29 December 2011

My new hero suffers

So Ed Cowan comes into the Test side at last and is given out caught behind when he didn't hit it and LBW when ball-tracker showed that it was missing. I expect he's wondering why he bothered.

On the other hand Hussey (three times) and Ponting (once) survived because the umpires review system was not available - a major contribution to Australia's win.
Statistics are supposed to show that use of the review system increases accuracy of decisions from 95% to 97% - how they prove that I've no idea but Cowan's experience seems to be a fairly strong contra. But India don't want to use it because it's not perfect (I can't think of anything that is) and so it's not used in their Test matches. But there seems to me to be no reason why you shouldn't allow their opponents access to it even if India don't have such access in the same match and I bet that would bring them round quickly.

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Almost groinal

Great new word coined by a commentator when a batsman got hit full on the box last night !

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28 December 2011

The "sodukku" ball....

Being up half the night with the kids has advantages at this time of year because the Boxing Day test in Australia has proved to be an exciting one. And I'll remember the shot Tendulkar played to the first ball after tea yesterday for a long time (a contemptuous upper cut over the slips for 6).

I've also learnt about a new ball that Ashwin bowls - the sudoku - at least that's how Channel 9 have been spelling it. Apparently the word should actually be "sodukku" rather than sudoku, whick means snapping of the fingers in Tamil (சொடுக்கு). It's kind of a doosra from the front of the hand, with the longest finger flicking the ball out with slight leg to off rotation, but it doesn't turn a great deal. It might need Jack Iverson style skill and finger strength to be able to bowl it, but there are those that think it's impossible to bowl a doosra without chucking it - for them the sodukku is the legitimate way for an off-spinner to turn the ball away from the right-hander.

It looks like tomorrow has the potential to be a thrilling day of Test cricket once again....and not just in the Australia v India match.....Sri Lanka have the South African's under a lot of pressure too. 2011 has certainly been a vintage year for edge of your seat Test cricket. It seems to come from the fact that all international sides are flawed in some way at the moment so there's a lot of sides playing to a similar standard. And there have been some exceptional new bowlers in 2011 too, from Ravi Ashwin to Pat Cummins to James Pattinson to Vernon Philander and the most recent Marchant de Lange taking 7 wickets for South Africa.

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25 December 2011

A new hero

Well if Peter Roebuck's diary of a cricket season is among the best 10 cricket books ever written Ed Cowan's must be too because it's better. Hope he scores a pile of runs in the boxing day test match.
References to Moneyballs ( don't think I'll watch the film - in my mind's eye the hero Bean has to be ugly or at least weird looking and he's played by a pretty-boy actor) and to 'Foxy' Fowler's season-diary ( where he's expecting to break into Test cricket but has a car crash season which leads to his relationship breaking up ) makes for familiar territory.
Somehow it also reminded me that I received my first ever cricket book 50 years ago today - Jim Laker's Australian Tour of 1961. I'll need to re-read that one next, if only for the passages describing the first tied Test and Tom Graveney's gardening leave when he moved from Gloucestershire to Worcestershire.

Happy Christmas.

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22 December 2011

The phenomenon works again

It seems that the strange law that saw Peter Roebuck's book's price increase when he died also works in happier circumstances. On Amazon I see that diarist Ed Cowan's 'In the firing line' has gone up from £10.95 to £17.51 following his selection for the Boxing Day Test but you can get it on Kindle for only £3.60 ( not sure whether that's gone up too).

I also find it amusing that listed just below is a book called Scotland's Cricketers including Rahul Dravid, Vasbert Drakes, Desmond Haynes and Ed Cowan - it seems that selection helps you sell other peoples' books for them as well.

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1 December 2011

D'Oliveira thoughts on the size of Indian backsides....and cricket in general

When Peter Roebuck died Mark Davis sought out one of his books to read and I have to admit that the passing away of Basil D'Oliveira made me reach up for an autobiography of his sitting in my cricket library (alright, alright, it's just one shelf!). It's an early book, written in early 1968 before the uproar about his inclusion in the England team to tour South Africa and tells of the way he got into the English professional game and his thoughts on cricket in general.

There are some interesting observations in there. He laments the lack of Indian fast bowlers:

"Indians....are small in stature. They just haven't got the framework for the quick stuff. Big backsides are essential for fast bowling, yet you would have to strap three Indian players together to make a rump to compare with Fred Trueman's."

And yet some of what he said seems contradictory, to me at least:

The Indian and Pakistani teams "were very friendly teams and a pleasure to play against. Unfortunately that is not much of a recommendation for Test cricket. It might be cynical, but I think a connection exists between behaviour on the field and the balance of power. The teams without much chance smile at you and make you welcome at the wicket. Those that expect to win bruise you and smile later - when it is all over."

But he also seemed to think that tailenders should not be bounced - here's a passage relating to Derek Underwood being hit in the mouth:

"Just before the Trent Bridge Test ended, Charlie Griffith hit Derek Underwood, England's number eleven batsman, in the mouth with a bouncer. I had just got out so I only know the dressing-room end of the incident, but it looked nasty.

None of our chaps had any time for it. Not many of theirs had either, from what I could make out afterwards. The game was as good as over and England were down the drain. There was no tension about. No need for desperation. I can't think what made Charlie do it.

The point is that Underwood is not a recognised batsman. I know he had shared a stand with me for the last wicket in the first innings (of 65), but that was almost a freak performance. His main quality as a batsman is courage. He stands in front of his stumps to the fastest bowler. But he has little in the way of technical equipment. With some people you know instinctively that they won't be able to defend themselves against this type of attack. Underwood is one of them. Because he should never have been given the bouncer. He is not capable of defending himself. That made it unfair.

Underwood was a special case. I am not arguing generally for tail-enders under this so-called gentleman's agreement whereby they don't get anything short bowled at them. That's a rediculous business. If a man can bat and he is causing trouble, then he is entitled to be given the bouncer - no matter whether he is number one or number eleven. There are plenty of fast bowlers who have been around county cricket for years and haven't been on the receiving end of more than half a dozen bouncers.

They make a lot of noise when they are. Everybody has heard them. They threaten retaliation to the bowler who has done it, they swear to bring war to his team-mates. For years they have been getting their quota of runs by sticking the front leg up the wicket before the ball is bowled knowing that under the so-called fast bowlers' pact it won't be short. They deserve to be frightened every now and again just to know how other men feel when they are cheerfully letting go two or three bouncers an over.

In the final reckoning everything must depend on whether the batsman is capable of defending himself."

Interestingly, Underwood received a written apology from Charlie Griffith. I guess things were a little different in the days before helmets as you had the ability to seriously injure someone or even kill them, but Underwood had clearly shown he could hang around with his part in the 1st innings 10th wicket partnership of 65 - why shouldn't he receive a bouncer? Especially as "those that expect to win bruise you and smile later". These days of course all the protective gear means that there's no reluctance to bounce anyone, and nor should there be.

Interesting though the book is, it's hardly a revalation. But tucked inside the front cover were lots of old press clippings and many of them relate to the controversy over D'Oliveira's selecting for South Africa so they were a really interesting read. Thank goodness the days of aparthied in South Africa are over.

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Parents getting involved in pro sport

There's loads of them from Lewis Hamilton's father going everywhere with him to the father of Venus and Serena Williams. But the fact that Yuvraj had his mother tell the media what was wrong with him still made me smile - clearly his lung complaint has stopped Yuvraj from speaking or releasing statements on his own behalf. Hopefully his mother has him tucked up in bed with a mug of chicken soup.

And in another sport I see that Emmanuel Harinordoquy's father has got involved in a club game in France. Harinoroquy Senior went on to the pitch and tried to strike one of his son's opponents (although he missed) before being tackled to the ground by the opposition's fly-half. Fly-halves don't often get in the way of marauding number 8s, but apparently 61 year-old members of the public are more to their liking! It reminds me of Andrew Symonds taking out a streaker.

Of course, it can get worse than your mother having to tell the media about your ailments. Shoaib Akhtar had to put up with the Pakistan Cricket Board going public with his genital warts!

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Imperfect light

Once again, after the first 4 days of the 2nd Test of South Africa v Australia all saw the players leave the field due to imperfect light, the first day of the Australia v New Zealand series began with the players coming off in imperfect light. Not bad light, but imperfect light. Michael Clarke was arguing to stay on despite New Zealand having two set batsmen at the crease.

The final day of the South Africa match was completed because there was a result on the cards so clearly the conditions weren't dangerous or the umpires would have had no option but to take the players off again? So point 1 on my list to better market Championship and Test cricket is to take the players off only when it's dangerous. It should be a once a season occurrence rather than near daily....

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More Tests could happen quite easily...couldn't it?

I've openly wondered in comments on a couple of cricket sites why it is that there's the obsession with playing lots of ODIs - the reasons are normally assumed to be financial but I couldn't understand why that would be. Surely there's economies of scale repeating the same staffing and organisational things 5 days in a row compared to 5 separate days, and in the UK it's the Tests that people are more interested in?

No one seemed able to answer my question as to why ODIs got better financial returns and there's a good reason for that - they don't. Giles Clarke seems to think that the proliferation of ODIs comes from England's poor 2007 World Cup and the demand to play more ODI cricket. Well Duncan Fletcher (who always pushed for more ODI cricket) has gone now.

My solution would be 3 match ODI series only with at least one extra Test each summer. For one day practice the England players can also play for their Counties if they feel they need more than the international ODIs to hone their skills. And Twenty20? Just the one match against each touring side if absolutely necessary.

I can't see that it's the fixture list that impacts England's chances at World Cups. It's about having several weeks together in the lead up to World Cups without thinking about other formats, playing practice matches as necessary in the country the World Cup will be played in during that period.

So without the financials to worry about, please can we change the English schedule to have a greater focus on Test cricket?

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Plans for English cricket

Interesting to see CMJ's views that he's passed on to David Morgan who has reviewed how English competitions and fixtures are structured. I like the idea of scheduling matches to start on set days, as they used to. CMJ wants Championship matches to start on a Sunday, and one dayers to be played every Saturday. I'm up for that although, as he's noted, TV would pay less for this type of scheduling where they don't have cricket every day. It seems like a price worth paying to me.

Not sure about Twenty20 - CMJ would like matches scheduled every Friday night so there is a home match fortnightly. To reduce the amount of the season where the players (and spectators) have to think about 3 formats, I think I'd go for Thursday and Friday nights consecutively. It'll be over quicker which, to be honest, is my main consideration. Twenty20 just gets in the way of the County Championship which should be the main focus for players, if not the casual spectator who likes Twenty20, or the County Financial Directors.

The main thing I like about CMJ's proposals is the on-going Championship cricket throughout the summer. It can't be right that at the height of summer Championship cricket stops to make way for Twenty20. If there is Championship cricket throughout the summer, Counties may tempt back some of those that have given up County membership in protest at the lack of 4-day cricket for a large chunk of the season. Perhaps the Counties can have their cake and eat it?

The only thing I'd be critical of in CMJ's thoughts is this meaningless sentence: "Championship and Test cricket to be innovatively and actively marketed." Andrew Strauss said something similar when asked about how Test cricket could be promoted. As CMJ says "one should always be prepared to offer an alternative when criticising" so I'll have a think about how to market the County and Test game. It'll be slightly more specific than "innovatively and actively marketed"!

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