This article comes with a warning instead of an introduction. People might be offended by this post. If you are the kind of person who won’t stand to hear anything remotely negative said about Test cricket – a fairly admirable trait – then this probably isn’t for you. Read something else instead: the England Ladder for example, or the ratings of the Black Caps following their home series against England.
Okay, here we go.
Is anyone else distinctly underwhelmed by the upcoming series against New Zealand? I for one, am not excited. Usually by the time the first Test of the summer comes around I’m jiggling in anticipation like wind-up chattering teeth in an earthquake. Hopefully by next Thursday the sun will have returned, Lord’s will look resplendent and the sounds of Soul Limbo introducing Aggers and Co. shortly before 11am will turn around my attitude. But for now, nothing. Zilch.
It’s not that long since the last tour finished. As gripping as its finale was, it won’t be remembered as a classic series. There aren’t many personal battles that are unresolved. The mainstream media have hardly touched the series and even the cricketing media seems obsessed with the Ashes instead.
Meanwhile, the County Championship has roared into life; it has been a great start, the weather hasn’t ruined many games yet and there have been several close matches, augmented by the hilarious japes of Saj Mahmood. Joy, but it means that the cricket fan isn’t yet crying out for the jazz of a Test series. And calling two matches a series is a bit of a fallacy in itself – there is a good chance that by the end of the second Test at Leeds everyone feels a little bit short-changed.
A third reason for the unusual lack of enthusiasm derives from the squad that England have named. I’m not disagreeing with the selections – the team virtually picks itself once fitness is proven. Maybe we just miss the halcyon days when the selectors would pick names out of a hat. Wouldn’t we all have been a wee bit more excited if Toby Roland-Jones had been picked? Or Michael Carberry perhaps. No doubt though that Liam Plunkett was checking the pages of Ceefax holding his breath to see if he’d been remembered by Geoff Miller.
However, thinking about it, there are some points of interest and reason to at least get a bit more impassioned. Graeme Swann and Tim Bresnan have apparently made a full return to fitness after their elbow surgery, but will they be fully unencumbered (although Bresnan is probably 12th Man-designate)? You wouldn’t expect Swann to have to bowl marathon spells, but he’s not exactly had much match time so far.
Then there’s also the inexperienced trio of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Nick Compton. All will play, all have scored heavily so far this season, but will they continue their form in the Tests? It is Bairstow who would be most likely to be dropped once Kevin Pietersen returns, but an inaugural Test hundred would help his longer-term cause greatly.
And the tourists? They too aren’t a squad likely to clear bars and force the television audience to be stapled to their sofas. But Hamish Rutherford scored a fine century against the Lions and obviously scored a magnificent ton at Dunedin. Will Peter Fulton be as simultaneously bad but impossible to dismiss as he was in Auckland? Which combination of bowlers will they pick? Will Ross Taylor remember how to hold a bat?
Most importantly, the Test series will give us further cause to ignore the IPL. And ultimately, isn’t that the whole point of this thing called life?