“Has What it Takes” – The Importance of Leaving Well Alone

 

The Squire and Third Man first saw the batting of Haseeb Hameed, known as Has, in the Old Trafford Indoor School when he joined a small squad in the Level III ECB Development Programme, aged 11 or 12.

But they had heard of him a couple of years before as a precocious talent who had been selected for the Lancashire Under 11 side while still two or three years below that age.

The reports from the Under 11s were that, accommodating his size, he was already a great manager of the ball, making its energy work for him. He was flexible of wrist. He possessed patience and great powers of concentration.  He valued his wicket highly – and his valuation of it was as precise as his shot making.  He was regularly scoring 50s and batting very long innings. In short no-one could get him out.  Not much has changed, it seems.

There were long battles in the spin net on that Lancashire/ECB programme. You could see that the young man had respect for those bowling against him, not a subservient respect, nor an assertive arrogance, but the kind of respect that underpins sound judgement of shot selection.  His defense was secure.  There were few bad balls on offer and so his ‘virtual’ runs came from deflections and glides.  Placement trumped power.

His parents brought him each evening and his father watched carefully from a distance.  Was it from his father that he had learnt those delightful skills?  Because this was mature batting at an early age – a miniture masterpiece – and, importantly for what comes below, well before any system had got at him.

Neither the Squire nor Third Man have seen him bat since those days but the results have been plain to read and the tributes from opposing First Class captains and their veteran coaches confirm that this batsman is special and steadfastly realising his potential.

The magnificent feat of a hundred in each innings of the just completed Roses Match has been met with a call from Michael Vaughan that he should be included in the full England touring party this winter as the ‘spare opener’.

This news coincides with a severe critique of England’s recent selection policies from James Morgan at The Full Toss and follow England’s batting woes in the tied Test series against Pakistan.

Test cricket is now one specialised form amongst a number of different forms of the game, each of which has its own Darwinian adaptive forces selecting for differing skill-sets.

Test match batting with its expanses of time requires the highest level of technical excellence.  The analysis and bowling at Test match level is now sufficient to expose any weakness in a batsman.

A career in cricket is a process of the winning and giving of development opportunities by the selectors.  Experience counts, all benefit from being given opportunities, but the opportunity of gaining experience is better given to some than to others.

‘Selectors’ might not be the right word to describe Whitaker et al in the days of the strong Coach/Captain model (which includes a very strong Technical Director of Elite Coaching [TDEC] overseeing a pool of players deeply embedded into the England set-up and through whom all selectees pass). Where real power over these decisions lies is as obscure and as unwritten as the British constitution. The suspicion remains from the late Flower era that cultural fit into the system is given as much, if not more, weight than technical proficiency.  How would our own bowlers bowl against some of our recent debutants and are they ever asked before decisions are made?

In recent times, batsmen with glaring weaknesses have benefited from development opportunities against weak opposition operating in alien conditions. Those opportunities have too often been wasted on players whose deficiencies have been quickly exposed when strong opposition arrived.

It would be natural for the coaching, fitness and psychological support staff to believe they can ‘fix’ such inadequacies on the job – it’s why they are paid. But here is further cause for concern.  Ask the old pros associated with coaching talent in the counties and you will hear them talk of their dread that their player is being scooped up into the England system.  Sure, this can be a human reaction to someone losing control, but too many have seen young cricketers who have been growing in ability in their nurseries ‘crash’ and burn after time with the England set up.

The system is clearly failing.  After a number of series, including an odd and less than reliable one at home against the Australians, England is left with gaps, real or imagined, in their batting line up and no more development opportunities before their winter series.  For the medium to long term this system must be fixed. It is broken.

But, back to Haseeb Hameed and the question as to whether right now this precious talent should tour with England this winter.

The answer should be Yes,  but … not if he is to be the ‘spare opener’ from the start.  Imagine: first warm up match – not selected! And on and on bringing on the drinks, until, out of practice in the middle, he receives his call up to meet a crisis.   No, the young batsman’s technique is ideal for sub-continental conditions.  If he is to go and to survive the process, his and England’s best chance is for him to open the batting from day one.

But he is where he is because he has been left to develop and to soak up experience on the basis of  ‘I’ll ask if I need something’. There should be no efforts to tinker with technique or with his mind!

Here’s an ideal chance to see what happens when coaches leave well alone and Test selection pays due regard to technique.

  • Thanks to the Manchester Evening News for a shot taken in those same in door nets – a few years later.

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In Praise of Bunsen Burners

“Westward Ho! Third Man” yelled the Squire last Saturday. “We are off to see our friends from the North (West), Messers Parry and Keedy. They’re playing at home for Formby today. One o’clock kick-off. I don’t want to be late.”

It’s August and the Squire is on his Bowland estate. It had been raining incessantly on the moors.

“We must seek sun and good spin bowling, TM. We are enthusiasts starved of drift, dip and turn. I’ve been told by our old companion Cockbain, now the captain of Formby in the Lancashire Premier League, that we’ll find what we are looking for at the end of the rainbow yonder on the coast.”

They arrived at Formby five minutes late and found that the visitors, New Brighton, had already lost a wicket. “I told you were driving too slowly, TM. You were listening to that damn Boycott and not concentrating on the task in hand.”

Here was Boycs on the benign Edgbaston wicket.  “Will this wicket turn eventually on the fifth day?  Of course it will. So, why don’t we ask the groundsman to leave the wicket open to the elements during preparation to produce his ‘fifth day wicket’ on the third day?”

Abrasion and grip can produce enthralling, skillful cricket, with batsman challenged by and responding early in the match to conventional swing and seam, and later to reverse swing and spin.

Cricket at Formby began on a day five wicket, as dry and textured as Third Man’s bowl of Flahavan’s  porridge oats.

Cockbain turned to Parry and Keedy in the 9th and 10th overs.  Parry, initially stiff and wayward to leg after a fortnight out of the Lancashire side, and Keedy, feeling his way towards the optimum pace at which to bowl. Early doors, both experienced the indignity for left-armers of being lapped by right-handers. But old pros like Pazza and Gazza are not put off by that, even when New Brighton’s 50 had arrived with no further loss of wicket.

Then Parry, who bowls straighter and quicker than Keedy, hit the stumps. And Keedy, tossing the ball high and ripping it across the face of the bat, found the edge.

Here on view were two very different approaches to the art of left arm bowling: Keedy intimidating the amateur batsmen with prodigious turn and bounce before striking with an arm ball or a delivery of less excessive flight and turn; whilst Parry bowled bullet straight. Four LBWs, two for each on a ‘Bunsen’.

A good partnership for the ninth wicket, with some fearless hitting, transferred the pressure from batsman to bowler and took the New Brighton score to a very respectable 165 all out – Parry 5 for 44, Keedy 4 for 68 – “More than we planned for,” said Cockburn.

There is no such thing as a ‘natural’ wicket – not even a terroir – when there is marl or loam, or even dust to be added; watering and covering or uncovering to be varied, length and extent or absence of grass to be gauged, and, on first class grounds, heaters and varying rollers to be chosen.

Every strip is a contrivance: In the first Test between England and Pakistan this summer, the public were provided with conditions that entertained them with the excitement of late movement from reverse swing and the ingenuity of classic wrist spin.  Old Trafford contrived to avoid the conditions of the previous Test, and Edgbaston provided the drama of attrition and brought forward the narrative of perseverance overcoming the odds.

Formby had contrived conditions that Boycott would have enjoyed; conditions in which batsman, in the highest level below county cricket, had to battle with flight and turn and fierce bounce not from pace but from the spinner’s science –  the keeper often taking the ball above shoulder height standing up.

And New Brighton had three spinners in their armoury who could and would monopolise their bowling.

The Formby openers refused to allow these three to settle and took the score to 100 without loss. But once those spinners had tasted success, the scales moved against Formby with three wickets falling without the score moving on. In a blink it was 125 for 5 and 144 for 6 before Cockbain, with years of experience, sent out two lefties to neutralise the two left-armers.

This is as good as cricket gets – spinners bowling 87% of the overs in helpful conditions. Metaphorically and literally gripping stuff.

These conditions can be contrived anywhere in the country at almost any time of the season.  Don’t be fooled into believing that seaming tracks are God given, they are not.  More ‘Bunsen burners’ will see counties and England Test sides bringing on and using the spin talents that dominate Under 11 and under 12 county cricket.

Your score card

Above – Thanks to the Grosvenor Estate in Bowland where the Giants have pitched their wickets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yasir Shah, His Magic Mirror and The Rubby Dubby Bag

Escher's Magic Mirror

Tomorrow England face Pakistan at Old Trafford. Expect a feast of bowling. At Lord’s, the Pakistan seamers were getting it to reverse almost by the twenty over mark.  At that rate, if the OT wicket is typically abrasive, they’ll be getting it to reverse after five!

But the highlight will surely be the chance to watch Yasir Shah again, following his 10 – 141 in NW8.

Viewing Shah from side-on you’ll appreciate the speed of the arm and the powerful force he generates through the crease, like a catapult assisted jet taking-off from an aircraft carrier.

In the first innings he exploited the minimal turn offered by the wicket.  Throughout both innings he was content selflessly to bowl from which ever end his seamers didn’t want to bowl from and made the best of it whenever that required him to bowl his leg-breaks up the slope: a good team player for an obvious super star.

Also he took a number of wickets when England batsmen played vicious top spin deliveries square to leg instead of bunting them straight back.

Was this faulty technique?  Well of course.  But it wasn’t as simple as that.

Every now and then … perhaps once every four overs … Shah, as if in error, would drag down a delivery which a grateful England batsmen would gleefully pull to the mid-wicket boundary.  But it was like watching a fisherman dangling some rubby dubby over the side.

“Enough of these metaphors TM!”

So, when in the 71st over of England’s second innings, with a valiant Bairstow on 48 and doing his very best to refrain from all temptation and shepherd England slowly but surely towards the required total … well here is how Cric-Info described it, “A straight ball, that (Bairstow) should have whacked. Yasir has pitched it a little short, which is why Bairstow went back. He tries to play it with perhaps too closed a face …”

Except that to understand why Bairstow played the ball as if it was a drag down ball and not the top spinner that was going to screech through anything but a straight bat, you have to have seen that Shah had deliberately given him just such a dragged down delivery to ‘whack’ to the boundary four of his overs before.

And here’s how Cric-Info had described that ball in the 63rd over, “Yasir Shah to Bairstow, FOUR, a rare – very rare – poor ball as he drags one down and Bairstow latches on with a powerful pull through square leg.”

Subtle stuff to savour.

HT the ever suspicious Chris @ Declaration Game and Brian Carpenter @ Different Shades of Green.

 

 

 

 

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The Strangest Things – England v Pakistan Lord’s Test 2010

Eduardo P at Kew

“It’s ridiculous,” said Graeme Swann.   “(The match) keeps throwing up the strangest things.”

Swann was commenting at the end of Day 3 of the fourth Test of the 2010 series between England and Pakistan.

After interruptions for rain on the first day of the match, England began the second day on 39 for 1.  At drinks they were 69 for 5 in bowler friendly conditions that had reminded Third Man of Massey’s Test at the same ground in 1972.

The last three England batsmen had all made ducks and had fallen to Mohammad Amir – the new Massey.  Two further wickets fell after lunch taking England’s score to 102 for 7 when Stuart Broad joined Jonathan Trott. England, from this perilous position, went on romantically to win by an innings and 225 runs.

The match has become famous for allegations of spot fixing. Unbeknown to the Pakistan players, that day, The News of The World were about to be given proof by Amir himself, via a ‘middleman’ that, for a price, they could be fed tips about the outcomes of parts of Pakistan v England matches.

As this blog reported on the 29th August 2010, three no-balls were ordered up for the News of the World’s sting team, designed to convince this potential client/punter that lucrative outcomes could be and ALREADY WERE being delivered to subscribers to the middleman’s services.

A no-ball duly ‘delivered’ by Amir was photographed. It revealed the bowler over ‘stepping’ by at least 12 inches and, tellingly, the captain, fielding at mid-off, watching anxiously, not at the batsman on strike as you might imagine, but at the bowler’s front foot.

Scotland Yard arrested the middleman and the ICC banned three players, Salman Butt, the captain, Mohammad Amir and another bowler Mohammad Asif also implicated in the delivery of no-balls for the News of the World. The bans were for between 5 and 10 years – not life. All three were later convicted of criminal charges ‘related to spot fixing’ and given prison sentences.

Attention has always focused on the no-balls and ‘spot fixing’ –  but the many other ‘strange things’, unwittingly alluded to by Swann, point towards the probability of many hugely profitable spread betting opportunities, contrived during this match for other potential clients.

At the time,Third Man wrote, “at around noon on Friday (TM) thought England would be out for under a hundred, the conditions were so conducive to the undoubted talents of Amir and Asif.  Even then the disparity between the wickets taken by Amir and Asif seemed extraordinary.

“But he was also increasingly surprised to see Butt take the foot off the England throat.  He could not believe some of the bowling changes and field placings.  Why no sustained attack?  Why no third slip?  Why use your two strike bowlers so sparingly with the new ball?  Why take off Amir just as Broad reached 99.  Why use a part time leg spinner?  Now, one even has to speculate on the missed chances (two slip chances in an over) and juvenile miss-fields.”

Amir will probably be playing for Pakistan again at Lord’s later this week.  Opinion is divided as to whether convicted cheats should be allowed ever to play again.  It is good to see a number of experienced former cricketers of the highest class saying they should not.

If you were not watching at the time, it might be easy to dismiss a couple of no-balls and wonder if the punishment was appropriate to the crime and that Amir for example should be given a second chance.  Warning: personal naivety should not lead one to the projection of a similar naivety onto others.

This was an appalling, calculated and systematic fraud that blights cricket to this day – it robs those who watch cricket and pay to watch it of the certainty that what is going on is sport, is legitimate competition.

Letting cheats earn a living again from the game they have damaged sends the wrong signal to every future player approached by a fraudster.

August 2010 was the worst of times.  And it happened before our very eyes, the sensations that they discerned crowded out by sport’s inconstant friends, romance and idealism.

  • Image Above : Eduardo Paolozzi’s sculpture, “A Maximis Ad Minima” Kew Gardens.

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Braithwaite Giving It a Very Long Handle

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April 4, 2016 · 2:32 pm

Finalized

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April 3, 2016 · 5:25 pm

Putting #45 Gayle Under Pressure Like in the First Match?

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April 3, 2016 · 1:03 pm