The year of 2010 will never be recalled as one of the golden ones (like 2005, 1981 or 1953 – it does not take much to find a common thread there). It is, however, possible that 2010 will be remembered for quite some time since so many things went so spectacularly wrong.
At the start there were the hopelessly one-sided Tests against Bangladesh. Then it became apparent that there were so many international matches that it was becoming impossible for the harassed chief executives of our Test grounds to fill all their bright new bucket seats. ODI followed ODI and no one could quite remember who won what. Even worse, no one really cared.
Then came the England v Pakistan Test series, which was meant to be the saviour of the summer. Well, it certainly became the focal point of the season but for all the wrong reasons.
How we had marvelled at the finesse of Mohammad Asif, the urbane, understated good sense of emergency captain Salman Butt and the unadulterated, youthful brilliance of Mohammad Aamer’ until the last three days of the Lord’s Test made us all think again. Those three no-balls threw the game into disarray, the sole consolation being that the spot-fixers were under the microscope again.
By the end of the summer there was paranoia all around. The ICC, alerted to some “strange scoring patterns”, wanted to call off the third ODI at the Oval just as the stands were filling up. At a midnight meeting the England team had to be persuaded to play the fourth ODI at Lord’s after the fulminations (subsequently withdrawn) of Ijaz Butt, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board.
When the final international match of the season was completed at the Rose Bowl on September 22, there was universal relief that a tempestuous summer, in which the cricket on the field had so often yielded to agonising off it, was finally over.
Nor was everything peace and light on the domestic front. County fans were bewildered by a new schedule, which had the Championship half-completed by the end of May while most of June was taken over by a constant diet of Twenty20 cricket.
The Lord’s cup final, the traditional pinnacle of the county season, was bizarrely played under lights on September 18 and attracted the smallest crowd (about 12,500) since it was first played back in 1963.
Around the counties the atmosphere was fraught and fractured. Those in possession of Test match grounds (there are nine at the last count plus ODI specialists Gloucestershire) fretted about the bidding system for international matches and how they were going to generate enough income to pay for their grandiose building projects.
The rest feared being marginalised by their big brothers. All eighteen were perplexed that they were compelled to wait until November 17 before a clear idea (hopefully!) of the domestic structure for 2011 would be revealed.
So we have a picture of a game in turmoil. But there are some “buts”. Despite all of the above shafts of light still shone through. The national team is not too bad and may be getting better. They are the world’s Twenty20 champions; they were victorious in five of their six Tests and, just to remind you, they did win all three of those ODI series last summer.
Steven Finn is poking his head above the parapet (not so difficult for someone who is almost seven feet tall), Graeme Swann is the world’s best spinner, Stuart Broad may be the world’s best number nine – though not for long since he must surely return to number eight after that wonderful maiden Test hundred at Lord’s.
While Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower are in charge we can anticipate England making the most of what they have got. And Kevin Pietersen is due (being sworn at by a few Aussies may be just what he needs).
So it is possible to view the Ashes campaign of 2010-11 with optimism although there is the caveat that every fourth October we usually manage to persuade ourselves that England will prevail in Australia.