Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why Bill Frindall is turning in his grave

Cricket lovers around the world have always eagerly awaited the appearance of “The Wisden Book of Test Cricket” which records in detail the facts and figures of every Test match played and all the associated statistics. It was in many ways the doyen of cricket statisticians Bill Frindall’s greatest achievement. Bill sadly died a little over a year ago and the latest volume of the book’s, dealing with Test matches played in the first decade of the 21st Century, has been edited by Steven Lynch. In his brief preface Lynch makes an appropriate acknowledgment of Bill Frindall and says that the new volume is “…decided to his memory” and he hopes that “…I have managed to produce a book of which he would approve” – a forlorn hope I’m afraid Mr Lynch.

Bill Frindall would be turning in his grave if he spied page 259 of the book on which the so-called “Super Test” between Australia and an “ICC World XI” is recorded as if it was a proper Test match – which Bill Frindall and all others who really care about cricket statistics and records know that it was not. Bill summarised his views unequivocally in the 2006 Playfair annual which he edited “…simple logic dictates that “international” records should be exactly that – “contests between nations”” – as the International Cricket Council’s regulations had properly stated for decades. Wisden’s rationale for including the match is that it accepts the “…governing body’s right to rule on its status”. This is arrant nonsense of course – if those who are experts on cricket statistics, Bill Frindall and all other respectable cricket historians included, know and can prove that the match wasn’t a proper Test match then that is the end of the matter – whatever the ignorant apparatchiks of the ICC might say!

The ICC should simply admit a mistake and remove Test status from this match which was “…a game bordering on the farcical.” (Frindall again). There is a precedent – the games in the 1970 international five match series between England and a “Rest of the World” side were deemed as authentic Test matches at the time but the ICC swiftly revised its view and in 1972 declared that the matches were unofficial – i.e. that the performances would not count in official Test match records. They subsequently confirmed that only matches between the national representative teams of countries which have "Test status" can be official Test matches. There was no equivocation on this ruling – Test matches are only played between countries (including the West Indies as a surrogate country for cricket purposes). One collateral effect of the ruling was that Test cricket records had to expunge the Rest of the World 1970 series – the principal casualty of this ruling was the Glamorgan batsman Alan Jones who played for England in one of the matches but now lost his status as a Test player. Another was Derek Underwood who would have taken 304 rather than 297 Test wickets if the 1970 matches had been deemed official. Geoff Boycott would have scored 23 not 22 Test centuries and Garry Sobers would have had 588 more Test runs (and two more centuries) to his name.

Alan Jones has understandably always regretted losing his Test match, and Underwood is disappointed that he is not a member of the 300+ Test wickets club, but one suspects that even they would reluctantly accept the logic of the ICC’s then ruling. If the 2005 “Super Test” is similarly retrospectively declared not to have Test match status the implications for the records of the participants are not so severe. Shane Warne would still have 700 Test wickets (just – he would go from 708 to exactly 700!) and Matt Hayden would have to be satisfied with 29 not 30 Test centuries. Those who argue that the participants in the “Super Test” thought that they were playing in an official Test match – for so it had been billed – have a point. But the participants in the 1970 series thought the same – it was also billed and marketed as Test cricket.

Test cricket is, according to some pessimistic observers, under threat from the burgeoning of Twenty20 around the cricket world. But one thing that Test cricket has which any other from of the game lacks is historical resonance. Between March 1877 and August 2009 no less than 1931 proper inter-national Test matches were played - as Wisden’s newly updated Test match records books splendidly record in easily readable detail. By any logic the “Super Test” has no right to be accorded the same status as these 1931 real Test matches and it shouldn’t be there. Time for the ICC to act.

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