By Richard Browne
Trying to keep pace with the modern game would tire a committed marathon runner. This week has seen the very uncommitted marathon devotee Shane Warne announce yet another come back in the Australian 20/20 Big Bash tournament.
Lancashire after a 77 year wait have finally won England’s County Championship, Kumar Sangakkara is playing his 100th Test and Rahul Dravid his last ODI. Gone are the days when a touring team arriving in a country was front page news and an international match something that required a monastic patience, such were their rarity.
Dravid’s success in the limited over’s game is a living testament to quality. Seemingly Dravid will always be remembered as the great defensive batsmen of his era, perhaps the last of all time, as the pace of the game accelerates at a rapidity that would please the engineers at Ferrari.
A brief look at his ODI record though shows an outstanding performer and eschews the theory that the shorter form of the game is all about power hitting. He retires as the seventh leading run scorer in ODI cricket with over 10,000 runs at an average approaching 40 and a strike rate in the early 70’s.
These figures only tell half the story and few men have been more adept at catering to the teams needs. Be it as lynchpin at three, finishing at five or donning the keeping gloves to balance the side, Dravid has done it without complaint and with aplomb. Dravid has the complete respect of the cricket watching world and while rightly he will be remembered for his Herculean Test efforts he can be justifiably proud of his role in India’s eventual dominance in 50 over cricket.
Another cricketing gentleman is in the midst of an emotional landmark: Sangakkara’s 100th Test. The lack of fanfare is sadly reflective of Test cricket’s current rather lowly standing in Sri Lanka at the moment. This should not deflect though from what has been an outstanding career which if the player can keep his motivation is only in late middle age.
A man without a cricketing signature Sangakkara has simply concentrated on doing everything asked of him to a consistently high standard. Sangakkara may not possess the god given grace of his great pal, Mahela Jayawardene but what he does have is the best overseas average of any Sri Lankan batsmen outside of the sub continent.. That average of 70 lies second only to the great Sir Don Bradman in tests outside Asia and includes in many people’s opinion the finest innings played by a Sri Lankan-his epic 192 in Hobart – cruelly cut short by an umpiring blunder of the century.
Add in his talent as a keeper, popularity around the world and undoubted determination to put the team first and you have a very special career. Sangakkara seems to be done with keeping and captaincy in Tests and as his over in Galle showed the man’s talent does not run to bowling, there is nothing standing in his way to distract him from anchoring the Lankan innings from three. The already hugely impressive stats could still have plenty of growth in them.
While Dravid is bowing out at his peak or near it, the once in a lifetime Warne seems to be devaluing some pretty memorable memories, by his insistence of trying to defy Father Time. His last Test was an emotional experience. He and his great partner in crime McGrath walked off the SCG arm in arm, their job done. The old enemy England had just been whitewashed 5-0, revenge for the loss in the fantastic 2005 Ashes series was complete.
Pre 20/20 this would have been the last sighting. Instead we have had a cut price Warne in 20/20. Even in this format it is hard not to feel that he missed his leaving cue. His inspirational success in leading the Rajasthan Royals to victory against all the odds in the first IPL, would have been perfect. Instead he carried on, no less an inspiration, but with the arm getting lower and full tosses becoming the norm when once they were like Hayley’s Comet.
Now he is to appear to in Australia’s struggling Big Bash. It is hard to see what he is trying to achieve. 20/20 is no place for creaking tom cats and it would be horrible if Warne’s last game in Australia saw him being demolished by some broad shouldered bully. The tournament needs his star quality, but the fact that it does is not a good indictment of the current state of the domestic game in Australia.
Warne was one of the great overseas players in English county cricket for Hampshire, but he could not quite drag them over the line to victory in the County Championship. A strange almost unnoticed tournament that is still the lifeblood of English cricket, it is a hard slog over four months in empty grounds, devoid of overseas superstars and England players. English papers barely cover it anymore and it’s supported financially by the huge money generated by the international game.
What it does now produce after being split into a two division league with eight teams in each is end of the season excitement. After 77 years Lancashire has finally won it again. One of England’s leading counties, Lancashire is struggling with cash flow at the moment. Most county teams boost their ranks with ‘Kopak’ players of dubious origin, Lancashire have done it with a home grown side and a bit of help from Sri Lanka’s Farveez Maharoof. Peter Moores the former England coach, who was sacked in a squabble with Kevin Pieterson, has been at the helm. It is a heartwarming story of local identity, in a sporting world where cultural loyalty is going the way of the Dodo.