Thursday, 3 September 2009

Why was the Ashes 2009 so mediocre?

I've been meaning to write an article about the Ashes – bad luck, you Aussies, bad luck! – for a couple of weeks now, but I haven't been able to find the enthusiasm to sit down and bash it off, as it were.

I suppose in itself it's symptomatic of a fairly boring and somehow anti-climactic Ashes battle that was played out between two fairly poor teams, certainly in comparison to the two teams that battled it out four years ago.

2005 was all about England having to pull out every stop to (barely) get the better of one of the best teams of all time. Barring the injuries to McGrath in that series it seems unlikely England would have prevailed, despite Freddie's heroics, KP's emergence, Vaughan brilliant tactics, Tresco's bludgeoning at the top of the order, Strauss' catch, Harmy's vicious fast bowling and the quietly effective bowling of Hoggy and, in particular, Simon Jones.

This time around both teams played their hearts out, but it seemed to be inferior by several leagues to the cricket played four years ago.

Clearly the two teams are not the forces they once were. England had two match-winners in the shape of Freddie and KP. The latter failed, and the former only flickered, albeit brilliantly.

Looking at the Aussies there was only the threat of significant runs from Punter and Pup (the worst nickname ever?) and the occasional threat from a mainly-shot Johnson. Siddle wasn't as dangerous as I expected and Hilfenhaus was nagging, but no-one threatened to precipitate a collapse in the same way that Freddie, Jimmy, Swannny or (God help us) Broad(y) did.

So, the cricket wasn't great, and no-one seemed as up for it as they did in 2005. Only Flintoff, Swann and, latterly, Broad had Ashes moments that will stick in the mind.

The whole country seemed rather less bothered about everything this time around. I witnessed the last wicket with a kind of faint smile and shrug, whereas last time I whooped, jumped, drank and openly wept like a girl.

Could it be, I wonder, because cricket simply did not have the profile it did last time around? Certainly Sky's coverage is only a few rungs above abject, but at least those having to suffer Botham, Ward, Warne, Colville and Willis can actually see cricket.

I'm guessing there are 2–3m cricket fans who can't these days – most of my family among them – and wonder whether an Ashes series can ever be as over-archingly significant again as they did in 2005, when a nation watched with baited breath.

There is currently zero live cricket on free-to-air stations in the UK by my reckoning. There are highlights of England internationals and nothing more. No foreign tests, one dayers or 20/20. No country cricket of any flavour. Certainly no foreign domestic cricket.

I happen to think that this is an absolute disgrace, for reasons ideological, sporting, quaint and selfish. But, most of all, I think it's bad for cricket. Was 2009 the proof of the public's fading awareness of, and affection, cricket? Perhaps, perhaps not.

But at the very least there would have been several million more viewers, and more public awareness. Perhaps then there would have been more coverage, more buzz and more excitement.

Either way there would have been less Bob Willis

• Image by mailliw via Creative Commons

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