"Owzat!!" Official test match cricket video game withdrawn from sale.

Nov 29, 2013

There can be no doubt that one of England's greatest contributions to global sporting culture is the game of cricket. There can also be no doubt that the series of "Test" matches between England and Australia (the "Ashes" series that have been held every two years since 1882) are the most keenly watched, fiercely contested and endlessly analysed of all games of cricket.

Its a shame then that after much hype, various delays and broken promises the Ashes Cricket Tour video game for PCs has been withdrawn from circulation because it simply doesn't work. The publisher, 505 Games has publicly apologised and promised immediate refunds to the many customers who have bought the expensive but useless product. Both the publishers and developers have now abandoned all work on the game and it will never be released. So much then or its much-vaunted state-of-the-art artificial intelligence.

Simon Miller, the editor-in chief of videogamer.com says he has never seen a farrago like it. He told the BBC, "They were never going to get away with it". Nonetheless they did try fobbing-off the public with a sub-standard, clearly unfinished product that lacked even the most basic animation required to emulate a game - things like the bowling and catching of balls which are the very basis of cricket.

2013 is very unusual cricketing year with, thanks to some vagaries to do with the kangaroo harvest and the gestation period of wombats, two Ashes series are being held within a few months of one another. During the summer the Australian team was in England and duly lost the Ashes for the third time in a row. Now England are Down Under and were soundly and deservedly trounced in the first match of the new series. There are four more to go and the portents are not good.

The Ashes Cricket Tour video game was due to have been launched back in the summer to coincide with the series being held in England at that time. It didn't happen. In the event the game was quietly made available via a single online store on November 22,supposedly in time for a second potential bite at the cherry by 505 Games and a chance for it to exploit the present Ashes series which is taking place in Australia now. Promised release for the more mainstream outlets via XBox, Playstation and Wii never materialised.

Publisher 505 Games says, "The development of Ashes Cricket 2013 has been fraught with challenges almost from the outset. The chosen developer, [Trickstar Games of... wait for it, wait for it.... Australia!]... was unable to overcome the unexpected challenges that the chosen game engine threw up, even with multiple extensions to the development schedule."

It adds, "At the start of the project, 505 Games received all assurances from the developer that the engine was up to the task of creating a dynamic, cutting-edge cricket game for the modern age across multiple platforms. Unfortunately those assurances were found to be misplaced."

Profuse apologies to consumers and sponsors followed from 505 Games but down-under Trickstar has kept schtum. Perhaps they are off watching cricket as it is really played? One can but hope.

In response the games governing body, the English Cricket Board, said in a statement, "The ECB entered into a licensing agreement with 505 Games, in conjunction with Cricket Australia, with the intention of producing a high quality game linked to both the recent Ashes Test Series in England and the current one in Australia. We are extremely disappointed that the product did not match our expectations and would like to extend sincere apologies to any supporters who purchased this product."

Shots of some of the more nonsensical aspects of the games graphics soon made in onto YouTube and show cricketers throwing the ball in any direction, hopping around from leg to leg doing little dances and generally running around the field like headless chickens. Hmm. After the performance at the Gabba that sounds remarkably realistic.

It is hard to get over to non-cricketers just how important the Ashes Test Matches are. And it is also very hard for non-cricketers to understand that England and Australia play for what is no more than a very notional prize.

The term "The Ashes" first saw the light of day in a satirical obituary published in a British newspaper, The Sporting Times, immediately after Australia won the 1882 Test match at The Oval in London. It was the young country's first Test win on English soil.

The article said that English cricket had died at the Oval, the body had been cremated and the ashes taken to Australia. During the 1882 series played in Australia, the captain of the England team, one Ivo Bligh, promised he would "regain the ashes" and take them back home to where they belonged. Thus the myth - and the deep and enduring rivalry - were born.

England duly won two of the three Australian Tests that year and the team was presented with a small and undistinguished six-inch high earthernware urn containing, it is believed, the ashes of a burnt cricket ball and bails - the small and light bits of turned wood that sit atop the stumps and must be removed for a cricketer who is "in" to be deemed to be "out". Simple isn't it?

As things stand ,and bearing in mind occasional but unavoidable interruptions such as world wars, pestilence and sheep, England and Australia have been battling for cricket supremacy for more than 130 years. And we are glad of it.

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