WRITING as one who has recently penned a biography of Fred Trueman, you may not be surprised to learn that I am no fan of England’s rotation policy.
Indeed, during the course of researching the book, I was often staggered at the stamina shown by Trueman and those with whom he shared the cricketing stage of the Fifties and Sixties.
In each of the four English seasons from 1959 to 1962 inclusive, Trueman bowled more than 1,000 overs.
In the entire calendar year from October 1, 2010 to October 1, 2011, including all cricket and incorporating an Ashes tour, James Anderson bowled 774.1 overs, Graeme Swann 726, Stuart Broad 615.2 and Tim Bresnan 550.1 – a stark comparison, injuries notwithstanding.
Of course, cricket has changed enormously since Trueman’s time.
For a start, there are fewer first-class games now and more one-day matches.
However, the biggest change has been the commercialisation of sport and consequent shift towards what might be termed greater professionalism.
Cricket for the benefit of the public has become secondary to business considerations and what might be termed a win-at-all-costs mentality.
I have no doubt, for example, that central contracts have played a big part in England’s rise to Test No1 and to the status of World Twenty20 champions, but at what price?
The answer is surely the gradual erosion of county cricket as top players turn out less for their clubs, which has been to the detriment of the paying spectator, who must now accept international rotation as a fait accompli.
Everything exists for the benefit of Team England because Team England is the cash cow.
Counties, heavily reliant on handouts from the England and Wales Cricket Board, which needs a successful England team to generate income, are largely subservient, bending their knees to the hand that feeds them.
And, as everyone knows, it is the procurement of readies, rather than the pursuit of recreation in its purest sense, that is the be-all and end-all of contemporary sport.
Recreation for recreation’s sake is an outmoded concept, as anachronistic now as the hansom cab.
Of course, there is no turning back, and England team director Andy Flower can justifiably protest that his policy of rotating bowlers, such as Bresnan for the recent one-day international against the West Indies at Headingley, is sensible because it means Bresnan will theoretically be fresher for more important and financially rewarding fixtures – ie, the forthcoming South Africa Test series.
Equally, Flower and every cricket coach across the land can justifiably claim that a key part of producing winning/financially successful teams is to ensure that players are in tip-top physical condition, which, in turn, justifies the constant conveyor belt of practice and training.
Indeed, when people complain about heavy schedules, it amuses me that they often totally overlook the exertion expended in exercise drills.
The international and domestic schedule is indeed congested, but one has only to look at the amount of training that goes on before games to see that professionalism – as an inevitable consequence of commercialism – has gone mad, even though there have been obvious benefits in terms of improved fielding, whereas Trueman might once have thrust out a weary leg on the boundary to try to stop the ball.
As an admittedly crude comparison, however, I do not warm up for a match report by tapping out “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” for an hour; I just get on and type.
Similarly, the best way to learn about batting and bowling is surely to bat and bowl in competitive games – another outmoded concept, or so it seems.
Although no-one is seriously suggesting that you should just rock up and play, or that training methods were perfect in Trueman’s day when the pre-match warm-up might have consisted of smoking a pipe and twirling one’s arms, it has now gone too far the other way, with today’s glut of coaches and support staff an inevitable by-product of the overall product, which is driven by finance and the ultra-professional demands of modern sport.
It is easy to ridicule the likes of Trueman and the old guard, easy to pigeon-hole them as products of their own time, a time from which the game has moved on, but at least their energies were expended principally in entertaining the public as opposed to training.
Today’s players, whether they realise it or not, are having to justify coaching jobs, the expense of training equipment and the sort of rotation policy that is actually just another slap in the face to themselves and Joe Public.