The tour that isn’t

Every Test match in the 2005 Ashes has thrown up a new populist question in the tabloids. “Was this the greatest Test ever?” “Is cricket the new football?” “Is cricket the new sex?” “Is Flintoff the new Beckham?” “Is Pietersen the new Posh?” and so on.

Being the 46 year-old nerd that I am, I prefer to go for the more boring issues. In this edition of “If 42 Is The Answer Then It Must Be A Bloody Stupid Question”, I ask: “Why are the Aussies getting so damn little match practice on this tour?”

Cast your mind back a hundred years (that’s 1905 to stop you firing up Excel to work it out). Australia played thirty-five first-class games on that tour, including their five Tests. Thirty-five! Six of them were played after the final Test wrapped up. Even Scotland got a three-day game(and scrambled to a draw a la Old Trafford 2005).

The 1905 Ashes tour was not an isolated case. With shipping the only method of transport between Australia and Britain until after WW2, a typical touring party sailed from Australia in March and didn’t arrive home till October. (Imagine how many tinnies Boonie could have downed en route in those days!)

Even in 1972, eight years after the last Ashes tour conducted by sea, there were 27 first-class matches, including the five Tests. The Scotland game was down to a two-dayer, but even with three one-day internationals tacked onto the latter part of the program, the Australians played two first-class games after their last full international against England.

Now let’s put that short-term memory to the test and review the 2005 itinerary so far. The tour, of course, is conducted in two halves with two overlapping sets of personnel. There was the limited-over tour which began on June 9 and finished on July 12 – thirteen playing days out of 34, including Australia’s loss to Bangladesh and their 100-run defeat in a 20-over game.

That brings us to the “Ashes” part of the tour, including twelve of the ODI party. Between the last NatWest Challenge on July 12 and the First Test beginning July 21, Australia played one three-day game against Leicestershire. It was a draw. Australia went into that First Test with the record of not having won one first-class game on tour. That is, I believe, unprecedented.

Australia had nine days between the scheduled end of Test One and the commencement of Test Two. In those nine days, they had one three-dayer against Worcestershire. Another draw, with only one over of play possible on the first day. Australia went into the Second Test having only one first-class win on tour, ie, the First Test. No victories against counties.

Back-to-back Greatest Tests Ever at Edgbaston and Old Trafford were followed by another nine day gap before Trent Bridge. Goodness me, they squeezed two fixtures into those nine days, but neither of them so long as three days. The Scotland game, having been whittled away over the years from three days to two to one, was set down for The Grange on August 18. A full house turned up, and went home again after rain washed the day out.

To compensate for the gruelling trip all the way from England to Scotland and back, the fixture against Northants was arranged for just two days. Another draw. Hayden and Clarke scored centuries, but don’t look for them in the stat books. Hayden is about to be cast to the dustbin of cricket history, and when we look back in 2105 and ask why, his 260-minute 136 won’t appear as evidence in his favour.

Australia went into the Trent Bridge Greatest Test Ever with a tour record of 5 first-class games, 1 win (the First Test), 3 draws, 1 loss.

Another nine-day gap before the start of The Brit Oval Greatest Test Ever on September 8. And what are they up to? One game against Essex. A two-day game against Essex, this Saturday and Sunday. I hope it rains all bloody weekend.

And of course these days they don’t hang around in England after the last Test, let alone for six weeks.

So there you have it: Australia will complete their 2005 Ashes tour of England without a single first-class victory against a county. Match practice? What’s that?

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