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John Stern: “Just look at his face”

October 21st, 2008 by John Stern in Australia in India, Test cricket

There’s a piece of iconic 1970s football commentary from Barry Davies in which he describes a goal by Frannie Lee with the words: “Look at his face, just look at his face.”

Being the sad anorak that I am, I often quote that line back to myself – or to others depending on the company – at opportune moments. The Mohali Test was one such occasion. There were two delicious ‘look at his face’ moments.

Firstly, Ricky Ponting, utterly defeated by Ishant Sharma in the second innings. It would have been better in the pre-helmet days when there was nowhere to hide for the batsman. Ponting bowed his head and trudged off, a truly great player, the best batsman in the world, beaten with no cause for excuse or complaint. The peak of his helmet covered his eyes but you could still make out the increasingly worn features – isn’t Punter starting to look a bit old – and the non-plussed expression.

Then we got a proper view of the bulldog chewing a wasp when Cameron White did a Scott Boswell and bowled that extraordinary double wide which disappeared to the long-leg boundary.

It was a look on Ponting’s face that hasn’t been seen since Trent Bridge 2005 and, excuse me for getting a bit parochial here, it was … fantastic.

There’s a lot not to like about Indian cricket – the exceptional self-regard (from Lalit Modi downwards), the galactico obsession, Ganguly circa 2001-02 – but this was Trafalgar Square stuff. And for peeved Poms who are just starting to come out from behind the sofa after 2006-07 this was a great shaft of light from the heavens.

So Sir Allen Stanford: stick that in your off-shore bank account and invest it. That’s proper cricket played by proper players. Bangalore might have been a bit boring but Mohali was magical. And let’s not forget Chittagong – a tremendous few days for Test cricket.

But for all that, the stadium in Mohali was never full, not even close (I didn’t see footage from Chittagong but I’ll take a stab in the dark there might have been some empty seats). Saturday and Sunday were key days for this momentous Test yet the crowd was sparse. It’s depressing because frankly if you can’t fill a ground in India for a Test against Australia which the home side have dominated pretty much from start to finish then I don’t know what the future holds (see Stephen Brenkley’s feature in the current issue of TWC).

To an extent it was ever thus and the reality is that ODIs and Twenty20 subsidise Test cricket. They will continue to do so for the foreseeable future because everyone knows that even though Tests don’t fill the grounds everywhere, they remain the benchmark of credibility for players, teams and the game itself. There are signs this may be changing but in 30-odd years of one-day cricket no player has become a truly global star on the back of limited-overs success alone. Michael Bevan was a famous player, lauded for his unique abilities but never entered the pantheon.

But what I fear is that over time, players may see Test cricket as a necessary evil, a rite of passage to be endured to gain the credibility points that open the doors to Lalit Modi’s cash vault, rather than the pinnacle in itself.
John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in Australia in India, Test cricket |

3 Responses to “John Stern: “Just look at his face””

  1.   D Charlton says:

    Sharma bowling Ponting was up there with Flintoff’s over against Ponting at Edgbaston in 2005 - brilliant cricket.

    Cricket does sometimes win, despite Modi, Stanford, Clarke’s efforts to make money the winner.

  2.   India beat Australia.. by 320 runs « says:

    [...] time Australia lost by 320 runs? When was the last time they (and Ponting in particular) looked so disconsolate? Where do they go from here (apart from Dehli, [...]

  3.   Homer says:


    I think this whole “bums in the seats as an indictment for cricket” argument is applicable only in Australia and England. In India, bums on the seats has never been a criterion for the game’s popularity.

    If you want to gauge Test Cricket’s popularity in India, I will give you another criterion to hang your hat on

    “It is learnt that Neo Sports, which holds the broadcast rights and will benefit the most, have increased the target of revenue from Rs 114 crore, by ten crore, to Rs 124 crore with eight leading companies as sponsors.

    It is also learnt that the official broadcasters are confident of breaking all previous ratings record for the ongoing series from the highest average 3.70 (at peak 9.71) in the 2004 series to 4.00 or 4.25 with a peak of 11 plus, the source added.

    The title rights for the series believed to have fetched a whooping Rs 50 lakh per match for the main sponsor while Rs 15 to Rs 20 lakh from the associate sponsors. ”

    And one other thing, Mohali never sold out during the IPL till around the second half ( or may be three quarters) of the tournament ( after it had really captured the imagination of the population).


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