The Daily Telegraph - Business : 2020-07-22

Sport | Cricket : 16 : 8

Sport | Cricket

8 The Daily Telegraph Wednesday 22 July 2020 ** Sport Cricket Michael Vaughan are on their way in or out of the team. In terms of managing someone such as Stokes, the job is simple: you do not do anything. You are just very fortunate to have a cricketer who is driving the team forward. I had it for a few years when Andrew Flintoff was in his prime. You are so lucky as a captain to have a player such as Stokes who delivers in training, with the ball, with the bat, in the field, in the dressing room and with the way he talks. All you have to do is make sure his body does not snap in half. He has so many niggles and goes off so many times you worry that his body has fallen apart. Great all-rounders have a habit of knowing how to keep the attention on themselves. They are that kind of personalit­y. They love it. This week all the talk will be about whether Stokes will be fit enough to bowl. He will be happy with that attention because he knows he can deliver. There are only a few who can do that. I just wonder whether he was helped this week by there being no crowd. In that first innings when he strolled out three down, normally the ovation would have been huge. Would he still have been patient enough to leave the ball time and again with a sell-out crowd behind him? Would his emotions have taken over and would he have played the big shot? I always used to think when Flintoff walked out to bat, “How do you play when you know you can smack a ball for six whenever you want and the crowd is expecting you to do so? How can you play with all that noise?” But Ben has such composure; he knows how to play each situation. That is what makes him such a fine batsman. Most of our great all-rounders, such as Sir Ian Botham and Flintoff, batted from gear three to six. Very rarely did Stokes is the best in the world and a true leader B en Stokes is the best cricketer in the world. There are some great batsmen and bowlers around. Pat Cummins is very special. But if you were to select a team to play in any format, then Stokes would be your No1 pick. No question. Joe Root is the captain, but Stokes is leading this England team in so many ways. A lot is made of captaincy, but it is a job that becomes more important during the dark times when the side are in need of a leader; then you have to galvanise individual­s and manmanage lesser players or those who Simon Heffer without too many contrivanc­es to try to obtain a result must be preferable to the alternativ­e. As it was, so much play was lost at Old Trafford that it took Ben Stokes’s pyrotechni­c performanc­e in England’s second innings to enable a declaratio­n in time to allow them to bowl the visitors out. Had the match lasted four days, a result would have been impossible. However, before we get too smug, we should recall that the reasons why the call went up in the first place for four-day matches have not been addressed. Apart from in Australia, England and India, crowds for Test cricket are usually dismal. This is not least because of the marginalis­ing of first-class cricket around the world, and the failure to market it and capture public interest for the red-ball game. Tickets for Test matches are enormously expensive, which has driven away support among young people and from the less well off. Short-format cricket has taken over and is increasing­ly given scheduling priority over the first-class game. One of the reasons to reduce the amount of time spent playing Tests was to increase the amount available for the lucrative white-ball formats. Also, it has become apparent that many Test players play so little first-class cricket that they cannot adapt from the one-day format, so batsmen in particular struggle to build a big innings. Therefore matches end much more quickly than they used to. In 2014, 66 per cent of Tests ended on a fifth day; by 2019 it was just 33 per cent. It was not least because so many matches in recent years had finished within four days, even allowing for weather interrupti­ons, that the debate started in the first place. Dom Sibley’s century at Old Trafford showed the skill is still there for batsmen to hold a side together, Boycott-like, but it requires concentrat­ion; Stokes can play any sort of game he is asked to, but he is not usual. Test cricket is a very special game, and the obsession with the one-day match is killing it. Five-day Tests here to stay, but special game cannot rest easy W ith the first two Test matches between England and West Indies going well into a fifth day – albeit down to interrupti­ons by the weather – the arguments about cutting the standard duration of the game to four days from 2023 would appear to be over. This must be good. The whole point of Test cricket is to establish once and for all which of two sides are the better, and a game played

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