Mark Zuckerberg has written to congratulate Third Man on his birthday today. It came as a surprise only in that TM had quite forgotten he was meant to be born on this day in the 1740s. The parish register was destroyed in a great conflagration. All Fools Day seemed as good as any, his mother said.
It is not surprising that the young bucks of the Silicon Valley should reach out to members of the Squire’s Team. But they will learn nothing from this faithful factotum.
Those who consider that they are making Geography History, but who are tied to Time, are prone to a modern fallacy that is also afflicting England’s batting.
Before this pernicious fallacy gained hold of the popular imagination it was widely accepted that there was a single appropriate shot to any given ball and, as man is located in a particular geography, so a batsman is confined by the nature of the ball to a uniquely appropriate shot.
In those times, a batsman armed himself with a couple of all purpose ‘stop’ shots, narrowed his ‘game’ to just two or three scoring shots, and left the rest to pass harmlessly through to the ‘keeper. “Good leave!”
A batsman of the Brylcreem and later the Side Burn eras might work up a couple more scoring shots, but made a mental selection well before crossing the boundary rope and walking to the wicket.
It was the Mullet that first introduced the current fixation with Expressionism and so widened the choice of possible shots to any given ball. Today, the young are required to be able to play a ball to any part of the field regardless of its length or line.
There is still an element of predetermination in this approach with calculations and selections being narrowed in anticipation of the ‘hunch’ that all good batsman have in the nanosecond before the ball leaves the bowler’s hand.
In the Emirates, England encountered spin unusually ‘fired’ in at around 95kph. They interpreted this tactic as an exploitation of the way DRS confirms how such bowling is lightly to strike the stumps. They anticipated it in Sri Lanka.
This, then, was the mind set that England brought to Galle where they found Herath bowling at around 80kph and using dip, made more possible at that speed, to deceive them.
The first innings was over in a trice: 40 overs and a 120 run deficit.
The second innings tested England’s mental agility and their immunity to stress.
Cook played across his front leg and against the spin with a far from perpendicular bat. Strauss, who had had to captain his side against an annoyingly resistant tail and could not prepare himself properly for opening the batting, exploded mentally in the twenties.
Pietersen forgot that it is wise to play yourself in after an interval. Trott played each ball on its merits with composure and balance (mental and physical). But he was truly exceptional.
Most of the rest became fixated with the ‘paddle’ or ‘deflecting’ sweep which as a ‘flick’ from a relatively stationary position bears as much resemblance to a sweep as a hand brush does to a yard broom.
The true sweep destroys length and is therefore the only attacking shot played to a good length ball. That said, it is wise to reserve it for balls missing leg stump or wide enough that a batsman who misses is struck outside the line of the off-stump.
The ‘paddle’ or ‘deflecting sweep’ is played with a bat that has to be deliberately placed before the ball arrives and is best reserved for games when batting resources are plentiful (T20) or when bowling resources are scarce (a run chase).
For the fourth Test in a row, England has failed to manage the situation properly. It is therefore a failure of management. There is rigid, inflexible thinking and mental confusion when preparations go awry.
Cricket’s wonderful complexity makes a mockery of game-plans, exposes bad thinking and punishes collectivity.
As the Squire was quick to assert, “It would not have happened when players were responsible for their own hairstyles.”