Monday, October 31, 2005

Reflection On Day 1 of Patron's XI (XIV?) V England

First the good news. Trescothick has continued his good Ashes form into the first match of the Pakistan tour by scoring an unbeaten 124 off 209 balls. He was ably assisted by a sparkling 50 from deputy wicket-keeper Matt Prior (batting at no. 10!) and some stern resistance from Giles and Udal as well as a defiant 3 not out of 30 deliveries from Alex Loudon batting at no. 11; all of which allowed England to finish on 256 for 9.

Now the not so good news. Strauss only lasted 4 deliveries for his score of 5 but I'd expect him to complete his international education on the sub-continent especially with the reliable Trescothick taking the pressure off him. Vaughn managed to bat for 38 deliveries (for a score of 9) and so will have gained some useful experience. Pietersen only managed 2 off 11 deliveries, although he has always been a nervous starter and there is every reason to expect his immense talent to shine through.

Now the bad news. England were 61 for 6 at lunch and only managed to recover by virtue of this being a 14 a-side game, (effectively a normal game with 3 interchangeable substitutes) which meant the bowlers did not have to bat. The question I and no doubt the selectors wanted answered was: Bell or Collingwood? There is still nothing to separate them with Collingwood registering a duck off 6 deliveries and Bell only managing 2 off 4 balls. One of these batsmen must play and I wonder if the selectors are ruing their decision to include only 6 specialist batsmen. That's only one batsman to cover any possible injuries or losses of form in the other 5. I would have selected Robert Key instead of Ollie Plunkett, who is very unlikely to play in any of the Tests.

England must bowl out the Patrons team tomorrow in order to give their batsmen more much needed practice.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Too Many Innovations Have Been Introduced To One-Day Cricket

My old physics teacher once said that to ensure that the effect of altering each variable could be determined, good scientists never alter more than one variable between experiments. The administrators who run cricket must have had different science teachers.

50 over one-day games have introduced substitutes. Field restrictions are in place for the first 10 overs and the captain must now decide which 10 overs, out of the remaining 40, should also have field restrictions. 20 over internationals have also been introduced and they have a different set of rules.

Even the players are getting confused. In a recent 20 over international the South African wicket-keeper celebrated a catch that he took on a delivery following a no-ball. In 20 over cricket deliveries after a no-ball are a free hit, so the batsman wasn't out and merely took an extra run before Boucher realised what was happening.

The ICC need to grasp the situation before the one-day game is permanently devalued.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Flintoff Should Not Be Given The Poisened Chalice Of Captaincy

Michael Vaughan has gone home to treat his knee injury, leaving Marcus Trescothick in charge of the One-Day team. The appointment of Adam Hollioake as One-Day captain signalled the beginning of the end of Mike Atherton's captaincy of the Test team and so this could be the beginning of the end of Vaughan's captaincy. If so, who should be his successor?

With few exceptions a cricketer's form suffers when he is made captain. So it is interesting that all recent England teams have been reliant on the runs scored by their captains: Vaughan, Hussain, Stewart, Atherton, Gooch, Gower and Gatting. The reason for this is clear, the selectors do not want to be faced with having to consider dropping the captain due to his form.

Duncan Fletcher recently defended Vaughan by stating that the captain is an all-rounder, but the alternative would be to select the best available captain, even if as a player he is not worth his place in the side. This was certainly true of Mike Brearley, who averaged only 22.88 with the bat. Cricket is one of the few team games where passengers can be carried and the benefit of choosing such a captain would avoid burdening a star player who the team relies on.

I have no answers as to who should succeed Vaughan, but the selectors should remember the effect the captaincy had on Botham's form and then realise that England are too reliant on Flintoff the player to ever seriously consider the possibility of Flintoff the captain.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Cronje Myths

Hansie Cronje was quite rightly punished for his misdeeds and deserved a lifetime ban from all cricketing activities. However, the anti-Cronje media hysteria was totally over the top. If it intended to destroy the man's image it only succeeded in the short-term. In the long-term it has proved to be counter-productive.

Book sales of the Cronje biography are breaking records in South Africa and a film of his life is scheduled. The danger is that the myth of Cronje the match-fixer will be replaced by the far more dangerous myth of Cronje the martyr. If the media had been more sensible in the first place this could not have happened.

Match fixing is a misnomer. Bookmakers are unlikely to be interested in actually fixing a match as the odds are poor for a two horse race. Bookmakers are interested in influencing individual performances as the odds are better, especially with the advent of spread betting. So Cronje was guilty of taking money from bookmakers for "predicting" individual performances. Undoubtedly his worst deed was to tempt the younger players in his team to underperform.

Even the last Test match at against England in the 1999-2000 series wasn't actually fixed. South Africa led 2-0 in the series and the final game was heading for a rain affected draw when Cronje suggested a double innings forfeit to Hussain, on the last day, to ensure a result. His bookmaker "friend" was to back both sides at long odds as a draw appeared inevitable. It did not matter who won, as long as there was a result. Cronje made £5,000 from this deal (and a leather jacket for his wife).

Cronje admitted to the King Commission that he made approximately $US140,000 from bookmakers for all the many pieces of information he gave them. Cronje's misdemeanours should be put into perspective. There have been recent allegations that the Australian snooker player Quinten Hann deliberately lost a match 5-0 in return for £50,000. We should recognise the difference.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Luck of the Irish Favours English Cricket

Ireland are to meet Kenya in the final of the ICC Intercontinental Cup but are in danger of being victims of their own success. The better their performances the more likely it is that the Irish players will be offered places on English tours, thus disqualifying them from playing for Ireland.

Ireland boasts a number of players who play County Cricket. The Irish batsmen Ed Joyce and Eoin Morgan both play for Middlesex and the Irish wicket-keeper Niall O'Brien plays for Kent, while their all-rounder Andrew White plays for Northants. Playing for Ireland does not classify them as overseas players.

Perversely Irish players will be barred from playing for Ireland if they are selected to play for England, even if it's just an English A tour. Surely playing for Ireland should exclude a cricketer for playing for England? Matters are likely to come to a head, as a new funding system will pressurise Counties into selecting more England qualified players. There is a danger that County cricketers will be forced to declare themselves as eligible for England at the expense of Ireland (and Scotland) and to very limited benefit to the England cricket team.

In true Benthamite fashion the administrators of cricket should take action to ensure the greatest benefit to the greatest number. I am a committed England fan, but I would prefer us to miss out on a few talented Irish players if it ensured the establishment of a side from the emerald isle.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Still Waiting For An Autobiography From Mike Gatting

Few players have had such a controversial career as Mike Gatting. In the 1987-88 tour to Pakistan he had a row with Shakoor Rana, which must have had more column inches devoted to it than any other single event in cricket. Surely the time has come for the main protagonist to tell his side of the story?

Gatting was sacked as captain in 1988 for what the selectors called "irresponsibility" after inviting a barmaid back to his room. The selectors position now appears ridiculous (it was his birthday after all). They stated that they accepted Gatting's version of events but sacked him anyway. I would be interested in hearing Gatting's view on this trial by tabloid. He was then to be reappointed as England captain only for the decision to be mysteriously vetoed by Ossie Wheatley, the chairman of the cricket committee. Gower, who was re-appointed captain instead, has written about this, so why doesn't Gatting tell his story?

Gatting was so unhappy with the administrators of the game that he turned his back on his country and embarked on a controversial rebel tour to South Africa, which provoked such unrest hardly any cricket was played. What a fascinating chapter this could make.

Gatting returned to Test cricket, scoring a century against Australia to help England win their only Test match of the 94-95 tour at Adelaide. He then became a selector and was criticised by Nasser Hussain in his autobiography for reluctance to pick Thorpe. I would like to hear Gatting's side of this argument.

So come on Gatt, put pen to paper, or this Blogger might just write a biography on you instead!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Showing Dissent Can Prolong Your Career

Umpires make mistakes. The only acceptable thing for a batsman to do after being given out, no matter how poor the decision, is to walk back to the pavilion without showing any dissent. Those who show dissent risk being fined, but is this really a deterrent? The fine is always restricted to a percentage of the match fee and as all top sportsmen rely on sponsorship as their main source of income, the fine is easily paid. The negative publicity could cause them a problem, but the PR men can market notoriety just as easily as fame.

Three poor decisions from the recent Ashes series stick in my mind. The LBW decisions that went against Martyn and Katich at Trent Bridge and the LBW decision that ended Collingwood's 1st innings at the Oval. Both Martyn and Collingwood walked off the field without a mumur of dissent, Katich did not; and it is that decision which most people remember. The first reaction of the commentator was that it was a reasonable shout, but as soon as they saw Katich's reaction they started questioning the decision by first suggesting he may have hit it. It was only after examining the slow motion replay, aided by Hawkeye, that they discerned the truth. It pitched outside leg and was going over. Commentators have a duty to publicise all bad decisions equally and not in any way encourage batsmen to show dissent by being swayed by their reaction.

Both Martyn and Katich had a disappointing series. But it was Martyn who was dropped.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Hopes And Fears For Pakistan Tour

Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer has suggested that England may struggle to motivate themselves for the Test series against Pakistan after the Ashes triumph. Personally I doubt that motivation will be a problem, but I do see other concerns.

The "Lord Lucans"
There are 16 players in the squad, of those I would argue three will be likely to write "net bowler" when asked to provide their job description in the land of bureaucracy. These are Liam Plunkett, Alex Loudon and Matt Prior. For a short tour this probably won't be a problem, but I'd be happier if we had only one player and replacement wicket-keeper making us reach for our Playfair annuals.

Playing on the sub-continent presents a special challenge that even Australia struggled to come to terms with. Of the 16 players in the squad only Giles and Trescothick have played in Pakistan. However, Vaughn, Flintoff and Hoggard have played in India, Collingwood and Anderson have played in Sri Lanka and Harmison had a single test against Bangladesh. So of the players likely to make the team only Strauss, Bell, Pietersen Jones and Udal have never played on the sub-continent, which is far better than I suspected. There is reason for optimism here.

The loss of Simon Jones was a huge blow considering his ability to make the ball reverse swing and in the past England have struggled to replace him. In South Africa, Anderson failed to impress, taking 2 wickets for 149 at the Wanderers and at the Oval it was decided to play an extra batsman instead of risking either Tremlett or Anderson. I would suggest either Anderson or Udal are likely to fill Jones' boots. An extra spinner probably won't be necessary as Giles was successful in Pakistan in 2000, where he toped the bowling averages with 17 wickets at 24.11; so Anderson is most likely to get the nod. But he's no Simon Jones.

The only question is: Bell or Collingwood. My view changes with the wind. It's a straightforward decision between young potential or an older more reliable pro. I'd probably watch the form in the warm-up matches and then make my decision. (It sure is painful on that fence.)

I predict a 1-1 result, but I'll be hoping for better. Bring it on!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Why Do Bowlers Yell "Catch It"?

As a boy I was intrigued by the intense silence that often punctuates a cricket game: the deep intake of breath by the bowler, batsmen, fielders and spectators, as all wait expectantly to witness the result of the bowler’s delivery.

Many aspects of the game have improved since I was a boy. The standard of fielding, field placing and media coverage have all risen. However, the continual mindless asinine verbal barrage from the players is now more akin to football than cricket.

When I played cricket as a school boy it was sometimes necessary for the bowler to yell “catch it”, as long-on would invariably be sitting cross legged making daisy chains in the outfield. However, the absence of daisies at first class grounds makes such a shout meaningless. It could be argued it is a psychological ploy by the bowler to unsettle the batsmen; but when the ball soars into the stands for six the bowler has deceived nobody and has only succeeded in making a fool of himself.

I will give the last word to Richie Benaud. In the recent Ashes series he made the following wonderful comment: “there are shouts of catch it … but it would take a Joel Garner standing on the shoulders of Joel Garner to catch that one!”

Friday, October 21, 2005

Ball Tampering: Should Umpires Check Saliva?

Australian bowler Nathan Bracken has alleged that the English bowlers achieved reverse swing by shining the ball with sugary saliva caused by sucking on mints. This is not a shock expose as Mike Atherton openly mentions this practice in his autobiography. So the humble mint cannot be heralded as a reason for England's recent success.

The rules clearly prohibit the direct application of unnatural substances on the ball, but the application of sweat and saliva is allowed as both are deemed to be natural substances. This is probably a case of no law actually being broken but it could be argued that the spirit of the game is being infringed. It is clearly impossible to prevent the fielding team from consuming sweets and it could be argued that it is a practice open to both teams. Perhaps the Australian response should have been: if you're doing it then we'll do it too (a kind of Tic for Tac response!)

Richie Benaud has suggested that only the bowler should be allowed to polish the ball. This would make it easier for the umpires to detect any underhand practices, as the number of suspects would clearly be limited. However, it could also lead to an alarming rise in tooth decay amongst fast bowlers.

Clearly this "story" is proof of how the prominence of ball tampering has declined since the early 90s. The extra vigilance of umpires and the long lens of the media have ensured that the battleground has been downgraded from bottle tops to Murray Mints. This was once a serious issue that threatened to rip the game apart, it is now a humorous matter that can fill a slow news day. The game is stronger as a result.

I Hope The Umpires Strike Back

I read with interest Duncan Fletcher's well publicised extracts from his autobiography criticising Ricky Ponting's attempted intimidation of umpires during the recent Ashes Test series. This is clearly revenge for the tirade of abuse Ponting inflicted on Fletcher following the run out of the former by substitute Gary Pratt at the Trent Bridge Test.

I admired Fletcher for previously restricting his comments to:
"at the end of the day if you hit the ball straight to cover ... what to do you expect?"
Ponting had then dug himself in deeper by issuing a mealy mouthed apology, where he stated:
“I no doubt let myself down with my reaction and for that I apologise to those who see me as a role model."
He may as well have said:
"I apologise if I have in anyway altered the illusion for those who think I'm a living God."
However, by his recent comments Fletcher has abandoned the moral high ground. Proof that coaches as well as players should wait until they retire before writing their autobiographies.

As for the actual criticism, I agree that on occasions Ponting did approach the umpires when he was unhappy with a decision. However, there is nothing new in this. WG Grace once managed to bully an umpire (George Burton) into reversing a clear caught and bowled decision when playing against Essex. Captains will always attempt to intimidate an umpire if they feel they can benefit as a result and the risk of being fined will not prevent this. It is the umpires job to stand firm and make it clear that such behaviour will have no effect and only makes the Captain look foolish. The better the umpire, the less likely the intimidation. I cannot remember any captain trying to intimidate David Shepherd, but I do remember him making Mike Atherton look like a naughty schoolboy (Edgbaston 1996 Vs. India) for the minor crime of informing a batsman he should respect the umpire!

Players respect tougher umpires and that is what Test cricket requires

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Could There Be A World Cup Of Test Cricket?

Trawling through the archives I was surprised to discover that in 1912 all the Test playing nations took part in a tournament whereby each team played three tests against each other. Admittedly the logistics of this unofficial world cup for Test Cricket were far easier than they would be today as there were only three Test playing nations at the time: England, Australia and South Africa. The Triangular Tournament of 1912 as it was known was the invention of Sir Abe Bailey a South African mining magnate. Any plans to repeat the Tournament would have been scuppered by the outbreak of the 1st World War.

I see no reason why a similar tournament cannot be held today. If the Tournament were to be played in a league format then a points system would have to devised for wins and draws. Copying football and having 3 points for a win and one for a draw would appear sensible as it rewards attacking play. If the tournament were to have a knock-out element then timeless tests would be preferable to the cricketing equivalent of a penalty shoot out, a bowl out (where players from both teams take in turns to bowl at the stumps in the absence of any batsman). There is a precedence for using a timeless test in this way, as the first two games between Australia and England in the 1912 Tournament were draws and so the organisers decreed that the final match be a timeless test to decide who should win the tournament, as South Africa were out of the running. Just for the record, England won the game in four days by 244 runs, thus making them undefeated world champions for the last 93 years!

I would suggest that the eight top Test playing nations, that is all of them bar Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, could complete a tournament in approximately a month and a half. The top teams could be seeded. A suggested format for the tournament could be as follows, current positions in world rankings in brackets.

Group A: Australia(1), India(4), Sri Lanka(6) & West Indies(8)
Group B: England(2), South Africa(3), Pakistan(5) and New Zealand(7)

All teams play the sides in their group once. This would be mean six matches in each group. Two matches in each group could be played consecutively. A five-day gap between each match would mean the group stage could be completed in 25 days. The top two teams from each group could contest the semi-finals with the two winners contesting the final. The semi-finals and finals would have to be timeless matches. Allowing six days for the timeless Tests and a five-day gap between matches could mean the whole tournament being completed in 47 days, or from May 1st to June 16th.

This would be a bold innovation in a world that has grown use to the Test series, but a championship that involves the playing of an actual series between nations would take too long. If the superior five-day version of the game is to survive in the modern world then changes are required. The ICC recognise this, hence the Super Series. Having abandoned this perhaps they could fill their now empty four year schedule with a Test championship.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Awarding Countries Their First Tests

In another "Emperor's clothes" moment I was asked to define Test cricket. To answer the question I decided to do a bit of historical research.

Australia and England played the first Test match in 1877, although it was given Test status after it had occurred. Before the match the local press called the home team a combination side, only deciding to call it "Australia" after it had beaten the representatives of the mother country. By no stretch of the imagination could the two teams be said to represent the best players of their respective countries. The English team was exclusively professional, so there was no WG Grace, who was then at the height of his powers. The Australians were missing the bowling talents of Frederick Spofforth and Frank Allan, who withdrew two days before the start of the game, as he preferred to attend an agricultural show instead. From such an inauspicious start, Test cricket was born.

A list of the first tests for the other nations are:
  • March 1889 South Africa lost by 8 wickets to England
  • June 1928 West Indies lost by an innings and 58 runs to England
  • January 1930 New Zealand lost by 8 wickets to England
  • June 1932 India lost by 158 runs to England.
  • October 1952 Pakistan lost by an innings and 70 runs to India
  • February 1982 Sri Lanka lost by 7 wickets to England
  • In October 1992 Zimbabwe dominated a drawn Test against India.
  • In November 2000, Bangladesh lost by 9 wickets to India.

Interestingly Australia and Zimbabwe are the only countries not to lose their first Test. With the exception of England, all other countries went down to heavy defeats which suggests that a nation needs a few years to establish itself in Test cricket. Bangladesh broke their duck by winning their first test in January this year, although this was against Zimbabwe side. The problem is there is no procedure for removing teams, like Zimbabwe, that are simply not strong enough to play Test cricket.

Like the Conservative Party leaders of yesteryear, countries don't so much achieve Test match status as have it bestowed on them in a hidden process that defies explanation. However, like the Conservative Party leadership contest, the process of awarding countries Test match status cannot defy the modern world forever. Today's world demands a transparency in such processes and above all a procedure that is fair and is seen to be fair.

Therefore I suggest that every two years the best ICC Trophy team (Kenya? Scotland??) should play a three match series against the lowest ranked Test team for the right to Test status. A drawn series would mean maintenance of the status quo.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Some Reflections On The Super Series Test

My old chemistry teacher once said to me that an experiment that doesn't work can be just as informative as an experiment that does. It is in this spirit that the ICC should reflect on the Super Series Test.

By attempting to ensure that all the major Test playing nations had a stake in the World XI the ICC fell between seven different stools. The diplomacy involved in ensuring that only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe were missing from the ICC World XI was ultimately self-defeating. Inzamam-ul-Haq should not have been forced to play just so the organisers could tick all the boxes. His fielding was lethargic and he failed to trouble the scorers in both his innings. The side should have been selected on merit alone.

The Australian crowd loves a good contest and the disappointingly low crowd numbers are indicative of the failure of the whole Super Series. This is despite the incredible array of talent on show. Audiences want to see these players competing for their respective countries in a cause that matters to them. To an Australian, beating a side doesn't really count as a victory if there aren't a large number of fans crying into their beers as a result. They recognise that for there to be a real sporting contest someone has to win and someone has to lose, but who really lost today? Only an invented non-entity called the ICC World XI, which now appears to have no supporters at all.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Why Do We Play Only Three Tests Against Pakistan?

According to the fable it was a young boy who was the first to notice that the Emperor wasn't wearing any clothes. I was reminded of this fable today, when my wife asked me why England only play three Tests against Pakistan, but five against Australia. As I realised that there was no sensible answer this question, the scales fell from my eyes and the true indolence of the ICC was revealed to me!

Presumably the reasons are historical. When England first started playing India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka it must have been decided that these countries were only worthy of a three Test series due to the one-sided nature of the early matches. However, recent results clearly show how anachronistic this is, with England losing to Sri Lanka in 2003, managing only a draw against India in the home series of 2002 and a draw in the two(!) match series against Pakistan in the summer of 2001.

Perhaps there are economic arguments for usually playing five Tests against Australia, South Africa and the West Indies while playing only three Tests against Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, but considering the fanatical support cricket enjoys amongst Asians, both in the Sub-Continent and in Britain, this doesn't make sense.

The ICC should act to standardise the number of Tests played between nations. If cricket is to progress its fans must be able to answer the simple question that is the title of this blog entry. No fan should have to feel like the naked Emperor!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Referral Of Decisions To The Third Umpire

One of the few benefits of the current Test match between Australia and the ICC World XI is that it allows the game's administrators to experiment with the use of the third umpire. By allowing the umpires to refer any decision to the third umpire (an official who can review slow motion replays), the ICC can examine the impact that these changes are likely to have if introduced to all Tests. It was eminently sensible to conduct this experiment in Test match conditions but in a contest that nobody really cares about.

Decisions will be more accurate if those that make them are permitted to view slow motion replays. However, the decision making is no longer spontaneous and the game is inevitably slowed down as a result. It took three minutes to give Michael Clarke out LBW and of the six wickets to fall on the first day, three were due to third umpire decisions. There were also many decisions referred to the third umpire which were not given out. It appears that if umpires have to make three decisions: out, not out or refer to the third umpire, they are more likely to opt for the latter if the decision is at all contentious. This has certainly been true for run out decisions; it is very rare for an umpire not to refer a decision on a run out if it is at all close.

I understand that in baseball and Canadian football (very similar to American football, but a larger pitch and there are only three downs instead of four) a team has the right to appeal against a set number of decisions made on the pitch, which can then be referred to the television referee. This illustrates that other sports have attempted to limit the number of interruptions caused by the use of a television official. However, I would be against allowing sides a number of appeals against a decision in cricket, as it would erode one of its the central tenets: that the umpire's decision is final.

I argue that a delay of three minutes in making a decision is unacceptable and must not become commonplace. Until the technology can be improved there should be no alteration in the current rules regarding referrals to the third umpire. However, in the future I would not be surprised if all decision-making is removed from the umpire on the field, who will merely become a conduit for the television umpire(s) who will make all the decisions, hopefully in seconds.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Vaughn's Premature Autobiography

It used to be just footballers who would release their autobiography before they retired. So while David Beckham (who has released more than one) and Ryan Giggs were cashing in, the cricketing authorities were giving Allan Lamb an ultimatum: either retire earlier than planned or disappoint your publishers.

The reason why players should wait is obvious. Autobiographies written by unretired sportsmen will either be uninspiringly self-censored or will land the sportsman in hot water with either the relevant governing body or their colleagues. The latter was certainly true of Roy Keane who was fined £150,000 for stating in his book that the career ending tackle on Alfie Haaland was deliberate. Apparently he made the cardinal sin of not reading his autobiography before publishing it.

Clearly one of the downsides of the Ashes phenomenon is the publication of autobiographies from Flintoff and Vaughn. From the extracts I have read (from newspapers, on principle I would never buy either) it appears that Flintoff's is boringly uncontroversial, while Vaughn has risked damaging his standing with his fellow professionals in pursuit of higher sales figures. Perhaps he is correct in stating that Flintoff is an unsuitable candidate for the England captaincy, but shouldn't such comments wait until after Vaughn has retired? I'm less concerned about the criticism of Graeme Smith, but it still shows a lack or respect for anything except money.

I hope that others will follow my lead and not buy either book.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Amatuer Myth

I love the amateur ideal. I love the idea of sport only being part of a successful sportsman's life. I love the story of Roger Bannister who broke the 4-minute mile as a medical student, won the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games and then retired from sport to become a doctor. The problem is that there are so few stories like Roger Bannister's in the annals of amateur sport. WG Grace may have been designated as a Gentleman not a Player but he earned more money from cricket than most professionals and despite qualifying as a doctor there can be no doubt that cricket was the major thing in his life.

Amateurism was defended as an ideal because it was recognised that dedicating oneself completely to sport was damaging for a person's long-term well-being. No matter how glittering a sportsman's career, it will almost always end in tears, and then what? Only a small percentage can become journalists or coaches; the majority are left with no real work experience and no real career prospects.

The portrayal of sportsmen as overpaid parasites is a falsehood. In fact the reverse is true; we, the public, feed off them. We lure them into sport with perverse amounts of money and fame to satisfy our lust for entertainment, only to reject them when age and injury forces them into pre-middle-aged retirement. As a young teenager I wanted nothing more than to be a professional cricketer. Now I am quite happy that my lack of talent forced me to be an amateur.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Selection Of Plunkett Limits England's Options, Which Is A Sign Of Strength

Liam Plunkett has been selected to the England squad for the tour of Pakistan in place of the injured Simon Jones. After hearing the news the 20 year old is quoted in the Times as saying: "Even if I don't get to play in a Test match in Pakistan, I'll learn so much from being around such a quality group of players."

So even he recognises that he is unlikely to play in the Tests and it is possible that if the England team were stricken with injuries they would sooner draft in a player from outside the squad (as they did back in 1993 when Ian Salisbury was selected to play against India ahead of both squad members Tufnell and Emburey) than risk selecting the inexperienced Plunkett.

The squad is clearly divided into those who are likely to play and those who are only along to gain experience. World beating sides are made up of players who essentially select themselves and that the selectors feel able to pin England's hopes on as few as 13 or so players is an indication of how far the side has developed. Players such as James Kirtley, Jon Lewis and Ryan Sidebottom can now fully concentrate on domestic cricket.

The only consideration regarding the bowling will be whether to opt for an extra spinner in Udal or a seamer in either Tremlett (if fit) or Anderson. Incredibly, the only possible deliberations in the batting can be over Bell or Collingwood and the selection of the youthful Matt Prior to the squad (instead of the more experienced Read) means that the gloves will remain with Jones.

This means that no fewer than nine of the players pick themselves: Trescothick, Strauss, Vaughn, Pietersen, Flintoff, Jones, Giles, Hoggard and Harmison. That is a sign of strength.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Why The Super Series Should Never Be Repeated

To paraphrase Sir Humphrey Appleby: "It was a worthwhile experiment, now abandoned, but not before it provided valuable data and considerable employment."

The "valuable data" includes the knowledge that world-class performers such as Kallis (try telling Australian spectators he deserves to share the ICC player of the year award), and Lara can manage no better than averages of 7 and 1.67 after three innings, when they have only their pride to play for. The considerable employment was to the players of the Rest of the World XI, who proved that the cricketers of today are just as prepared to chase the Australian dollar as their World Series playing predecessors.

I do not accept Pollock's excuse that the players lacked match practice. They played a warm-up match against Victoria and their performances throughout the series got worse, not better. If the ICC had examined the poor performance of the rebel teams who went to South Africa they would have realised that money and pride in one's performance is not enough to ensure that world-class cricketers play to their potential.

The idea of "world" teams should now be consigned to charity games and the dustbin of history, along with Packer's World Series and the rebel tours to South Africa. The ICC should release a statement which apologises for the Super Series and concludes "it happened before important facts were known and cannot occur again."

Monday, October 10, 2005

Why Everyone Is Wrong About Muralitharan

Whenever an issue excites both hysterical support and unwavering condemnation in equal measures both sides are usually wrong, while the truth lies somewhere in between. This is undoubtedly true regarding the bowling action of Muralitharan. His supporters will not hear a word against him; his detractors refuse to listen to any reasoned argument which fails to condemn him as a cheat.

Doctors confirm that Muralitharan is unable to fully straighten his arm and I refuse to see how anybody can examine the action of a man bowling with a bent arm at normal speed and determine whether there is any straightening in delivery. Ross Emerson proved this when he called Muralitharan for throwing in a match against England in the 1999 triangular series. The slow motion replay showed that it was a standard Muralitharan deliver and the ICC had already cleared his basic action. Emerson knew this and waited for a delivery that he thought was clearly suspect. Had he believed that all Muralitharan's deliveries were illegal he would have called him immediately, instead of waiting until his second over.

However, slow motion technology is so accurate that if the letter of the law were applied the majority of bowlers would be no-balled out of the game. To counter this the ICC determined that anything up to 5% straightening is acceptable. In May 2004 the ICC took the bold move of stating that Muralitharan's doosra delivery required a straightening of more than 5% and so was illegal. However in November 2004 they backed down and determined that all bowlers should now be allowed a straightening of 15% and Muralitharan's doosra involved only a convenient 14% straightening and so was permissible.

My conclusion is that due to Muralitharan's unique action he can get away with "chucking" the occasional ball without the umpire noticing. Any umpire who does notice will court controversy should he do anything about it and will be made to look a fool if, like Emerson, slow motion television shows him to be wrong.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Why Ian Bell Cannot Be Relied On For The Pakistan Tour

There has been much statistical analysis of the recent Ashes series but so far no-one has examined the number of runs scored for each English partnership. That is until now!


Total Runs

Highest Partnership










































This highlights strengths in Englands batting. The tail clearly wagged on many occasions and the opening partnership looks very strong. However, there is an obvious weakness in the middle order. Average partnerships of 30.9 and 20.8 are disappointing and need to be improved.

Pietersen was the find of the summer, but he is a nervous starter. To complement his talents we need a steady batsmen at number 4. Bell performed this task brilliantly at Old Trafford, scoring 59 and 65 but more importantly sharing in two partnerships of 127 for the third wicket in both innings. However, Bell's exploits at Old Trafford contrasts sharply with his performance in the other four Tests. He averaged 17.1 overall but only 5.87 in the four Tests at Lords, Edgbaston, Trent Bridge and the Oval. The average partnership for the third wicket also drops from 30.9 overall to an abysmal 6.88 for the other four Tests. In five times out of the eight partnerships in question it was Bell's wicket which ended the partnership. In two of the other three occasions, Lords 1st innings and Trent Bridge 2nd innings, Bell was out next in partnerships of only 1 and 0 respectively. The only other instance was at Edbaston in the second innings, where Hoggard was used as nightwatchman and Bell shared partnerships of 2, 41 and 3 , for the 4th, 5th and 6th wicket, before being out for 21.

I greatly admire the recent English selection policy of showing faith with players who struggle early on in their test careers. This has been coupled with the no less admirable policy of refusing to select players who, after being given a fair chance, have clearly shown they are not good enough for Test cricket. Argubly Bell would already have been blacklisted had England lost the Ashes series, which we surely would have done if any other batsmen had peformed as poorly as he did. One Old Trafford swallow does not make a summer and with Simon Jones being declared unfit for the Pakistan tour the selectors have been given another chance to bring in an additional batsman to cover for Bell and give a more balanced look to the squad. I personally think that Robert Key deserves another chance.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Why Would Anyone Want To Be An Umpire?

There must be something strange and almost sinister about the character of a person who wants to be an umpire. If there was a murder during a cricket match and the Scorer had an alibi who do you think the prime suspect would be? Believe me, even the most levelheaded cricketer should fear the flapping of white coats.

The reason for this is obvious. No normal person in his right mind would ever want to become an umpire. They tend to be paid less than football referees and when the hours of work are considered it appears amazing that cricket associations up and down the land aren't being perpetually investigated by minimum wage tribunals. The best umpires can hope for is anonymity and this can only happen in a game with no close decisions. Billy Bowden was criticised by some for failing to notice that Kasprowicz's hand was not in contact with the bat when giving him out at the end of the Edbaston Test. But can you imagine the furore if he'd been given not out? In these situations umpires can't win and who would want to put themselves in that position?

The fact that insanity is a necessary prerequisite to be an umpire has lead to some real characters officiating at the highest level. Billy Bowden and 'Dickie' Bird? Both great umpires and both quite clearly barking mad. It stands to reason that Test cricket will get the best umpires whose idiosyncrasies tend not to interefere with their actual decision making. This is not true at the lower levels, umpires there are just barking mad. Some of the LBW explanations would rival the JFK magic bullet theory.

The solution is to start paying umpires more. Maybe then sensible, rational people will want to do the job.

Ashes Series Ensures That Cricket Makes New Friends But Keeps The Old

It was terrific to witness the surge in public support following the most exciting Ashes series in a generation. Perhaps now it will be easier for us long suffering cricket fans to justify our interest in a sport that can last for up to five days.

When my bemused Canadian wife caught me dancing round the living room following the dramatic conclusion of the Edgbaston Test, I tried to explain:
"Look, imagine it's not cricketball (as she calls it) but Ice Hockey, and rather than England vs. Australia it's USA vs. Canada and imagine that Canada haven't beaten the USA since 1987."

I think she started to understand. But to truly understand the momentous nature of this year's Ashes one must have suffered the misery of the continuous defeats. The optimism of the underdog that was continuously shattered by the Australian Juggernaut; the procession of victorious Australian captains who ruthlessly put down any semblance of an English rebellion.

Whenever an unfashionable sport becomes fleetingly popular there is a danger that the old guard will resent the new supporters and their naivety. "So how long does this game last" my sister-in-law asked as she incredulously noted the length of Pieterson's innings. I just quoted Meat Loaf: "It's like baseball on valium".

However, the advent of twenty-20 cricket ensures there is something to sustain the interest of the fair-weather fan, while the connoisseurs can enjoy the five day Tests. The Oval test was especially for us connoisseurs. A typical Test match draw, which can really only be enjoyed by those who have the knowledge to speculate on all the possible outcomes.

There was something for everyone this summer and for once I agree with Shane Warne. Cricket was the true winner.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Who Should Keep Wicket For England?

My Great Uncle Pat, who was a keen cricketer and member of the MCC, once said to me that when selecting a side the first name on the team sheet should be your best wicket-keeper, irrespective of all other considerations. There are many who would agree with him. However, in recent years the reverse argument has held sway and wicket-keeping performance has become a secondary consideration to runs scored.

After a run of eight games in the England side, Chris Read was dropped, just before the fourth and final game against the West Indies. He averaged a disappointing 12 in this series, (overall Test average of 15.30) but his wicket-keeping had been excellent. Many other batsmen had struggled on the pitches of the first three Test matches in the West Indies, at Sabina Park, Queen's Park Oval and the Kensington Oval. Trescothick averaged just 12.4 at this stage and Brian Lara only 16.67, before his epic 400 not out at St John's Recreation Ground. Chris Read was unlucky to be dropped; he averaged 44.68 in the 2005 County Championship and like so many others at Test level, his batting would have improved if he had been given more time to work on what should have been recognised as his secondary function in the side.

A player is far more likely to improve his batting than his wicket-keeping and so I cannot accept the much vaunted argument that Jones' wicket-keeping will dramatically get better. Those who make this argument are in fact putting unfair pressure on the player they are trying to support. By trying to argue that every poor performance could be the last one they are asking the public to expect too much.

We should accept that Geriant Jones is a talented batsman who will miss chances with the gloves. That is the player he is, we should either select him or not on that basis. In fact there is a strong case for keeping him in the side even if the wicket-keeping duties were passed to someone else. However, to illustrate the current thinking, it has been suggested that the "someone else" should be Trescothick.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

How Do The Batsmen Of Yesteryear Compare With Those Of Today?

The contest between Australia and the Rest of the World starts tomorrow with the first One Day International. So I thought I'd indulge in another interesting but ultimately pretty meaningless exercise by comparing the batsman from different eras.

The reason why comparing players from different eras is so meaningless is because they played in different conditions.

WG Grace started his career in 1865 against under arm and round arm bowlers who bowled four ball overs. Bowlers did not need guile as the pitches were so poor; the wicket at Lords for example had stones in it and was not improved until after the death of batsman George Summers in 1870. In these conditions the ability to play shooters was essential for a long innings, a worthless skill today. Grace is the only batsman from his era to have scored a hundred centuries or 50,000 runs. However, due to the poor pitches the bowling was weaker than in later eras. Throughout his career Grace never faced a single googly; it was only necessary to invent it after the pitches had improved and Grace had retired by then.

Don Bradman also towers over his contempories. His incredible Test batting average of 99.94 is nearly 40 better than the next best batsman (Sutcliffe's 60.73) who scored over 4000 Test runs. However, many of the Tests he played in were timeless, with more time to score runs. In these situations captains were less likely to try and prevent batsmen from scoring freely and more likely to set positive fields and try and get batsmen out. The fielding was far poorer than today, with two runs often being taken to fine leg. I believe the bowling was far weaker too. Why else do batsmen wear more protective clothing today?

There are never any comparisons made between the athletes of different eras as the times and distances have clearly improved over the years. The performances have also improved in cricket. Cricketers are competing against each other and so this makes their actual improvement in standard harder to measure. It is iconoclastic to say it, but in truth I doubt a Test side today would want Don Bradman in their side, any more than an international athletics team would want Jessie Owens.

The praise for the players of previous eras is nothing but nostalgia. Enjoy today's cricketers, they are the best there has ever been; even when they take part in the kind of charade that is about to unfold down-under!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Mad Marlar Is Wrong, Selection Should Be On Merit Alone

I really have to congratulate Robin Marlar the 74 year old Harrovian who has just been appointed as the new president of the MCC. Days into his one-year tenure he has already given tired hacks the excuse to call the MCC the Male Chauvinists' Club (it wasn't funny the first time guys) by stating that girls should not be allowed to play against boys at the 17 and 18 year old level. He is quoted in the Times as saying: "My attitude is not blimpish - it is called chivalry. The male of the species is taught not to knock the female about. A young man is letting go a potentially lethal missile at a young lady." (Note the use of "man" and "lady"; if he really believed in equality he'd have said either "gentleman" and "lady" or "man" and "woman".)

He may as well have said "Gad sir, they'll be playing football next." The fact is that the players in any team should be selected on merit. If a girl is better than any other available player, boy or girl, then she should be selected. End of argument.

Why on earth did Marlar choose to embroil himself in this row? This man discredits cricket in this country and a person of his views and his lack of PR skills should never have been made president of the MCC. For the sake of cricket let's hope he keeps his mouth shut for the next year.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Prediction For The Australia Vs Rest Of The World Matches

When trying to avoid making a prediction regarding a major sporting event, commentators and journalists will often sum up with the fatuous comment: it is a question of who wants it more.

However, for the forthcoming Australia vs Rest of the World this comment couldn't be more true and should be used to explain why Australia are far more likely to win these matches and why the whole thing should never have taken place in the first place.

Following a disappointing Ashes series (oh the restraint ...) many of the Australian players will be fighting for their places and they all will have the pride and purpose that comes with playing for your country. The Rest of the World players have no sense of national pride to play for, no threat of losing their places and certainly no sense of unity. It is clear that Inzamam-ul-Haq only reluctantly agreed to play following pressure from the Pakistan cricket board; one wonders how many others are playing under similar pressures.

Sadly the question: "Who wants it more?" Is unlikely to be asked, because in this case it is not fatuous, it is too close to the truth.

Should It Be The England Or Britain Cricket Team?

My grandfather, who was born in Cardigan to an Irish father and Welsh mother but lived his adult life in England, once complained that the "England" Cricket team should be called the "Britain" cricket team, as players born in Wales (Robert Croft), Scotland (Gavin Hamilton) and Northern Ireland (Martin McCague) were all eligible to play for the side.

My grandfather passed away before Scotland played in the 1999 World Cup, but he would no doubt have highlighted the glaring anomaly. How can a player, such as Gavin Hamilton, be eligble to play for Scotland and "England"?

Many column inches have been expended on the West Lothian Question, which queries how a Scottish Parliament can set education policy in Scotland while Scottish MPs can vote on education policy for England and Wales; and this needs to be addressed if more power is to be passed to the Scottish Parliament. So surely if cricket in Scotland is to progress, following their victory in the ICC Trophy, then this matter also needs to be resolved.

If others wish to call this the Cambournian Question then I won't stand in their way ...