Is cricket is a world game ? If we consider the number of countries that play test cricket(10), then surely it is noway near a world game. if we start counting in the associate (37) and other affiliate members (60) of the International Cricket Council (ICC), cricket can boast of a wider reach. But still, it is a stretch if we go by the numbers. People who are calling cricket a world game are from the cricket playing nations and even not all of them regard cricket as their first choice sport. But in sports it should never be a case of either or. You can love and follow any number of sports if you have the interest and more importantly the time for it. So irrespective of the stature of the game on the world map and its appeal to nations far and wide, cricket is important to us.
Every sport is characterized by some celebrated rivalries carrying a weight of history. In Football, these rivalries are primarily between clubs playing in domestic leagues. Be it in Europe, Asia, or Latin America, every league has some marquee contests for the fans to look forward to. Often the biggest of these matches are between teams from the same cities (local derbies). In cricket too, there are some interesting domestic match ups of great tradition and rivalry. But cricket being this game of nation against nation, its greatest duel is quite naturally between the two teams who started playing it. England and Australia.
We often hear or read about which is the biggest rivalry in world cricket and the only real competition for the Ashes in this battle is the nameless India Pakistan contest. Yes, that’s right, India and Pakistan may play one series as Samsung cup and the next as Pepsi series. But England and Australia always play for the Ashes. They have been doing it from as far back as 1882, five years after the first ever test match between the same countries. The legend of the ashes urn gives the contest the much needed context. Decades and centuries have gone by, legendary players have come and gone. They all helped to add to the aura.
When comparisons are made between the Ashes and the India Pakistan cricket, people often tend to conveniently call one better and bigger than the other depending on which series is the impending one. But one thing that goes for the Ashes is it’s fixed calendar. Every 4 years, they will be played on both English and Australian shores once, whereas India and Pakistan play cricket depending on what is happening in our political fronts. cricket is often used as a tool to prove a point. Sometimes as a diplomatic means to show friendship by playing and most other times as an expression of eroding relationships by not playing.
Another aspect to be taken into consideration is the support for test cricket in these nations. In both England and Australia, they play their summer season test matches every year. This has been one of the strong reasons behind these countries being able to sustain a cricket culture that places the premier format of the game on a pedestal. For long, India don’t have a fixed home leg in a cricket season. For Pakistan, international cricket has been deported from their land for a while now. Before that too, test cricket has never been that appetizing for fans over there. In his book, ‘Pundits from Pakistan’, author Rahul Bhattacharya points out this partial treatment from the fans towards the longer format. They flocked in many a thousand for the ODIs and then after that just didn’t care about the test matches that followed. In fact, it was India’s first visit to Pakistan for a full tour after 15 long years. So the occasion was certainly not lacking in magnitude.
So now, I think I have clearly conveyed where my loyalties lie in this debate of cricketing rivalries. As an Indian, I often think, what is the one thing that helped me appreciate the enormity and importance of an Ashes series. It has to be ‘2005’. That series had it all. Pace, seam, swing, spin, attack, counter attack, blunders, abuses, rain, draws and all. With every passing day, we knew then itself that it was reaching epic proportions. Under Michael Vaughan’s captaincy, England regained the urn after 18 years, inspired by Andrew Flintoff’s tour de force. Shane Warne came into the series as a legend and left it as a gladiator. Before that too, I used to watch the Ashes, but 2005 gave me a new perspective. I came to know that this is not just another series. And now after an Australian whitewash in 2006-07 and two English wins in 2009 and 2010-11, the services resume. The onus is on the Aussies to regain the coveted prize and also thereby regain their lost pride in world cricket. England do start as strong favourites with a balanced and experienced side and it would be a surprise if they don’t win this and the brought forward series in Australia later this year.
Australia under new coach Darren Lehmann and their talismanic captain Michael Clarke are trying to start a new chapter in their history. For England, Alastair Cook is nicely warming up to the captaincy and he is batting the best in his life. A lot will depend on Kevin Pietersen because he is the one player who could swing a game’s flow very quickly. Bowling is the most bankable one in the world with James Anderson and Graeme Swann leading the pack. Australia do have an array of sharp fast bowlers, and they could trouble the English on any given day. It is the fragile batting order that would concern Clarke going into the series.
If both teams get their act together, we could be in for some thrilling cricket within the next two months. May be it can be said that this series doesn’t showcase the kind of star players it did in the past, but still it’s the Ashes, where legends are unearthed. We will all be glued to it, that’s for sure.