Australia’s county sojourn could be one of the last of its kind

It is unknown how many of the 3000 Worcester folk who paid £30 ($54) for tickets to see the Australian cricket team this week were expecting Steve Smith. There was no chance, of course, that the main attraction would appear, having opted to recharge batteries run down by his extraordinary efforts at Edgbaston. A good crowd still hobbled in, skewed towards the elderly, not very elite-looking despite the elite entry charges.

Smith's absence was a poser about the meaning of the vestigial tradition of county matches on Ashes tours, and whether we are seeing the last of their kind.

Travis Head on his way to a century against Worcestershire.

Travis Head on his way to a century against Worcestershire.Credit:Getty Images

The setting was a miniature of modern England, Worcester Cathedral overlooking the New Road ground from a distance while, up close, a chain motel had the prime possie. The ladies' pavilion, where signs ban mobile phones because they "cause annoyance", was serving up homemade cakes made famous in Dickie Bird's autobiography. The players' changing rooms are in the Graeme Hick Pavilion, a reminder that grey-haired assistant coaches were once youngsters who could play a bit.

Travis Head has also played for Worcestershire, and for Australia he made a century on Wednesday, though probably not enough to get a stand named after him. His teammates went through the motions with varying intensity before Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc ran in and bowled like they had been kept in a cage for the past week, with equal parts vigour, pent-up frustration and rust.

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Smith was elsewhere, as were David Warner, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon and even Justin Langer, while James Pattinson was only there in name, his numbered shirt ballooning around the chest of Matthew Wade. Even if the crowd were deprived of the chief personalities of this Australian team, they still got to see a diminutive "Pattinson 19" put down a sharp leg-side chance off Starc. Like the whole "Australia" on the field, the wicketkeeping was almost but not quite the real thing. Tim Paine, who didnt bat, watched mildly from mid-off.

Bill Lawry batting during an Australian county match against Worcestershire.

Bill Lawry batting during an Australian county match against Worcestershire.Credit:Archive

The conduct of this low-key game throws up certain questions. Touring teams have been demanding stronger competition, but here was a glorified centre-wicket practice between the second-bottom club in the lower county division and an international team playing with the demeanour of one fulfilling a contractual obligation. Will we be seeing these quaint encounters next time? What purpose do they really serve?

In the earliest Ashes itineraries, which ran for half a year and featured more than 30 games, the big stars had no option but to play and every game was for keeps. The players had a financial imperative – they funded the tours and shared directly in the gate takings – and, to avoid having to spread the profits too thinly, they only took squads of 12 or 13. After they lost financial control, they still played cricket match after cricket match, taking great pride in remaining undefeated for every tour game, an achievement managed only by Don Bradmans 1948 Invincibles.

Don Bradman, left, leads Australia on to the field for their tour match with Worcestershire during The Invincibles tour in 1948.

Don Bradman, left, leads Australia on to the field for their tour match with Worcestershire during The Invincibles tour in 1948.Credit:Archive

The Invincibles name has long been retired; the 2019 group will play just eight games on this tour, one of them against themselves in Southhampton. Smith is increasingly mentioned in the same breath as Bradman, but not in this regard: Bradman played nearly every game of those marathon tours, knowing how much rested on him in the quest to beat every county and bring income to county cricket. The mission was to promote and fund the sport. Now, the money has already been bRead More – Source

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