On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

A Sad Ashen Pundit

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The words of Guardian’s legendary editor C.P. Scott should be a journalists’ small handy prayer: Comment is free, but facts are sacred. Forgive me if it gives anyone the impression that I am unnecessarily harsh towards the Hindustan Times. The fact is that I read the paper, and another fact is that I’ve done so for 16 years.

The small difference is that I write a blog these days, so if I see something that is very good or I see something that is pretty bad I feel the need to express my views as a reader. The second edit of the Monday’s paper is very well written and I’ve read it lying down on a couch in a horizontal position and their prose has been more than perfect. There is a minor problem with the facts though.

The edit says: A historical face-off that began 107 years ago after Australia beat England on English soil for the first time, has thrown up another first—an Australian captain who has lost two series to England while at the helm.

The facts in the above sentence bother me a little bit so I am trying to figure out what is the frame of reference that the edit writer has taken. If he is starting from the first time that Australia beat England on English soil and from the time the term Ashes originated than that was 1882. The Sporting Times in a box published an obituary of English cricket saying: In affectionate remembrance of English cricket, which died at The Oval on 29th August, 1882, deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. R.I.P
N.B.—The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.

Now that is 127 years ago. If the frame of reference is the beginning of the contests between England and Australia then the first Test match was played on 15th March 1877 in Melbourne, roughly 132 years ago.

This is a small paragraph from Cricinfo about the other fact that the edit has thrown.

“So acute is the pain of a second Ashes defeat that Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain, has declared himself amenable to the idea of a fifth tour of England in 2013. Ponting, who on Sunday became the first Australian captain since Billy Murdoch to twice lead Australia to Ashes series defeats in England, said the prospect of atoning for losses in 2005 and 2009 could convince him to return for one final campaign at the age of 38.”

W.L. Murdoch captained Australia in a one Test campaign where England won at the Oval in September 1880; that was the fourth Test match in the history of the game and Australia’s first tour to England. Murdoch’s team won in 1882 at the Oval, which is when the Obituary was published in The Sporting Times. Murdoch was also the captain of the Australian team that went to England in 1884. Australia lost the three Test series 1-0, and Murdoch became the first player to score a double hundred in a Test match when he scored 211 in the final game at the Oval that ended in a draw.

There is a first though: Ponting became the first Australian captain to lose two successive tours to England, in Murdoch’s case the losses came on either side of the victory in August, 1882. http://www.334notout.com is a comprehensive Ashes site and just under the title it says The Ashes since 1877, the contests in the five years leading to the 1882 game when the ‘Ashes’ term originated are part of Test history, regardless of the fact that the coinage came later. Just as all the Test matches between India and Australia are in the record books and not only the ones that started after the series was named The Border Gavaskar Trophy.

Cricket writing can be as romantic as love poetry or as racy and thrilling as a murder mystery, provided the numbers are right. There are a lot of fans out there to whom every single fact matters a lot.

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Written by Deepan Joshi

August 26, 2009 at 12:42 am

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