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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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Putting #45 Gayle Under Pressure Like in the First Match?

IMAG1699 (2)

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April 3, 2016 · 1:03 pm

Root Cause

Root cause

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April 1, 2016 · 7:52 am

Bowman Gayle 2001-16

Bowman Gale 2001-16

There is something about Chris Gayle and David Bowman from 2001 A Space Odyssey; the teeth as well as eyes.

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Johnson – Good Sport

Johnson Good Sport

The Squire and Third Man have seen all the great ‘quicks’ produced by the game of cricket, from David Harris to … to Johnson. And their opinion? Johnson entertained them more than any other. And frightened them in equal measure.

This is a man who could bowl a short pitched ball which, depending on the random orientation of the seam, could lift off like Saturn spinning through space and still be rising as it flew over the keeper’s head thirty yards back, or stay, as if at his command, lower than the rolls of the batsman’s pads, OR heights anywhere between these extremes discombobulating the batsman.

And, depending on the point of release, he could fire the ball two yards outside off stump or two yards outside leg and any direction between those extremes … and he would frequently do so within a single spell.

His physique and deportment were those of the Olympic athlete. His approach when full out delivered him to the crease like a piston driven engine, and then there was that ‘curvy flick’ of a drag from the trailing leg that appropriately each ball wrote a question mark in the air an inch above the bowling crease.

His presence was both unsettling and somehow hilarious.

Throughout his triumphs and disasters he was both ‘good sport’ and ‘a good sport’. People laughed at him but only when he was down. They did so like children prodding a dead snake and running in panic and hysteria when it appeared to strike back.

In 2013 Lehmann rescued him from the wilderness of confusion and gave him back to lovers of fast bowling.

His destruction of Jonathan Trott that summer and winter must qualify as one of cricket’s great tragedies and rank alongside anything staged by the ancient Greeks. Here, before our eyes, was what CLR James had known.

And the puzzle and the delight?

Johnson, this incarnation of Nemesis, this deliverer of retribution, approached his victim in the form of a cartoon character. How modern is that?!

 

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The Physical Impossibility of Defeat in the Mind of a New Zealand cricketer

The Physical Impossibility of Defeat in the Eyes of a New Zealand Cricketer

“You try and avoid defeat, but it’s such a big thing that you can’t. That’s the frightening thing isn’t it?”  (pace Damien Hurst)

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The Flight of Fancy

Red and Yellow Vane

At long last, there’s a major exhibition of the work of Alexander Calder at the Tate. Calder bowled spin; obviously; and was a frequent visitor to cricket parties at the Great House.

The Squire was given a preview as a number of the works are on loan from his private collection. He was accompanied by his old friend and cricketing enthusiast, Sally Tate. Third Man tagged along.

“Do you recall Al’s bowling TM? How the ball would hang tantalizing in the air before drifting away just out of reach and into the keeper’s gloves having taken the faintest of edges.”

Indeed TM could. Oft were the times he’d watched in awe that drift which this artist alone could achieve.

Many have wondered what first gave Calder the idea for ‘Object with Red Ball (1931)”.

The story is simply this: Calder was guesting for the Squire’s XI in the annual match against the Rather Stuffy Artists Cricket Club.

Later that night, the Squire suggested a game of ‘bar skittles’, which Calder, with his canny eye for line and flight and curve and space, played with facility, beating all comers.

As dawn broke and the company walked back to the Great House, Calder excused himself and made his way with the Blacksmith to the Forge.

Later that afternoon, the two emerged with ‘Object with Cricket Ball (1930)’. A year later, and suitably refined for the American market, the work re-emerged as the celebrated ‘Object with Red Ball’:

Objects with BallsOver an enjoyable late luncheon the Squire, rather taken with the piece, commissioned a weather vane for the top of the Pavilion, which, as those who have played at the Great House know resembles Calder’s later ‘Red and Yellow Vane (1934)’ with its quiet homage to the round arm bowling of Old Everlasting and is reproduced above below the headline.

Alexander Calder's studio RoxburyIt is not generally known but when Calder died in 1976, a prototype bowling machine was discovered in a corner of his studio. It was another, but undelivered, commission from the Squire. Having rather typically stumped many an American connoisseur, who couldn’t make head or tail of the thing, the machine was transported to this country and now occupies ‘pride of space’ at the East end of the Great Gallery and, on rainy days, is brought into its proper use.

“This was where Calder was going next, TM: exploring the unfettered arc of the projectile, the line with neither width nor length.”

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Warner Burns Zeus

The Diffuse Glow of Davy Warner

The casual reader stumbling on this site over the last few days might have been perplexed to find a solitary image of Davy Warner with no text to support it.

Some may have thought, ‘yep, I get that’; might have picked up on the strength, the reinforcement, of his grill and perhaps recalled an earlier piece on Warner and post traumatic stress; others may have guessed correctly that this is a very busy time for Third Man, sweeping the ocean of leaves that fall in the Great Park.

The Squire woke Third Man early on Saturday morning (07.11.15). “Wake up TM. You must see this. Burns has his ton and Davy is chasing his second in the match, but Zeus is determined he shall not have it. There are thunderbolts and lightning flashes landing all around the Gabba and the umps are ready to take the players off the field.”

So, there you have it. No mortal can get him out and even Almighty Zeus is being defied. Like a Titan possessed, Warner achieved, for the third time, a century in each innings of a Test match.

Worth a special celebration:

Warner celebrates third 'century in both innings'

The God of Headline Writers was on hand to ensure that Joe Burns was at t’other end.

Meanwhile back to the leaves.

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Professional Cricket in England – Like a Comedy Without Jokes

Orb spider web;J Schmidt;1977

“O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!”  Or some thoughts on the development of spin talent:

In County level age-group cricket i.e. Under 11s to Under 14s (and perhaps even Under 15s) spin bowlers are far more dangerous than ‘seamers’ and ‘swingers’. They take more wickets at fewer runs per wicket. Young batsmen can generally better cope with pace than with turn and dip, and are more likely to be beaten by ‘flight’ than ‘pace’.

County coaching staff will generally get hold of the most talented spinners from the County age-group teams at after U12 or U13 seasons. Those selected for County spin clinics will have very good coaching in the latest forms of best practice. The ECB provide resources for Emerging Players.

10 years ago saw a huge revolution in spin coaching as ideas arrived from the sub-Continent were adopted.

For spinners, it becomes difficult to get in to county set-ups and catch up after this. Pace can come late or be unearthed late, but the impact of coaching on very young spinners puts them further apart from young ‘club’ cricketers than for pace teamates.

Of course in young cricket, bowling limits (over restrictions) for spinners are much higher than those for quicks. Actually is a reversal of what will happen later in their career. At 13/14 they are getting MORE bowling than their pace teammates.

The aim of this specialist county spin coaching is generally to increase the revs imparted on the ball. This greatly increases the capacity for drift and dip, the latter not only making it harder for batsmen to read length, but also increasing the ‘bounce’ of the ball.

In attempting to create ‘county’ bowlers, i.e. bowlers capable of playing in their first teams, coaches are preparing them for county wickets. They are judged less on how they bowl on helpful wickets and more on how they might bowl on a billiard table.

They work on the young talent’s wrist position to improve seam position and seam steadiness, wrist strength, arm speed, rotation of the body and speed through the crease.

A young bowler of 13 or 14 will be able to bowl over a 6ft high net placed half way down a wicket through a first gate (outside off stump for the off-spinner) constructed from two poles a foot apart, landing on a mat about a foot square on a ‘good’ length, turning to pass though a second similar gate before clipping off stump. They quickly develop exceptional skill levels.

By 17 the best are likely to have had time at Loughborough with Peter Such and coaches he brings in.

This can cause tension between what the county coach has tried to create and how Such & Co see things. Differences in detail. But potentially confusing or destabilizing.

The very best will already have been creamed off to join an ECB development squad, spending even more time at Loughborough.

From their time in Academies, the U17s and County IIs, coaching tails off and self-discovery and experimentation begins to predominate. The value afforded to players who take responsibility means that there is an emphasis, conscious or unconscious, on young talent working things out themselves. Here’s the problem, now solve it.

Spin bowlers need more bowling than other forms of bowling to achieve accuracy and control. There is much more that can go wrong with the consistency of muscle memory and with confidence levels.

Consistency and control is gained by sacrificing revs and speed. Long spells improve accuracy and confidence, which means they can bowl with greater revs and at more optimum speeds, as well as the benefits of learning from experience.

When, at a young age, selection favours consistency and control it sacrifices a spinner with the revs, the speed through the air, the drift and the dip needed at the highest level.

In every squad there are at least four times more opportunities for seam than for spin.

Spinners are taken off by nervous captains quicker than their counter parts bowling ‘seam-up’.

Wickets also are getting better during this stage of their development but disproportionately ‘better’ for seamers and batsmen.

It doesn’t have to be like that. There is a lot of myth making about the weather. One of the best cricketing wickets in the country and one which offers spinners bounce, pace, and turn is Old Trafford which has a rainfall of 1,000 inches a year!!!!

The relatively damp seamer friendly wicket is not ‘natural’. It is as contrived as any piece of ‘farmed’ land. If the ground staff at Old Trafford can do it, so can every other First Class ground.

Catch 22: – When you have four times the number of seam-up bowlers on your staff, what type of wicket do you produce? With such wickets, what type of bowlers do you hire?

Spinners get better with age, but professional cricket clubs cannot afford to wait. A spinner knows he has to bat better to stay in his team. It is difficult to develop both these talents. The more he practices batting the less time he is investing in his spin development.

Finally, spin bowling and batting against spin provides the most entertaining of all the ‘battles’ to be enjoyed on a cricket field. If professional cricket is an entertainment industry then presently it is like a comedy club that would rather not have jokes.

N.B. There are some great women spinners – apologies to them for using the masculine pronoun throughout.

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Leaving the Crease – Clarke’s Second to Last Test

Australia cricket captain Michael Clarke touches his face just before reading a statement following the death of fellow cricketer Phillip Hughes during a press conference at St. Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014. Hughes, 25, died in the hospital from a “catastrophic” injury to his head Thursday, two days after being struck by a cricket ball during a domestic first-class match. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Jobs don’t get much tougher than being a top order international batsman. If this statement causes you to hesitate, perhaps you haven’t seen one up close enough after a couple of hours on the shop floor. Haggard is the best description, nor does success make much of a difference to matters. Sustained concentration under a physical and mental examination in which injury is more than possible is the day to day experience of that tribe.

For the top order batsmen of both sides arriving at Trent Bridge for the fourth Test, even the possibility of death is tragically not a remote consideration. Hughes is a presence.

At Edgbaston, England had lost Anderson to a side-strain. Former international Derek Pringle only half joking tweets imperatively, ‘Definitely get the hosepipes off Trent Bridge now that Jimmy Anderson has been ruled out …”.

Whether the hosepipes stayed on or not, the wicket is again an exaggeration of ‘green’; promising a surface that is challenging. And it is a new laid pitch following last year’s surface getting a ‘poor’ rating from match referee Boon. This one will go up, down and sideways in staccato, each delivery mocking batsman who facing bowlers at speed rely so much on their predictive powers.

Yet again Siddle is ignored on a green seamer and, with a design to shore up the batting, Clarke is demoted in the order and a batsman with all of 15 Tests, and an average of 33, brought in to take his place at 4. Clarke is condemned and the sympathy of his team shifts towards him, as never far from the surface a memory is triggered of the time he spoke for them when they themselves could find no words.  Frustrated by the decisions being taken over their heads, they sense a fate of shared ignominy and move closer to their captain’s side.

Then, with fifteen minutes to the start of play, the toss already decided and Australia sent in to bat, there’s a sharp shower. Officials undecided about its likely strength, duration and impact are slow to summon the covers. When the covers are eventually called on and in time removed, these officials decide play must start with just a 5 minute delay, so, covering their own error.

Effectively, a damp pitch has just been watered. Already ‘febrile’ it is now totally disinhibited. One Australian puts it simply, “The wicket was ridiculous”.

And so at Trent Bridge 2:1 and two to play, became 3:1 and one to play.

The Ashes were lost. Clarke announced his retirement. Among players, respect for him became palpable.

If the cognoscenti disdain to say he was a great player, if ordinary Australians wish still to stigmatise him as unreliable, so be it. His peerless 136 in the fourth innings of the 2009 Lord’s Test remains a litmus test for opinions about Clarke: a wonderful innings of resolve and flair and greatness, scored into the memory like a precious thought, which like a co-joined twin brought forward Flintoff’s monumental last spell; or to dwell on his dismissal, filing it away as ‘another’ weak capitulation close to an interval.

What these critics do, metaphorically, is play spin from the crease. Clarke’s adventurous style, especially when breaking the mental confines of the crease to play spin, was that of the brave player. It was this bravery that sustained him when Hughes died and which supported his players through those unbearable days and nights. It would be this bravery that they, his cricketing brothers, would be determined to reflect, like moonlight reflecting sunlight, when they found themselves once more put in on another doped green’un in the fifth Test at the Oval .

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