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Sam Collins: Five Ashes Tests shows more can be more

August 27th, 2009 by Sam Collins in England, Test cricket, The Ashes

Over the last five weeks we have watched five episodes of fluctuating fortune, five Tests full of debacles, despair and destruction, with the odd personal triumph and victory thrown in to cheer us up and keep us interested.

To most British fans, the long Test series is as part of cricket as Test cricket itself. It gives the narrative space to unfold, pressure the chance to exert itself, class the time to come good and character the opportunity to out. Ricky Ponting’s explosion on being run out at Trent Bridge in 2005 is a perfect example, a reaction that would not have taken place in a shorter series.

Yet in the modern game, it is the length of the Ashes series as much as the depth of the rivalry that sets it apart. It is the only current Test series to be afforded five Tests, (ignoring Antiguan sand mishaps) with a crammed calendar much more suited to two or three Test rubbers. 54 of the 64 series since the 2005 Ashes have been three Tests or less.

Even the five Tests of the current Ashes was a squeeze. The 2009 Ashes from first ball to last was all over in 47 days. The 1997 version, albeit with one more Test, lasted 80. The 2001 series saw a reduction from six Tests to five and the arrival of back-to-back Tests, yet still lasted a week longer than 2009.

Aside from the stress that back-to-back Tests place on bowler’s bodies, the tight schedule and lack of recovery time between games can also cause problems. For Australia, a side-strain that would have kept Brett Lee out of a couple of Tests back in 1997 caused him to miss the entire series. The same happened last English summer when Dale Steyn missed the last two back-to-back Tests with a broken thumb. For England, Andrew Flintoff managed four Tests in 2009 to add to three in 2008 but was reduced to a shadow by a relentless schedule. All three are box-office and the spectacle was considerably weaker for their absences.

Still, perhaps we should be happy with what we have. At least the Ashes remains five Tests (six if the Aussies get their way in 2010/11). We English are spoilt by a history of long Test series in our summer, but the truth is that barely anyone else has time for them, least of all the ICC, who are desperate to streamline all series to validate their Test rankings. When South Africa, currently ranked No.1 in the world, toured here in 2003 we played five Tests, in 2008 it was four and when they return in 2012 it is scheduled to be just three, the same number as West Indies.

If three Test series are to be the way forward then the ICC needs to examine some possible alterations. The three Test showdowns between Australia and South Africa earlier this year were billed as the pinnacle of the game, yet slow starts by the hosts rendered the final Test meaningless in both series. One six Test series featuring home and away legs would have sustained public interest and provided a much more credible barometer as to who was actually the better side.

We saw something similar when England played four (or five) Tests in the West Indies this winter and then entertained them for an essentially meaningless two Test series at home just a month later. If those two rubbers had been one series, West Indies would have produced result pitches at home, knowing that they would most likely struggle in the early-season conditions in England. As it was, they produced benign pitches and sat on a 1-0 lead for three Tests, while in England the contest was such a farce that even the West Indian players could hardly be bothered to watch.

In these days of packed schedules it may seem a strange argument but these Ashes served as a reminder that sometimes more can actually be more.

Sam Collins is website editor of

Posted in England, Test cricket, The Ashes | 1 Comment »

One Response to “Sam Collins: Five Ashes Tests shows more can be more”

  1.   SL Larkins says:

    I’m puzzled that the ICC think standard size series are important for the rankings; surely it is possible to divide the points by the number of Tests?

    Personally, I’d like the big cricket countries to play 5 match series with each other.
    Though when it comes to the Ashes, I agree with Lily Allen, it should be “seven or nine Test matches, all-out war all summer”. Lovely!

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