“Yes Chef!” or All Hales and the Humidor

The Hooters Chef

The Squire wished to go to Lord’s on Saturday to watch Nottinghamshire play Surrey in the old B & H mid-summer Final, now thankfully re–insured by Royal London – Life Insurance + Pensions + Investments neatly inscribed on the boundary markers. Players used to find a twenty pack carton under their peg awaiting them on B & H match days. Now there’s a financial adviser sitting there ready to offer independent advice.  The game has changed.

Third Man left the Squire with the McCartney’s swapping tales of Desert Island Disk selections. Went down to Macca’s shed and took the trusty old aluminium ladder to the bottom of the road and shimmied over the wall into the ground before a Steward could shout ‘What?!’

He made his way to Dressing Room 6 to see whether any of the old Pros were there. Many of the dressing rooms that once adorned the Pavilion’s higher echelons have been turned into video analysis rooms and places that offer comfort to fourth umpires and referees.  But Dressing Room 6 remains well disguised as a Lift marked ‘Out of Order’.  Three or four of the old boys were there and cards were spread on an old coffin (from the relatively modern age of the game).

Lord’s is famed for its catering. Less well known is its reputation for fine cigars, a supply of which are kept in a jury rigged humidor – an adaption of the climatic control machine purchased for the Indoor Nets and transported to Dressing Room 6 by Pip Edmonds in what are called the Botham Days.

At 10.50 in walked young Hales. “Hail Hales”, we all said.  “Any of those Cohiba Behikes left, TM?” asked the six-foot-five Hillingdonian. “The Squire instructed me to issue you with two, Titch. One for your innings and one for afters.”

Surrey’s innings took off at a rate of knots. Notts seemed generally languid and unperturbed, dropping a catch or two to demonstrate their confidence – a lot of psychology in the game now. The Lord’s outfield was like glass – emerald green glass. The fielders sauntered. The batsmen drove. But the truth was that Surrey batsmen kept losing their wickets at the most inopportune moments.

The last time TM had seen Surrey play in a Lord’s Cup Final was in 1965 when Brian Close dropped Boycott a couple of Dextros in his morning Horlicks.  Surrey wilted that day. “Seeing you here again does not bode well, TM,” said dear old Horse (13.3.51.1) from a corner of Dressing Room 6.

Notts and Pattinson in particular (34 dots in his 10 overs) got a little reverse going as Surrey entered the last 10 overs and ground to a halt. Their final score of 297 was disappointing. “If only it had been 347,” the Notts supporters on top of the Compton were later to moan. Fletcher did his impression of a lad up from pit for day, but rumour has it he was rescued from a life as a chef at Hooters of Nottingham.  He’ll be OK in Dressing Room 6 in the years to come will that Fletch.

As Hales skipped down the stairs to the Long Room on his way to the wicket, TM stretched out a hand containing a lighter. “There you are Titch.”

The stewards have strangely become a friendly lot in recent years and not a word was said as the scent of fine Habana filled the Long Room, members’ noses turning towards the sweet smell. Such a forgiving scent.

At the wicket, Hales handed the smouldering cigar to the square leg umpire and took guard.

Few who were there will ever forget the following 200 minutes. Lord’s bathed in divine light. The scent of cigar drifting across the ground, reaching all parts of the field like the ball off Hales’ Grey Nick’s bat. Sublime drives. Powerful pulls to balls shortened by the anxiety of bowlers fearing to give him any length. Width punished, not with an admonishment, but with a neatly  inscribed note of thanks, that the time which this master of the drive has at his disposal allowed him to pen. The ash flicked nonchalantly towards the Media Centre at 50, 100 and 150.

At one point, a bewitched opponent, yet England team mate, Jason Roy, ran fully twenty yards to offer the palm of his hand, rather than to allow that foul ash to sully the batsman’s gloved hand; the burning glow at each leisured inhalation never once threatening to outshine the batsman’s brilliance.

Look at the book, if you want the details, oh foolish prizer of data. For all your counting and calculating you will have missed the essence of a cigar appropriately humidified, of batting as leisure, in a match that mattered.

 

(Special thanks to Michael Vaughan who smelt it first.)

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Light roller

Watching Kohli Drive

koh1

Here’s Kohli from yesterday. The hands will do what Buttler’s hands do. There’s the ‘L’ shape that produces the ‘lag’.  The hands travel across his body // to the ground as the sequence continues.

koh2

and then …

koh3

the ball has reached the point below the hands, but there’s still plenty of room for the lag to unwind, creating tremendous bat speed. Hands still at the same height as the first image – ‘low’ relative to the ball – a shallow angle of attack.

And here’s almost the moment of contact …

koh4

Hands in front of the ball. Still some lag to be unwound. And the shallow angle of attack.

There are many similarities here with a Jordan Spieth drive.

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Light roller

‘Ell of a shot

imag2204

Those able to watch the first ODI match between India and England played at Pune yesterday were able to feast on a diet of 750 runs, without the slightest fear of indigestion. It was a great spectacle.

It was also a funny old wicket.

Few batsman managed a decent pull shot, which suggested variable pace, there were a few dabs and flicks but surely most of the runs came from drives or was it just the stunning nature of these shots – especially from Kholi and Buttler – that gave a false impression?

And this revealed a delightful irony of the modern game: with all the new shots that have come into cricket in the last decade; reverses, ramps and switches; it is actually the good old drive that seems to have undergone the greatest transformation.

People point to the bats, and yes, they are softly pressed and the willow more evenly dispersed across the blade, but they are not unduly ‘heavy’ or heavier than those used in the 1970s.

Where then comes the increased range of the lofted drive, especially, and the increased pace at which the ball comes off the blade?

Above is an image of Buttler that reveals all. Ask any American weekend golfer what’s going on and they’ll tell you.  But how many cricketers?

It’s the ‘L’.

It’s an ‘L’ of a shot.

2 Comments

Filed under Light roller

Cricketing Cults and Stress Fractures

edvard-munch-melancholy

For England, preparing to take the field in Mumbai, two down with two to play, the six letters that should be uppermost in their consideration  S – T – R – E – S – S or, strictly speaking, how to avoid being stricken with stress.

Eddie Jones recently had some words of wisdom on the subject. If you know what you are doing there IS no stress. In other words, disabling stress comes when not knowing what to do forces its way into a sportsperson’s consciousness.

So, if you have a plan and, crucially, if you believe in the plan and have no doubts or feelings of insecurity about the plan that you are being asked to follow or have chosen to adopt, you will bat or bowl without stress.

The trouble comes when you play in two (or more) minds. The ‘should I, shouldn’t I?’ dilemma of being true to ‘my game’, true to my understanding of myself and … and playing in a way that is ultimately inauthentic, alien and pushed on you by outside forces.

In his blog A Sportsman’s Transition the entry on 2/12/2016 for 1/10/15 Alex Gidman  describes the modern dressing room: “We have developed a culture in cricket where we sit in a room with a load of coaches who tell us what we have done wrong. Ok they have stats, footage, whatever but unless you can figure out why things have gone well or badly yourself then it’s irrelevant what the coach says. You have to figure it out what changes are needed and why, the coaches are there to assist you and help but not to be relied on.”

And In ‘Setting the Scene’ – Chapter 1 of ‘Bucking the Trend,’, Chris Rogers, describes how the former Cricket Australia executive Marianne Roux sat the Australians down and said ‘for every negative thought you’ve got to tell yourself to have five positive thoughts’.

One can almost hear the internal monologue of the perspicacious Roger’s, no shrinking violet he, saying to himself, “Well I can’t say that’s ever fucking worked for me.”

Can one picture an England Lion in the full England dressing room reacting to such advice in any other way than with strict compliance? “Yes, yes!”

Rogers explains his own perspective on such advice, “Oddly enough, doubts and insecurities have actually been quite a powerful force driving me as a cricketer. Some players are able to back themselves in, but my own doubts about my ability to pull off certain shots led me to a very pragmatic game, where I worked out the most reliable ways of surviving and scoring without taking undue risks. You often hear about the use of positive thoughts to generate good results, but I’m a big believer in finding a way to channel negative thoughts.”

Rogers continues, “You spend so much of your time questioning yourself and competing against others that you need to find a way to use those doubts. To block them out successfully means kidding yourself, and how long can that last? Instead I find it best to know and own those doubts, and use them to sculpt a technique within my own limitations. By thinking my way through it, I’ve been able to find ways of succeeding where others have not …” before going for the jugular of the modern meme that is the perhaps greatest force for inauthenticity in modern batting, “There is, perhaps, something for others to learn from that, in an age where we constantly hear so much batting bravado talk, which can lead either to rapid scoring or rapid collapsing.”  TM’s italics.

Putting the pursuit of the brand before the authentic expression of personal capabilities is the reason that England has crippled (not a nice word but here, surely, justified) so many young batting talents in recent years? And it is why, in this Test series, stress has stalked the nets and dressing rooms and thrust itself on to the field of play, bringing calamity and dissonance in its wake.

The England managers have only themselves to blame. They have created a cult. It has initiation ceremonies, rites de passage, through which novitiates must pass. Inside is security and access to magical knowledge and privileges beyond the ken of outsiders.  There is a priesthood and leaders, whose authority must never be challenged. They have access to huge wealth and entitlements that can be withdrawn in a moment. Leaders come and go, but the orthodoxy reforms around new leaders. There is apparent equality yet power is held by the few. Novices are taken in at a young age and indoctrinated. Few if any are recruited later in life. There is perfect freedom within, provided the orthodoxy is never challenged.

Cults have a way of ending in mass suicides when reality becomes inescapable and the dissonance too great to bear. But before then, we can change coaches, replace captains and welcome a new cap or two.

Leave a comment

Filed under Heavy Roller, Uncategorized

“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.

1 Comment

Filed under Heavy Roller

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Light roller

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.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Light roller