‘doctoring’ isn’t a great strategy for anyone, and the same goes for warm up match doctoring. They might win you a few matches in the short term, but if you keep doing it, the opposition does too, and everyone ends up hiding in their bunker, preparing pitches to aid their strongest suit, weakening touring teams, and nobody learns how to win away.
Everyone does what they need to win, but if they’ve got a long term strategy they don’t bother with silly stuff. England have some long term strategy, but stil doctor pitches, Australia are in short term fix mode, India are in short term mode not just on the pitch but in administration - never understanding how they’re dependent on world cricket just as much as the other way round, and that a stronger, more competitive cricket world helps them just as much as everyone else.
The great teams never bothered with this sort of stuff. Australia circa 1990-2005 turned up, thrashed everyone, sent out state teams to give touring teams a bloody nose; West Indies 1975-1990 never made pitches to order, and rightly believed they could win in any conditions. It’s a pity nobody has that confidence any more.