Apparently, cricket matters nowadays. Yeah I know, I was as shocked as you. While I personally like nothing more then taking in a bit of Test action, for many people cricket remains one of the great mysteries of life. The concept of playing for 5 days solid and still drawing is as mind-boggling to some as it always was. Yet surprisingly, the phenomenal success of Twenty20 has made cricket hot property in the sporting world. Last month ESPN paid a staggering $1billion for the television rights to the inaugural Twenty20 Champions League which will be held in India in the New Year, and in a year when the credit crunch has hit sporting attendances hard, next summer’s forthcoming Ashes series has bucked the trend and is selling out well in advance.
England themselves had a decidedly mixed summer in terms of results. After a disappointing 2-1 Test series defeat against South Africa, which admittedly could have gone either way, they followed it up with an emphatic 4-0 defeat of the Proteas in the One Day format of the game, with South Africa saved from a humiliating 5-0 whitewash only by the temperamental British weather. Results aside however, the summer was also one of varied fortunes for the England team as a whole.
Obviously the headline grabbing news off the pitch was Pietersen’s replacement of Vaughan and Collingwood as captain in all forms of the game. Pietersen has his critics, most notably those who argued he is too selfish to ever be a great captain, but even they will agree he has enjoyed an incredible start to his reign. Unbeaten in the 1 Test and 4 One Day matches he has played as captain, even by his own high standards Pietersen will surely be a little shocked at how well things went. Whether Pietersen will ever hit the heights that Vaughan did as captain is of course yet to be seen- Vaughan was arguably the greatest Test captain England have ever had- but his leadership will undoubtedly be judged on how well England perform against the old enemy next summer. An Ashes victory would silence any remaining doubts over his team leading abilities.
The summer of 2008 also represented the rebirth of England’s premier fast bowler Steve Harmison, a man who earlier in the year had been written off by the world as past his best. By getting back to county cricket, taking regular wickets for Durham and most importantly enjoying his cricket, Harmison has once again established himself as a dominant force in world cricket. True, question marks remain over his mental strength when travelling abroad, and the imminent trip to India could be a very tricky experience for him. However, there can be no doubts that if England are to win back the Ashes in 8 months time, they need an on form Steve Harmison to be firing for them. While Anderson, Panesar and Broad are all quality bowlers, none of them gives England the raw edge that Harmison does.
2009 then could be a massive year for not only English cricket, but world cricket as well. The Ashes, the Twenty20 Champions League, the $20m Stanford Series, the re-arranged Champions Trophy in Pakistan and the Twenty20 World Cup in England later this year are all arriving at a time when interest couldn’t be higher in cricket. Even the final day of the County Championship, with Durham (eventual winners), Somerset, Nottinghamshire and Hampshire all in contention for the title, was covered heavily by the press, and as always, Twenty20 Finals day were a huge success. It is safe to say therefore, that cricket is now entering a new era of unparalleled main stream coverage. It is Pietersen’s duty to ensure that it is England that leads the way.