Category Archives: Heavy 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.

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“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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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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Red in Tooth and Claw: Predator and Prey: India and England July 2014

Red in tooth and Claw

Top predators have three attributes; the ability to over-power their prey, the instinct to sense weakness and a clarity of purpose.

England arrived at Lord’s yesterday for the fifth day of the Second Test, their confusion palpable, their instincts dulled by defeat, their power in doubt.

The task ought to have been straightforward. The remaining seven batsmen had to make 214 runs in a minimum of 90 overs. In modern cricket, with boundaries in from the fence and more efficient bats, this was not as daunting as might once have been.

And so it seemed for the first hour and fifty nine minutes. England’s overnight batsmen, Root (52) and Ali (39) had taken the score to 173/4 almost exactly a third of their task negotiated in just under a third of the time available. The first three days’ travail by swing were a distant memory and the spinner, Jadeja, had not taken a wicket for over 150 balls.

But, with three overs to go before lunch, and half a dozen before a new ball would be due, the top-of-the-food-chain-predator that is MS Dhoni called on Ishant Nemisis Sharma to come into the attack.

Stiff and gangling, Shama eased his way back into the hunt with a couple of fullish balls that Root drove with ease to the boundary. His next, short and languid, was slashed square on the off-side for another four. A couple of singles, including one from around the wicket to Ali, completed the over. England had moved on that morning from 105/4 – the antelopes grazed peacefully on the savannah.

Ali picked up a couple in Jedaja’s next over.

“Ishant my friend of fifty Tests,” whispered his captain into his ear, “give me the strength of your mountainous height, run like the wind across the plains, hurl this orb that I hold in my gloved hand like a knife at the throats of our prey.”

It was the over before lunch. Sharma obeyed his commander, each of them clear in his thoughts, each aware of the weeping wounds still scaring the England batsmen from their recent encounters with Mitchell Johnson. Tell-tale droplets of blood stained John Lord’s two hundred year old turf and could be scented downwind where Sharma began his approach.

The first ball rose fiercely at Root’s head. The prey ducked. The second, delivered with a snort audible in the highest tier of the Grandstand, was directed at the jugular, but Root fended it off. Sharma turned for a third sally. The projectile pounded into the batsman’s chest and ricocheted into the gully, allowing the batsman to escape to the sanctuary of the non-strikers end.

Sharma now eyed Ali and accelerated towards him, but the hostile projectile veered to leg. Again Sharma turned to run in to his prey. Again he bowled wildly. Again the ball passed ineffectively to leg.

Now it was the last ball before lunch, the last chance before Ali could scamper to the respite of the dressing room.

The final ball rose towards the batsman’s throat, he flinched visibly, sank at the knees, raised his hands in self-defence, but in so doing sealed his fate, the ball rebounded gently into the air to be pouched by short leg.

A stronger scent of blood now rose in the air and clung there in the still air as spectators grazed on their lettuce sandwiches.

There are pastoralists and there are warriors.

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Make My Day, Punk! – Pietersen Negotiates T20 Deal with ECB

Kevin Pietersen is a great batsman and a lousy negotiator. 

His technique is ‘take me or leave me’, as he showed when settling terms with his masters over the future of coach Peter Moores.

This time, it was during the recent Lord’s Test against the West Indies that the switch hitter opened and closed discussions with the Board over their decision to ensure that the central contract linked selection for T20 with availability for those lucrative ODIs. 

Third Man was at the back of the Pavilion, waiting for the Squire to come out for a turn round the ground, when he heard raised voices from the Tennis Court dressing rooms.

“Make my day punk!” said a South African voice.

“Au contraire, my dear fellow, make ours,” countered a man from NW4.

Later the following statement was released by the ECB:

“Pietersen, who discussed his position with the ECB during the recent Investec Test at Lord’s, accepts that his current contract will continue to run through to September 2012 but that the contract will be downgraded to reflect the fact that he will only be selected for Test cricket for the remainder of his current contract.

“The terms of the central contract state that any player making himself unavailable for either of the one-day formats automatically rules himself out of consideration for both formats of the game as planning for both formats is closely linked.

“This is designed to reflect the importance of one-day international cricket which is a strategic priority asEnglandlook for improved performances in the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy and the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup.”

He didn’t have to, but, for the record, Pietersen has said in 130 characters, “For the record, were the selection criteria not in place, I would have readily played forEnglandin the upcoming World Twenty 20.”

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Ajmal Throws England Out for 192

You can reply on Third Man to state the facts.  England, who won the toss and elected to play cricket, were all out for 192 in the Dubai National Stadium today.  Seven of these dismissals were run outs. Seven run outs?  Well, they weren’t bowled.

Those who relied on getting that truth from their Sky Sports Entertainments package  were to be disappointed.

So too were those who expected it from the Test Match Special team.  Shame on them!

Those at the ground who thought that the umpires might see that the laws of the game were implemented were frankly deluded.  That function of course has been taken away from them by the administrators, in case they broke the conspiracy of silence and did their traditional job of policing the laws of the game on the field of play.

And those who relied on those self same administrators in the nearby offices of the ICC to see that such a bowler would not be allowed to participate in a club match let alone a Test match with such an action were whistling in the Dubai sunshine.

The Characteristics of an Obtuse Angle: not quick or alert in perception, feeling, or intellect; not sensitive or observant.

Sky, in a bizarre decision showed Ajmal’s “variations” under the microscope of super, super slo-motion, and then had to ignore how these exposed to everyone but their hirelings  the full extent of the chucker’s positive and blatant  elbow angle and snap, far exceeding even the itravesty of the 15 degree limit – everyone that is but the former cricketers of distinction who are locked into the type of complicity pioneered by wrestling commentators in the 1960s.

Not one of them had the courage or the ethical commitment to say, “He’s bloody chucking them.”  UPDATE: back in a London Sky Studio Bob Willis courageously did so.

60 degrees of concern. Will the umprires and referee take action?

Hussein legitimized a round the wicket javalin throw as Ajmal’s third variation, the Twousra, or his ‘arm ball’.  Botham thought it ‘slingy’. Viewers could sense that he was having to brace himself as he said this.

Over on Test Match Special, a man in bright yellow trousers was looking for buses, seagulls, and naked nuns rather than have to describe the action that was taking place in front of his nose down there on Planet Darts.

Now, for those in the blogging seats, there is always the danger that they will stand accused of being poor losers by ascendant Australians and even belligerant Bangladeshis who not long ago had no problem driving those Ajmal arrows to the boundary.

 

But the point is that athletics took years to stamp out the use of drugs in its sport.  In that time young people had the choice of taking the stuff or working three times as hard and still often finishing behind the cheats.

Do we really want youngsters coming into cricket thinking that this is the way to deliver spin?  Do we want those who are doing it the hard and legitimate way to be kept out of teams by cheats who throw the ball?  

Do we really want to see the cash we spend on tickets, our subscriptions and licence fees pay for administrators who think this is right or haven’t the guts to take the necessary action to stamp it out ?

Do we want the papers we buy and our license and subscription fees to employ so-called journalists who would rather an easy life than expose and challenge what is going on in the name of cricket?

No. No. No.

The conspiracy of silence from the establishment will do the game no service in the long run.

UPDATE: Good old Bob .  Third Man has published before this piece on Murali bowling in a brace.  Ajmal should wear one similar and show the world his doosra – Murali took the challenge.

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Go Look at the Trophy: Read the Names

India, where are your young men of change, where are your revolutionary Test cricketers?  It is your time or it is no time. Go look at the Trophy: Read the names.

The Border/Gavaskar Trophy being contested at this moment may prove to be a seminal Test series to match that of the 1928-29 series between Australia and England. It may change the course of cricketing history. Let’s hope so.

In 1928, Australia, after a period of dominance in world cricket found their stars aging but its Cricket Board, out of touch and inert, were unable to reconstruct their side in time before coming up against a very strong England side.

Australia were hammered 1 – 4.  For England across the series, Hammond scored 905 runs at an average of 113.12, and Hendren, Sutcliffe,Hobbsand Jardine all averaged over 40.

Among the England bowlers Geary, White, Larwood and Tate took 79 wickets between them.

But although it was not obvious at the time, the series initiated an exciting period of change in Test cricket  – a period of unprecedented attack and counter attack.

That series-drubbing deeply influenced the mentality of a young Australian debutante in the side, Don Bradman, who went on to bat  without mercy in the return series when he surpassed Hammond with an aggregate of 974 runs in 7 innings at an average of 139.14, as Australia, with nine players in their twenties of whom six were under 23, regained the Ashes.

The Bradman experience led to Jardine (and Warner’s) experiment with leg theory, as cricket’s evolution accelerated once more and the world’s most exciting bowlers tested the Australian batsmen to the limit outside the off stump as well as outside the leg.  It was pace, raw pace, even more than direction that placed some of the best batsmen in the world under the most intense of investigations.  It was cricket being played out there … by both teams.

Today in the third Test of this series, played at Perth, India have again been put to the sword.  Perth was always going to be India’s Nemisis – fast, bouncy, alien – and yet also the perfect surface for Warner to attack with an extraordinary 69 ball century and who on 104 is still there with his partner at 149/0.  Perth cricket is Test cricket.

How will India respond, not tomorrow, not during the rest of the series, but strategically?

First they are going to have to decide whether they just want to nurture T20 experts or find someway of decontaminating their game and its effect on young players.  Of repairing the damaged inflicted on their batting DNA by the IPL.

Secondly, if they are to compete away from home, surely they have to do something about their wickets.  (It is a shame that Test wickets, like Test umpires, are not the responsibility of the ICC, but, although this will happen one day, Third Man is not holding his breath.)

Drubbings can have either a paralysing effect on the victim or they can energize.  An establishment can retreat to its bunker and press on regardless in a state of delusion (like the Australian Cricket Board in 1928), or it can respond with change, innovation and renewed vigour. Batsmen can ‘farm’ the riches of the IPL or say, as many in other countries have, “I want to be judged as a Test cricketer and found exceptional.”

Bradman, who won the PR battle, was an exceptional cricketer because he was a man of steel.  Jardine, who did not, was also exceptional and made England winners in a manner that was revolutionary and before its time.

Young Indian batsmen have been quick to take up the innovations of others and exercise them in T20 and may have looked more promising for Test cricket than they really are.

Change is effected not by innovators but by revolutionaries, men of steel and extraordinary substance – the Bradmen, the Jardines, the Clive Lloyds, the Steve Waughs and especially the Borders and the Gavaskars who now fittingly lend their names to the contests between their two countries.

India, where are your young men of change, where are your revolutionary Test cricketers?  It is your time or it is no time. Go look at the Trophy and read the names.

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