x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Two Tests left and nothing to play for? Time to take Ashes on a different spin

A dead rubber is not an enticing prospect by any definition. Yet the Ashes series now has a pair to sell to the viewing public, starting on Friday at Chester-le-Street.

Will Batchelor has ideas on how to keep cricket fans interested in the remaining two Tests.
Will Batchelor has ideas on how to keep cricket fans interested in the remaining two Tests.

"Dead rubber". Such an ugly phrase, don't you think?

At best, it conjures images of a wilting potted plant. At worst ... well, let's not go there.

The point is that a dead rubber is not an enticing prospect by any definition. Yet the Ashes series now has a pair to sell to the viewing public, starting today at Chester-le-Street.

Hardcore cricket fans will not mind too much, of course. Their lofty minds measure the ebb and flow of pleasure across decades, not days.

But what about the casual fans, perhaps those who became hooked following the giddy rush of the knife-edge Ashes series of 2005?

How can such thrill-seeking gadflies be expected to sit through 10 days of effectively meaningless sport? Where are the thrills, the spills, the LOLZ?

Sure, the England fans may take some small pleasure in gloating over the vanquished Australians, but how long before that joke gets old? Eight days? Nine, maximum.

Now is the time for the International Cricket Council to take action. Shake things up a little. One obvious idea is to tweak the rules.

As a child, my summer holidays were spent playing "tippit-and-run", in which even the slightest contact between bat and ball required you to make at least one run. For catching-out, the "one-bounce, one-hand" law applied.

Then there is the equipment.

Test grounds love to sell those foot-long novelty bats. We often see players signing them, but could they use one to loft an inswinger for six?

And while we are taking inspiration from the fans, how about players dressing up, too? The Aussies could don their traditional costume of khaki shorts, blue singlet and a dangly cork hat, while the England players could reflect their own national heritage.

It would be entirely up to them, of course, whether to choose the animal skins and feathers of the indigenous Zulu tribes or the 18th century stylings of Boer settlers.

Let's not make this political.

Then there is the sledging. Casual fans love to hear tales of caustic "banter" flying around the wicket, but must normally wait at least five years to hear the details via autobiographies or after-dinner speakers.

That is too slow.

Time to mic up all the players so we can enjoy the zingers in real time. Note: if cricketers turn out not to be as funny as they claim, I suggest each team is allowed to employ one professional comedian as 12th man, feeding lines to teammates via text message.

Speaking of teams, is it really necessary to stick so rigidly to a them-and-us mentality? Switching around a couple of players from either side could offer a whole new dynamic.

If it is good enough for The Apprentice, surely it is good enough for a bit of bat-ball?

Finally - and I accept this is controversial - the ICC could really layer on the tension by introducing random elements.

Perhaps some sort of bizarre computer system which insists players are out when they are not, and vice versa.

You know, something to undermine the umpires, upset players and enrage viewers, a multimillion pound piece of kit that can be fooled by a smear of Vaseline or strip of tape.

No, you are right. That would just be silly.

 

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