Test cricket is an anachronism. It’s a game
designed and built in another time, and a game that has somehow survived a
period in which our attention spans are shrinking faster than an Eskimo’s
tackle at bathtime and television is demanding ever more dramatic action from
the sports it pays so handsomely to cover.

And that’s precisely why we love it. The
custodians of the laws of cricket have honoured their inheritance and protected
the integrity of the game. Sure, there’s been tinkering around the edges, and
even some bold new ideas, such as bringing overs back to six ball from eight, but
generally, Test cricket evolves very very slowly.

Do cricket’s lawmakers leave it alone out
of respect? Is it a case of don’t fix what ain’t broke? Is it because cricket
doesn’t feel threatened by other sports and thus doesn’t need to be changed radically
to ensure TV audiences stay interested?

The AFL, on the other hand,
cannot be accused of having the same reverence for its inheritance. After the
Swans won last year’s premiership by playing a dour, defensive style of footy,
the AFL didn’t waste any time in rewiring the game to make sure the same wouldn’t happen in 2006.

So this year we have a vastly different
game. But as Jake Niall wrote in yesterday’s Age,
last weekend’s matches were more like “uncontested circle work” than a contest
for four premiership points. He’s not alone in that view. Commentating on the Adelaide v
Collingwood game on Monday night, Robert Walls called the uncontested
possessions that dominated the game “meaningless stats”.

Now the AFL has forcibly changed
the sport’s gene code, it has robbed footy of the chance to evolve its own
responses to the Swans’ defensive strategy. It could take years before the game fully
absorbs the new rules and accepts them as a part of its logic. Let’s hope the AFL gives it time to do
so.

Peter Fray

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