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Ashes 2017-18: Of fantasy flight and angry croc - Tradition on the wane

From drinking shandy on the field, to flying a plane during a break and enjoying a day out in the wild, Ashes warm-ups in Australia have thrown up several memorable stories but with the onslaught of T20s and ODIs, the relevance of practice games is diminishing.

cricket Updated: Nov 21, 2017 11:05 IST
Siddharth Vishwanathan
Siddharth Vishwanathan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Ashes 2017-18,The Ashes,Australian national cricket team
England’s Ashes warm-up contests Down Under have thrown up several unforgettable moments, from flying a plane dangerously low to the playing field and also enjoying a day out in the wild. (Getty Images)

During a warm-up game against Queensland in the 1990-91 Ashes, David Gower snuck out to a nearby airfield to fly a Tiger Moth biplane dangerously low above the Carrara Oval. Had it not been for a tipoff by one of the pilots, a photographer wouldn’t have recognised Gower and his flying mate John Morris.

By the time they had touched down, England’s management was ready to make a public example of them. Gower was fined 1027 pounds and England, already down 0-2, went on to lose 3-0. In the Wisden Cricket Monthly, David Firth wrote how the incident further robbed England’s chances of a probable comeback. “The fines should ensure that no England player in future will even dare to look up from his crossword puzzle while a match is in progress.”

Apart from the obvious bit about getting acquainted with the conditions, warm-ups and breaks between Tests also serve as an opportunity to cool the heels --- go angling or hiking and just have fun. Like how a croc scared the daylights out of Moeen Ali trying to snap at the bait lowered for it in a sanctuary in Townsville.

The crocodile got scared!! 😜😊

A post shared by Moeen Ali (@moali) on

And when the Ashes is around, can alcohol be very far? Ask Ian Botham who had decided on a hot Perth afternoon in 1986 that energy drinks won’t quite quench his thirst. So large pints of shandy it was for Beefy.

An Ashes contest Down Under has always provided memorable moments not only on the cricket field but also off it. While the media glare on Test matches can’t be dodged, warm-ups were a way to unwind even while getting a good measure of the conditions and opponents.

Over the years though, especially due to the onslaught of Twenty20s and ODIs, the warm-up games are dwindling in number. Take the 1994-95 Ashes where five Tests were preceded and punctuated by 13 warm-up games. Total span of the Tests and warm-up games --- a stunning 105 days.

Modern times, less warm-ups

But if you look at the Ashes though, the number of warm-ups has reduced to four. The reason though, is understandable. In the 70s and the 80s, there were fewer Test teams. Apart from the Ashes, only the West Indies-England or Australia-West Indies counted as marquee series although later, India-Pakistan series joined the bandwagon.

But even then there was enough time on hand since ODIs were still a novelty and looked down upon by many. That’s a sea change from the cramped calendar that we have now. In the past, Test match series were easily five or six-match affairs. Now, only the Ashes and India-England are five-Test affairs. The latter too, has gained in importance only recently.

Change the name of the game

The graphic clearly illustrates how in the 80s, England played more warm-ups and spent considerably more time in Australia for the Ashes. One-day games started getting slotted in the mid 80s and the 90s. Still, by the 90s, the number of warm-up games had reached a peak, with equal number of three day and limited-overs warm-up games.

From the 80s till the mid-90s, the schedule of the Ashes normally used to be two Tests at the start, followed by tri-series ODIs and then three Tests towards the end until February. Perth, which currently is hosting the third Test, used to be the final Test of the Australian summer earlier. In the 80s, Sydney Tests used to have a rest day in the middle. And during the 1986-87 series, the gap between the Boxing Day Test and the New Year Test was 13 days.

From 2006, the schedule has change considerably in terms of warm-up games. This Ashes, England have played only three warm-up games before the Brisbane Test. The fourth warm-up game will be held in Perth after the second Test. But considering how long the Ashes used to be even two decades back, the relevance of warm-ups certainly is on the wane.

First Published: Nov 21, 2017 09:54 IST