Cricket and, arguably, sport in general doesn’t get any more competitive than The Ashes Test series between Australia and England.
It’s a rivalry like no other, because not even hailing from opposite sides of the world and different hemispheres can quell the fierceness of these five-day battles over a tiny trophy containing the burnt cinders of some stumps.
Every other year, whether it’s contested Down Under or where the game of cricket was invented, this tinder box needs precious little spark to set things off.
An end to sledging?
But could the fire that overtakes Lions and Baggy Greens alike be a thing of the past? New Australia captain Tim Paine has pledged to reduce the amount of sledging his side uses as a thorough and comprehensive review of the team’s culture is conducted.
While wicketkeeper Paine fell short of ruling it out entirely among Aussie tactics going forward, he knows everything players do in international is very under the microscope from now on and well beyond the foreseeable future.
Australian cricket is in crisis following the shame of that ball tampering scandal while on Tour in South Africa. An event that has seen the captain and two other players sacked and a coach resign.
By the time the next Ashes series come around in the summer of 2019, however, the bans handed down by Cricket Australia to disgraced skipper Steve Smith, his vice-captain David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, who did the actual ball tampering, will have ended.
The Baggy Greens might be turning the volume down on sledging in the meantime under Paine, who was recalled for the winning Ashes series Down Under, but a taunt or two from hosting England players or fans might be irresistible.
Aussies still fancied for Ashes
In spite of bringing the game of cricket into disrepute, bookmakers have left Australia unchanged at best-price 6/5 favourites to win The Ashes next year and odds-on in some places. England, meanwhile, are no bigger than 13/8 to regain the urn with a drawn series rated an 11/2 chance.
Prior to that – and highlighting what a big year 2019 is for this sport – is the ICC Cricket World Cup. Also taking place in England (and Wales), there is less consensus among bookies about the outright winner of that 50 overs tournament. The hosts are 100/30 market principals, while Australia can be backed at best odds of 9/2 yet some firms have them at the head of the betting.
Expect betting offers for sports like cricket aplenty in connection with these and other events next year. Between now and then, how much will excluding star batsman Smith, wily opener Warner and previously promising Bancroft do to change the culture in the Australian dressing room?
Paine’s pledge to cut down on sledging comes from a player who spends a fielding innings behind the stumps – a place where the man with the gloves seeks to capitalise on what happens in the heat of battle. He has made all the right noises, said what people and outraged fans of the game want to hear.
Going ahead and actually making change is a different matter. Deeds not words are what is needed from Australia. And, as for The Ashes? It’s too big a spectacle in cricket to have any passion merely filtered out.