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Lawrence Booth: Would a draw be so bad?

August 19th, 2009 by Lawrence Booth in Australia, England, Test cricket, The Ashes

I’ll probably get blogged to within a pixel of my cyber-life for saying this, but would 1-1 really be such a bad result for England? I realise this rings semi-treasonous on the eve of the Most Important Game Ever, but it was only a few months ago that England were losing a Test series in the Caribbean of all places. Before that, they lost in Sri Lanka and at home to South Africa. Australia, for all their frailties, remain No1 in the world. Last time out, they beat England 5-0. So I’ll ask it again: would 1-1 really be so bad?

Ashes rules leave room for only one answer: in the case of a draw, the urn – or at least its metaphorical cousin: the real urn remains imperiously in the Lord’s museum – stays with the team in possession. In the column in Wisden that uses an upper-case E or A to denote which side has ownership, a draw at The Oval would make it 10 As out of 11. I’ll grant you, it wouldn’t look good (an England win, by contrast, would make it two Es out of three: all the English want is for Australia to give them a decent game!).

But for those who believe, controversially, that other cricket takes place outside the Ashes cycle (two series every four years), there may be more at stake. Not for the first time, England are slowly rebuilding, even if the injury to Kevin Pietersen is a reminder that for every two bricks mortared on, another can fall off. They improved in the Caribbean after 51 all out, then brushed West Indies aside at home. Hell, they even lead Australia into the fourth Test of an Ashes series for the first time in 23 years.

If they lose this series through playing more reckless cricket than they would in any other situation, they will have lost their last three main home series after going down to India in 2007 and South Africa last summer. For a side that lost only one home series in seven years under Duncan Fletcher – to Australia in 2001 – that would represent progress of the most perverse kind. And it would set England up for a miserable winter in South Africa.

The counter-argument has its merits: go all out for the win and cricket in this country will rise from the inside pages once more. But it does not totally convince. Did the face of cricket change for ever when England won a far more exciting and high-quality series in 2005? Briefly, yes. But the country quickly slipped back into football-worship. Our national tendency to draw grand conclusions should not be under-estimated.

The question of whether England are actually capable of beating Australia with a middle-order of Ian Bell (out of his comfort zone at No3), Jonathan Trott (has a debutant ever gone in beyond the deep end?) and Paul Collingwood (apparently neutered by Pietersen’s absence) seems almost incidental. Once more, the nation is placing its faith in a hobbling all-rounder and throwing itself on the mercy of the sporting gods. That, of course, is the British way (followed by tears and recriminations).

But we could spare ourselves the heartache. Be positive, sure, but don’t be reckless. And be content with a draw against a side containing more potential match-winners. This may not fit with the all-or-nothing spirit of the age, but it’s honourable enough in its own, quiet way. If, on Monday evening, Graham Onions comes in at No11 needing to hit the last ball for four to bring back the Ashes, cross your fingers for him. Go doolally if he succeeds. But don’t be too disappointed if he plays, misses, and survives.

Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Guardian

Posted in Australia, England, Test cricket, The Ashes |

3 Responses to “Lawrence Booth: Would a draw be so bad?”

  1.   D Charlton says:

    Typical English attitude - being so bloody negative. It’s the taking part that counts blah, blah.

    Call me greedy but I want the Urn and anything else is failure. I don’t care about recent records, relative team rankings etc etc. The Urn is all that matters.

    1-1 might as well be 5-0.

  2.   Paddy Briggs says:

    Of course we have to say that the means justify the end and the result is everything. But you are right Lawrence – assuming that it is a Test match which does the full length with no or insignificant weather breaks. If England come away from The Oval with a hard fought draw – which of course means that the team, will have performed pretty well over 5 days – I for one would settle for that.

    Headingley was a three day Test which is England had bowled better would have been a two day Test. And it doesn’t come more woeful than that! To pick ourselves up and fight hard over 5 days against a good and underrated Aussie side would be a “result”. Obviously to piss all over the Aussies and win and regain The Ashes would be better. But is it going to happen. Doubtful!

  3.   Steve says:

    Getting a draw is one thing.
    Playing for it is another.
    Teams who play for Draws suck.

    Which is probably why England never get higher than no. 5.

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