Well, someone has to do it. Because the British media are in triumphal mood and the Australian media are in lynching mood. Both sets of commentators are indulging in an orgy of ageism. Perspective is lacking. A pound of flesh demanded.
Up in Dressing Room 7, where the old timers meet to judge a day’s play over a glass of shandy-ga, they are far more forgiving, for many have batted in similar conditions to those faced by Australia’s batsman on the first morning of the fourth Test played in the field behind the Trent Bridge Inn. And captains have famously declared ‘behind’ in order to get at the opposition in such conditions.
As this interesting preview of the Fourth Test in the Telegraph written in July by Alan Tyers reminds readers, Nottinghamshire had their knuckles severely wrapped by the ICCin the shape of a formal warning for their wicket in 2014. Since then the square has been re-laid.
So, this Test match is played on a new wicket, in its first season. Hum.
Mr Tyers also reminds readers of alterations to both the ground layout – a new Radcliffe Rd End stand in 1998, the Fox Road stand in 2002 and the New Stand in 2008 which taken together have resulted in reducing air disturbances across the wicket – and to the outfield where a base of sand allows heavy watering of the turf which causes greater humidity. These consequences – greater humidity and stiller air over the wicket – have combined to increase the occurrence of ideal conditions for late swing (as the ball enters the denser undisturbed humid layer of air just above the pitch surface).
Thus, might followers better comprehend this extraordinary tweet from the ever juvenile @derekpringle on the 31st July, “Definitely get the hosepipes off Trent Bridge now that Jimmy Anderson has been ruled out with a side strain”.
However, it would need more than a ‘hosepipe ban’ to halt the passage of events already set in motion by then. Nature has its own hosepipes at work in this damp and overcast British summer.
“Same for both sides,” is your reply.
Indeed, batsmen from both sides must have looked with some fear and much trepidation at the virginal day-glow wicket they found when they arrived on Tuesday. Perhaps England’s Millennials may, like puppies, have relished a frolic in these fresh conditions, but the more experienced would more likely have sucked through their teeth and whistled in preparation of digging in under their helmets.
The same for both sides? The toss would be significant, and nature and the officials were yet to play their part. It would be well soaked grass-covered earth that provides a challenge even greater than that of the ideal swing conditions.
Australia padded up. Between the toss and the scheduled start of play, the heavens opened. The scribes at CricInfo thought it a “sprinkling of rain”. Thankfully there is Tom Kingham to bear witness. He corrects them. “Raining quite hard” he contradicts them. Spectators scurry for cover in the cold and damp. To Australian eyes, watching from archways or beneath umbrellas, the groundstaff seem to take an age getting on the covers. The wicket is drenched anew and unfit for play.
And then it’s entertainment and the need to satisfy the paying public. And it is umpires somehow oblivious to the conditions or the effect of a heavy shower on an already damp surface who determine that play will start with just a 5 minute delay. And the covers, so gradual in their placement, will be removed forthwith just ten minutes before the rescheduled starting time. And Geoffrey Boycott will have his dream come true; modern batsmen playing on (effectively) an uncovered wicket. And the ball will talk and have its say. And the bowlers will grin and disbelieve their luck. And this is not fair. Simply not fair. Nor is it fair to accuse batsmen of cowardice or incompetence, and to condemn them in a single breathe.
Batting was difficult after the second hour, but before it was simply impossible. Put straightforwardly, play should not have begun until the wicket had had time to dry.
They are angry in Dressing Room 7. There they have faced these conditions. Or have relished bowling on them. They know the rewards for the effort of digging it in and seeing the ball fizz as if it has grown wings and is flying like the spitting wind, all whizz and lift that’s sheer.
And batsmen know that Shakespeare was a bowler, for who other than a bowler could conclude that “The quality of mercy is not strain’d”, that “It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath.” Or believe that “It is twice blest”: blessing “ him that gives and him that takes.”