For the second time in this 2010/11 Ashes series a wicket is sorting out those encamped on the front foot from those who dwell at ease on the back foot, cutting and hooking for pleasure.
This always used to be the Australian Way. Somewhere along the road the front foot merchants were given the surfaces and the playing rules that hide their limitations.
At Perth, the vulnerability of many were made clear for all to see. How relieved they must have been to get back to the ‘new normal’ at Melbourne and Base Camp Front Foot.
Third Man was reminded of his recent eulogy to Perth Cricket when listening to a lunch time TMS interview by Tom Fordyce with the modest and gracious Arthur Morris who discernibly purred when expressing how good he thought the England openers were … as modern exceptions … back foot players.
Much of the interview is transcribed in the link given above, but try to track down a recording as this gives the full measure of the man and an indication of which foot he played from.
Giant bats, straight back-lifts and formulaic trigger movements predispose the modern batsman to the front foot and bowling restrictions and anodyne wickets across the globe have let them get away with it. It dulls the brain, it dulls the game.
The photograph of Archie yesterday showed the back foot raised with his weight on the front foot ready to move back.
Play in that region reached by the rising ball where gravity seems powerless requires courage and conviction. Here shots are played in front of the eyes, on tip toe with the batsman’s hands high and his adrenalin audible in the pistol crack of leather on willow.
Playing back to spin requires a careful reading of the situation, precise and balanced footwork, and confidence. The prize is the ability to play along the ground in the full arc from late cut, through the square cut to the backward attacks wide and straight, the forces to leg all the way round to the sweetly sliced glances that impart side spin.
It forces bowlers to bowl fuller … and fuller until the half-volly’s visiting card is presented. You will see photographs and clips of Barry Richards driving, but he drove after he had made bowlers too frightened of bowling short to him.
Not only is the art of back foot play being lost but it’s value is unrecognized.
Here, then, is the rallying cry to groundsmen, caretakers and curators, to administrators and coaches everywhere: “Back to the Future!”