Monthly Archives: April 2010

A Pilgrim’s Progress

One Test Wonders are a feature of cricket.  There is even a Wikipedia page devoted to them.   There are 39 listed there at present.

At one point Doug Insole  boasted the distinction of being a Three Test Wonder – having played his first three tests in three different series and having had the distinction of being dropped after each one of them.

Third Man has enjoyed spending time in the literary company of Mr Insole while recently reading his Cricket from the Middle, published in 1960.

In 1949 Insole became the first grammar school boy to captain Cambridge University and his side was the first to beat Oxford after the Second World War.

He had learnt his cricket in the ‘sideway’ of his home in Essex and then in local club cricket, representing London and Essex schools more for his fielding than anything else. Largely self taught he gave up trying to penetrate the packed off-side fields of his era and, placing his foot unfashionably wide of the ball, shovelled it with his bottom hand into the vacant leg side, as illustrated below.

Doug Insole and Friends Compton and Evans

This unorthodoxy, not to be compared with Compton he hastens to add, meant that he was highly dependent on form and timing.  Feeling right he would score freely.  Not feeling right he would scratch about unattractively.

Insole tells the reader that every batsman learns the best way of dealing with lack of form.  His method was to stay there as long as possible in the hope that eventually it would turn up.

It is easy to empathise with Insole.  Third Man took to him immediately.   He is ‘one of us’ who happened to play at the highest level rather than ‘one of them’ whose talent sets them apart from the ordinary cricketer. 

Never is this more apparent than in his Test career.

On Sunday 16 July 1950 he was having tea with Lancashire’s captain, Nigel Howard,   in Sale when he heard on the six o’clock news that he had been included in a list of thirteen players from which the England side to play the Third Test against the West Indies at Trent Bridge would be chosen.

Back home the notification of his selection arrived instructing him to report to the ground by 10.30 am on the morning of the first day.  (Tests started at 11.30 in those days so there would have been time for a cup of coffee, a John Player Senior Service un-tipped and a flick through the Racing Post – TM)

Well, we have all had that type of notification.  “Meet at the Coach and Horses, cars leave at 1.00 pm sharp.  Bring own kit.”

The debutante writes, ‘As it happened I played in a match for my firm on the Wednesday immediately prior to the Test and arrived at the Victoria Station Hotel at Nottingham about 10 p.m. to find Norman Yardley phoning all over England for a spare batsman … It was all rather reminiscent of a club tour.’  Quite.

Insole, a team-sport player, he was also a fine amateur footballer, found it all very disconcerting.  He was further unsettled when, down to bat at number six, he found himself walking to the wicket on that first morning with the score on 26 for four.

He remembers saying to Frank Chester as he went out to bat that he felt thoroughly at home as it was a bit like playing for Essex (then rather a dud county).  But for Insole it was really not like playing for Essex.  He didn’t have any of those butterflies at the start of an innings when ‘I feel I am batting with and for every other member of my side’.

He ‘scraped and prodded about’ for an hour or so adding 45 with Yardley before Sonny Ramadhin  completely beat him on the back stroke and he ‘heard the death rattle’.  England were all out for 223.  The West Indies, then, through Worrell (261) and Weekes (129), made 558.

Frank Worrell on his way to 261 invites England to 'fetch that one'.

After a better start in the second innings by England, Insole nevertheless found himself going out to bat with five minutes of play remaining on the fourth day.  He survived the remaining deliveries of an over from Valentine and called his partner, the well set John Dewes, for a run off the last ball of the over.

Insole now had to face Ramadhin, this time in the final over of the day.  The second ball he faced pitched outside leg stump, he played his favourite walking shot to nurdle it round to midwicket, missed and was stumped down the leg side.

Have we not all been there either in reality or in our recurring nightmares?  The cardinal sin committed of getting out with four balls of the day’s play remaining.  The long, long walk back to the pavilion.  A whole night and a whole day and a whole life to reflect on why, oh why, we did not sweep the bloody thing, or leave it, or even kick it away. 

But that ball never comes back.  As in life, so dramatically in cricket, we never have the chance to play it again. 

Not surprisingly Insole was not instructed to be at the ground for 10.30 on the first morning of the next Test, not for any Test in the next five years.

Tomorrow Third Man will navigate the time contraption to 1955 and the arrival of the South Africans.

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Prince of Darkness Halts Kent’s Four Wheel Drive

Third Man had planned for today the first part of a two-dayer on Doug Insole’s Test career, but arriving yesterday at Old Trafford at 5.30 he found Prince and Chilton peering into the gloom as the Danish English quick Amjad Khan tried hard to make good use of the conditions.  

Umpires had clearly been instructed to act in the best interests of the small crowd.  Carrots must be on the menu at Lancashire as Prince and Chilton struck boundaries either confirming the umpires’ evaluation that conditions were fit for play or suggesting that the Kent bowling was innocuous.

This ball to Prince, snapped on the telephone camera (can’t you tell), sailed over the batsman’s head and beat the poor keeper for four byes.

Weather permitting Lancashire are in a good position to win their first three Championship matches for the first time in fifteen years.

 

Ten minutes later a mixture of rain and total darkness sent the players feeling their way to the dressing rooms.

Kent, always style icons, had chosen to drive to Manchester in personal cars.  Third Man, a stranger to C21st county cricket, was interested to note that the Ford Escorts and Mondeos of former days have been swapped for massive black all-terrain Jeeps and Cherokees which must be just the thing for journeys to off-road grounds like the Riverside and the Rose Bowl.

Players now keep their daily effects in neat little flight cases that they wheel to and from these gas guzzlers which sometimes can’t reach the pavilion steps.  Makhaya Ntini looked like an international lawyer crossing the Terminal 5 departure lounge but in training kit.

Third Man is also told that at the end of the day players take their ‘flannels’ tie knots in each leg, fill the resulting bag with their laundry before sealing the top by pulling the waist cord tight.  

If this practice hasn’t reached your dressing room, this may be your chance to uptrend the young bloods.  Remember, you read it here first.

Lancashire are 175 runs ahead of Kent and have seven second innings wickets in hand.  The game is moving on.

Tomorrow it will be back to the Fifties when Insole, who finding himself persuaded to tour South Africa as Vice Captain of the MCC side and believing his old cricket bag wouldn’t make the trip (as they say in racing) borrowed an old ‘coffin’ from Stuart Surridge – the person, not the kit company.

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Rock Around the Clock or This Could Go Anywhere

It is difficult to sense change day by day.  Like they say about the weather and climate, you can’t reliably spot a trend just from what’s happening today.

Contrasting the differences between the batting techniques now and those of the  Nineteen Sixties – a fifty year perspective – the most significant development appears to be in the process of shot selection.

Ricky Ponting - This Could Go Anywhere

Coaching manuals from every era begin their descriptions of shots with a phrase similar to, “The X shot is played to the ball pitching at Y”.  

The dominating ideal in batting at the time was that there was one stroke that was the correct one for each ball received.  If a young person was grooved in the correct execution of the full vocabulary of shots, practiced in these with enough balls thrown or bowled to them in the right places and then able correctly to chose which shot to play they would maximize their chances of success.

Today the emerging batting talent is taught a similar range of shots as a foundation but then encouraged to use each of these shots for an array of different balls.  Or, putting it another way, they are bowled a similar ball and expected to play different shots to different parts of the ground.

The third man in this photograph is the ubiquitous bowling machine. Soon these could replace human bowlers in the next big thing to sweep cricket - see below

A bowling machine is set up to deliver a similar ball each time.  At the precise moment that the ball is put into the machine the Coach calls a number which stands for an area of the field. 

Starting with four points on the compass, a shouted  ‘one’ might stand for hit this square on the off-side,  a ‘two’ for hit it to mid off, a ‘three’ for loft it over mid-on and a ‘four’ for square leg. 

The object is that, whatever the nature of the ball, wherever it pitches or would have pitched if allowed to do so, the batsman must hit it to the nominated area.

A large selection of shots can be played to a similar ball and hit to the same part of the ground.  Direction ‘one’, through point, can be reached by a cut, a straight drive preceded by a step to leg, a cut off front or back foot, a reverse sweep, a switch hit. 

As skill in this exercise increases so do the number of target areas: from ‘one’ though slip to ‘twelve’ down to very fine leg.  And as we saw yesterday the importance of the third dimension means that some targets call for lofted shots.  ‘Six’ may require a shot over the bowler’s head; front foot, back foot, straight bat or horizontal.

Maybe when the cricketing marketeers get hold of this they’ll see an opportunity for winter television.  Pietersen plays Dilshan, both pitted against Merlyn with runs given for hitting targets randomly selected and called out by ERNIE and adjudicated by Hawkeye.

Wait a minute.  Third Man thinks he’d better stop there and phone his patent and trade mark lawyers to register ‘Rock Around the Clock’.

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Watch this then! – Sir Donald Bradman and the Origins of the Dilshan

The dare is irresistible to young boys.

“I bet you wouldn’t dare go out there and reverse sweep that opening bowler.”

“Watch this then!”

That was the kind of chat you might have overheard listening to a bunch of eleven year old cricketers, five years ago.

Now they’re sixteen and it’s the Dilshan that’s the subject of their dares.

Tillakaratne Dilshan playing the Scoop Shot right out of the coaching manual

Twenty or so years ago cricketers rediscovered that scoring runs could be a three dimensional activity.  In the days of risk-averse batting one might see the odd lofted straight drive, though cricketers have been sacked from Test sides for playing that shot before lunch on the first day of a Test.

The hook was always an explosive shot with the ball soaring skyward, but even then you could hear the coach’s admonishment, “Roll those wrists, TM.”

Roy Marshall famously played the sliced cut that slewed the ball over Third Man’s head for six, but no-one thought of copying that ‘impossible’ shot.

Perhaps it was Barry Richards, copping with the demands of the Gillette and Benson and Hedges formats, who in recent times rediscovered the art of lofting drives over extra cover and clipping leg side shots deliberately up and over the inner ring of fielders.

Field placing tactics evolved with in and out fields, but these could not put the gene entirely back in the bottle.  Shot selection and captaincy had now to consider the third and liberating dimension. 

Batsmen responded to carefully placed in and out leg side fields by developing reverse shots if the on side was packed with extra fielders.  

By the time the preternaturally attacking and wonderfully inventive Sri Lankan, Tillakaratne Dilshan , arrived on the scene there was only one segment of the field left to exploit: the area behind and over the head of the wicket keeper.

Third Man does not hesitate to repeat and underscore this; yes, the area behind and over the head of the wicket keeper.

Perhaps in the nets one day, bored but feeling ‘right’,  Dilshan assumed the position of head butting the half-volley and at the last nano-second produced the bat and, without a further view of the ball, timed a flick over the wicket keepers left shoulder.

“Bet you wouldn’t do that in a match.”

“Watch me, then!”

Yes, Third Man, but what’s this got to do with Sir Donald Bradman?

In Doug Insole’s Cricket From the Middle, the Essex and England allrounder recalls playing in a match at Lords against Middlesex.  Compton had yet to reach three figures and was batting freely but seriously when play stopped for tea. 

During that interval the mischievous and impish Middlesex captain, R.W.V. Robins,  ‘innocently’ enquired of Compton why he never played the straight drive, as this shot was the usually considered the mark of a decent batsman.

Cultural linguists will recognize this as a typically upper middle class mid-twentieth century way of issuing a dare.

Walking out after tea, the Essex players heard Compton tell the bowler, Ray Smith, that his third ball would go back over his head.

The third ball was duly hit for ‘as straight a six as it is possible to see’ reports Insole.

Yes, yes, Third Man, but what had this to do with the ‘Don’ who everyone knows during his entire career played every shot along the ground?

Insole goes on to recall Bradman telling him that once in the course of a big innings in a state match in Australia he had suddenly felt the urge to experiment and he had ‘determined to hit the next ball to fine-leg for four’.

Bradman had told the wicket keeper to stand back, or he would get the ball in his face, and had hit the next delivery, a half volley outside the off stump, over his left shoulder to the boundary.

Voila, The Dilshan … or should we say The Bradman, played fifty years ago.  Of course, for added spice, Bradman the master cricketer had dared himself – the real challenge in life.

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How Little Things Change

Between his debut in 1978 and his final Test in 1995, John Emburey was nearly always first choice spinner for England.  At 6ft 2in he had an ideal height to generate bounce and his action, a sideways affair with the front foot landing where the batsman stands when the action is coming from the other end, allowed him to perfect the negative wicket to wicket line with the variety coming from bounce and drift.

This type of spin blocks up an end while the quicks take a breather. The action is not best suited to converting the spin into turn.

Here he is on YouTube

The modern approach, as we saw with our look at Graeme Swann a few weeks ago,  is to come in straighter, bowl more chest on and position the wrist at the point of release so that the seam of the spinning points to leg-slip.  This offers far more turn and allows a bowler to bowl the attacking line outside the right-hander’s off stump which turns to hit off-stump with natural variation of the turn and drift produced providing the uncertainty that brings both edges of the bat into play.

Here is film of Harbhajan Singh from YouTube to compare with that of Emburey.

Finally here is a reminder from yesterday of Lance Gibbs who started his run from an almost identical position to that of ‘Bhaji’. 

Yesterday, in the final of IPL2010, Harbhajan Singh opened the bowling for the Mumbai Indians and the 23 year old ‘off-spinner’ Ravichandson Ashwin opened the attack for the Chennai Super Kings.

There is such a wealth of spin in cricket today that the relegation of spin bowling to defensive time filling seems like an old nightmare.  The new spin, which is the old spin restored to its rightful place, is winning matches in T20, Pro40, 50 over ODIs, Championship and Test matches bringing its fair share of spectacle to the game.

Skill is triumphing and entertaining as it always will.  And the batsmen are developing their reply.

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“Gary, just come in short at cover, please. Lance, plenty of air.”

When Frank Worrell led the West Indies to Australia in 1960 he took with him the three spinners Alf ValentineSonny Ramadhin  and the relatively unknown Lancelot Richard Gibbs.  Alf was left arm, the justly celebrated Sonny bowled off-breaks and leg breaks in the Barnes finger-flicking tradition of disguise highlighted before.  

The first test in Brisbane was famously tied with the opening bowlers Wes Hall taking nine wickets in the match and Davidson eleven for Australia.  Together Ramadhin and Valentine took three for 226.  Australia went on to win the New Year’s test by seven wickets.  In the home side’s first innings of 348, Ramadhin was given just five overs, taking one for 21.

Our old friend C.L.R. James in Cricket – the Great Captains cites what happened next as evidence of Worrell’s great captaincy skills and provides a measure of the man.  For the third test he dropped Ramadhin and brought in Lance Gibbs who had done little on the tour that far but had taken four for 29 in the second innings of the warm up match in Tasmania.

The decision seemed inspired when Gibbs, brought on before Valentine, took three for 46 which along with Valentine’s four for 67 gave the West Indies a first innings lead of 137.  The West Indies took their lead to 463 before Valentine with four for 86 and Gibbs with five for 66 won the match for the visitors by 222 runs.

Gibbs on the last morning took four wickets for two runs in a spell of 27 balls.  Not for the first time the scorer would have benefited from a rubber stamp with c. Sobers b Gibbs imprinted on it.

It had not been plain sailing because in their mammoth task of chasing 464 to win Harvey and O’Neil for the third wicket had taken the score from 83 to 200 and looked well set and threatening.

But Worrell had noticed that Harvey was having trouble with a pulled leg muscle. Knowing that this would restrict his movements, especially against spin, the West Indian captain brought Sobers in close at cover and told the inexperienced Gibbs to give the ball plenty of flight to Harvey.

This YouTube film of Gibbs bowling to England in 1973 shows that he had a now very modern javelin-style delivery action. 

The front (left) foot lands outside the line made by his back (right) foot presenting his chest to the batsman.  His bowling arm whips over with great speed and he rises on this the ball of his left foot pivoting over this with tremendous force as our Compare the Drives image demonstrated yesterday.    This gives helps him to find considerable dip and therefore bounce. 

Facing Gibbs, a batsman would see a ball inviting him forward to drive, but the steeply descending ball is never quite as in-reach as the batsman thinks.  Straining forward Harvey would realise this and, in trying to compensate, lift the ball towards the waiting Sobers just as Worrell had foreseen.

The scorebook reveals R.N. Harvey caught Sobers bowled Gibbs for 85, N.C. O’Neil caught Sobers bowled Gibbs 70. After their dismissal only one batsman reached double figures.

In the first innings of the fourth Test Gibbs did the hat-trick – the first hat-trick against the Australians in the twentieth century – and took five for 97. In the last Test he took four for 74 and two for 68 in 41 overs, 19 of them maidens.  He ended the tour topping the averages with 19 wickets for an average of 22 runs.

Indeed, this was inspirational leadership by Worrell and fully justified what must have seemed an inexplicable and hugely controversial selection decision.

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Compare the Drives No 3

Two off-spin deliveries separated by 50 years – Lance Gibbs and Harbhajan Singh, driving through the crease, impart energy and action to the ball.

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