PAUL NEWMAN: Observers outside cricket could be forgiven for thinking only the Hundred could save the sport… but the world-class display of Test cricket from The Oval showed the longest format is still the best
- The climax of the fourth Test was as good as cricket gets in any format and level
- A diverse, vibrant crowd packed the Harleyford Road stand on a working day
- It came without the need for the millions spent on marketing for the Hundred
- Test cricket will continue to be both the biggest and best quality form of cricket
It was as good as cricket gets. Any format at any level. To spend a glorious September Monday along with a full house at the magnificently redeveloped Kia Oval watching the climax of the fourth Test was a timely reminder of just how much the great old game has going for it.
Truly, there have been times this season when observers outside the sport could be forgiven for thinking cricket was dying on its feet, and that only the Hundred could save it.
But here, on a working and school day, was a diverse, vibrant crowd including a large contingent of India fans who provided echoes of the fabled scenes in Kennington in 1976 when West Indies supporters packed the Harleyford Road stand.
The climax of the fourth Test between England and India was as good as cricket gets in any format and level
And they came without the need for the millions spent on marketing and promoting that the new format has enjoyed. Funnily enough, every ball counted in the Test, too.
The near 150,000 who came through the Oval gates across the five days were treated to a world-class display of Test cricket, which has fought back wonderfully this season against the perennially premature reports of its demise with a classic series between England and India. Crisis, what crisis?
It is no surprise it was Surrey who put on a show in south London that should serve as a template for how cricket should do it, because England’s biggest county continue to get so many things right.
Not least the impressive new Galadari Stand which Surrey gambled on completing during the pandemic that has now taken capacity close to 28,000.
‘I’ve never seen the Oval look as good as it did on Monday,’ said Surrey’s progressive chairman Richard Thompson, who has seen membership double to 14,500 in his 10 years at the helm.
A diverse, vibrant crowd including a large contingent of India fans packed the Harleyford Road stand on a working day
‘That Test had everything — well, apart from a dream England win — and was a reminder of how great a game cricket is. There was virtually no marketing spend on it either but we sold out, including the fifth day, months ago.’
Now, as Surrey plan to replicate the new stand on the other side of the pavilion to try to satisfy demand for matches at the Oval, the Test show moves on to Old Trafford on Friday, where another big crowd at another enlarged ground will see the climax of this wonderful series.
And Test cricket will continue to be both the biggest, most lucrative and best quality form of English cricket.
The game’s Hundred-obsessed rulers and broadcasters underestimate its importance at their peril.
The sun has been shining but far too many wickets have been tumbling in the current round of County Championship matches for the health of the English game.
It shows the damage that continues to be done by having red-ball games too early and too late in the season.
But above all it proves that too many of our county pitches are not fit for purpose, either in providing top-quality cricket or, most importantly, producing England players.
Next year it simply has to change — along with a return to two divisions with promotion and relegation instead of a conference system where only Division One matters.
Far too many wickets have been tumbling in the current round of the County Championship
The clock is ticking and still Yorkshire’s report into allegations of institutionalised racism is unpublished. It remains unseen by the ECB, too, despite chairman Ian Watmore’s demand to receive a copy.
Meanwhile, at least one famous old player is said to have lawyers at the ready in case he is implicated by Azeem Rafiq’s damning allegations.
It is a mess, but it is not going away. Yorkshire have to do the right thing. And quickly. They have had long enough.
The clock is ticking and Yorkshire’s report into Azeem Rafiq’s allegations remains unpublished
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