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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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Drinking Winners’ P*ss Part II

Clarke and Marsh

Rod Marsh is a destabilizing force; a man of strong opinions and firmness of stance. His presence was like a bird of prey, its wing span overshadowing the Australian rooms, overshadowing the coach, overshadowing the captain, overshadowing the players’ collective.

Under that influence Australia, for the 3rd Test, made a series of catastrophic blunders before even a ball was bowled.

Another ‘green’un’ did indeed greet the touring party on arrival at Edgbaston. It had been raining for a week and the pitch had been constantly covered. The grass was left long and plentiful. Clarke said he’d never seen a pitch like it. Yet on winning the toss Australia chose to bat first. Cook could not have believed his ears nor the England dressing room their luck.. Anderson took 6 for 47 in 14.2 overs. Australia’s innings of 136 lasted two balls short of 37 overs.

Siddle, the one bowler in the camp ideal for these conditions was left out.

Cardiff had revealed the weakness of the Australian attack deprived of Harris; inconsistent in length and direction. The performance of the bowlers at Lord’s, where Australia took 20 England wickets for 540 runs, obscured the obvious, but should not have done so. Siddle would surely have replicated Anderson’s impact had he played. The selection gnawed at the roots of the Australian player’s confidence in their management. M Marsh who does not open the bowling at state level and who has no experience of bowling in seam friendly conditions and whose runs have been scored on hard, dry surfaces should have made way for Siddle. The old pros knew this and were dismayed.

And on top of this ‘their’ Haddin, available for selection, was overlooked, was cast aside, to their minds cruelly as well as unwisely. This was a group of players, a family, still scarred by the loss of their comrade Hughes, unsettled by decisions beyond their control. Nevill had done little wrong in benign circumstances at Lord’s, but Haddin, the players felt, offered what comes with seniority. He would have brought command and on-field authority to bowlers who were still haunted by Cardiff, stiff with doubt, incapable of withstanding the pressure of defending a total of 136.

Within a matter of a couple of overs in England’s reply, MacDermott, Australia’s bowling coach, was rushing round the boundary to support the wayward Starc. Once MacDermott had left the bowler’s side, Siddle took his place trying to steady him but from the wrong side of the boundary. At the other end, Hazlewood, sensing a swinging ball, bowled a fuller length and squandered the seam movement so obviously exploited by England.

Johnson removed Stokes and Bairstow with two deliveries banged in cross-seamed that rose like flying saucers, the seam rotating horizontally like Saturn with its rings. With the shine topside the resulting lift described an upward parabola towards the batsman’s throat. Yet to the disbelief of all, Johnson failed even to try to repeat such deliveries.

Even so, and with the bowlers squandering opportunities, England mustered just 281 runs. In conditions where the ball was jagging off the seam as well as swinging late the divide between the totals was just too great. England’s economy rate had been 3.5 runs, theirs was 4.5.

Australia’s second innings matched England’s first innings. Even without Siddle and Haddin they were not a mile off matching England. It was just that extraordinary misreading of the situation, that concession of first dig, the self-directed immolation, the trashing of a fragile team resolve.

The sound of England drinking winners’ piss echoed down to them through the walls.

All that fortune needed to throw at these players now, as they headed to Trent Bridge for the fourth encounter, was another doped wicket, Buggins’ turn at the toss and more bright ideas from the Chairman of Selectors.

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Drinking Winners’ P*ss

In the days running up to the final Test, with the series at 3 -1, there was speculation as to whether England would order up yet another damp seamer and take the risk of going for 4 – 1, or keep things dry and let 500+ play 500+ for a hardly less comprehensive 3 – 1 series outcome.

But when the Australian party arrived at the Oval on Tuesday morning, the sun came out – quickly followed by the covers.

If anyone needs things like this spelling out – it’s a technique for conserving moisture. Yes, from that first sight, Australia knew England were going for 4 – 1 and had ordered ‘another one like the others’ – or as Smith was later to describe the wickets encountered that summer – another ‘fruity one’.

For England, the 5-0 drubbing Down Under still rankled even with the Ashes secured. This summer, vengeance was everything and vengeance had been a dish served damp, green and grassy. Only Mick Hunt at Lord’s refused to follow orders.

Third Man has been struck by the quietness of the reaction surrounding the way the wickets have been “doped” this summer and the effect this has had on the series – The English love to beat the Australians and all is apparently fair in cricket. Perhaps superficially the outcomes also have played to the narrative that modern batsmen just can’t hack the long game. Old cricketers enjoy castigating the ‘moderns’.

The facts are that the wickets and the Duke ball have been a nightmare and the toughest of examinations for batsmanship. Many players have been found wanting. Others have proved themselves in the toughest of conditions. One wicket, left uncovered in rain for a critical interval became, for an hour and a half, virtually unplayable from one end where a single bowler took 8 of the 10 Test wickets in just 57 balls. The exemplar technician, Root, as we shall see, might have scored a second ball duck in the First Test, made just 1 and 17 in the Second Test, and 6 and 11 in the final Test. Even the experienced and adaptive Rogers recorded his first Test duck and found some of the wickets amongst the worst he has played on.

Nor have the combination of wickets and atmospheric conditions been uniform. Nor again have they played consistently during the course of matches, where the way a artfully groomed Duke cricket ball ages helpfully for swing bowlers in green conditions, further complicating the batsman’s task.

The grass has been long and damp; dampness for humidity and swing, long grass and responsive ground for movement off the Dukes’ proud seam edges. The rolling has also been tailored for seam movement. In short these have been the perfect conditions for England ‘seamers’ and swing bowlers, and also happily for England a combination of factors that had the added value of neutralising much of Johnson’s arsenal.

But it was a high risk strategy as was almost demonstrated on the very first day of the series at Cardiff where England, having won the toss, found themselves 43 – 3. Had Haddin caught Root two balls later England’s middle order would have been exposed to a Duke ball, just 14 overs old. “Laquer off, Wurthers on” as the saying goes.

Johnson with figures of 0 – 111 suggested that that part of the strategy was working at Cardiff. In these conditions Australia appeared about 2/3rd as good as England. The match lasted four days. It remains to be seen who will pick up the bill for the lost day’s revenue: Cardiff, whose bid to hold the Test, like all venues except Lord’s, would have gambled on a fifth day; the ECB, or some insurer?

So off to Lord’s for the second Test where Rogers and Smith took advantage of Mr Hunt’s track to take Australia to 337 – 1 at the end of Day One. Despite the widely held preconception that the wicket would again be slow, there was carry and life enough for Rogers to be nearly caught in the first over and for England, when it was their turn to bat, to find themselves at 30 – 4. Australia’s team meeting, even factoring in another Millennial counterattack, were confident they’d be starting their second innings by 4.00 pm on Day Three.

As it happened their planning was only a half-hour out, and with few inconveniences, especially notable for debutant Nevill, they sped to a lead of 500 before extinguishing England’s guttering flame for 103 to level the series.

But seeds of disharmony were already stirring below the surface even at this moment of victory and apparent recovery. The chairman of selectors was causing waves. Watson had been brushed aside and family membership was to count for even less as the touring party headed for Edgbaston and an engagement with another ‘green’un’.

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Shakespeare was a Bowler – A Defence of Australia’s Batsmen, 4th Test

Extracting a Pound of Flesh

Well, someone has to do it. Because the British media are in triumphal mood and the Australian media are in lynching mood.  Both sets of commentators are indulging in an orgy of ageism. Perspective is lacking. A pound of flesh demanded.

Up in Dressing Room 7, where the old timers meet to judge a day’s play over a glass of shandy-ga, they are far more forgiving, for many have batted in similar conditions to those faced by Australia’s batsman on the first morning of the fourth Test played in the field behind the Trent Bridge Inn. And captains have famously declared ‘behind’ in order to get at the opposition in such conditions.

What conditions?

As this interesting preview of the Fourth Test in the Telegraph written in July by Alan Tyers reminds readers,  Nottinghamshire had their knuckles severely wrapped by the ICCin the shape of a formal warning for their wicket in 2014. Since then the square has been re-laid.

So, this Test match is played on a new wicket, in its first season. Hum.

Mr Tyers also reminds readers of alterations to both the ground layout – a new Radcliffe Rd End stand in 1998, the Fox Road stand in 2002 and the New Stand in 2008 which taken together have resulted in reducing air disturbances across the wicket – and to the outfield where a base of sand allows heavy watering of the turf which causes greater humidity.  These consequences – greater humidity and stiller air over the wicket – have combined to increase the occurrence of ideal conditions for late swing (as the ball enters the denser undisturbed humid layer of air just above the pitch surface).

Thus, might followers better comprehend this extraordinary tweet from the ever juvenile @derekpringle on the 31st July, “Definitely get the hosepipes off Trent Bridge now that Jimmy Anderson has been ruled out with a side strain”.

However, it would need more than a ‘hosepipe ban’ to halt the passage of events already set in motion by then.  Nature has its own hosepipes at work in this damp and overcast British summer.

“Same for both sides,” is your reply.

Indeed, batsmen from both sides must have looked with some fear and much trepidation at the virginal day-glow wicket they found when they arrived on Tuesday. Perhaps England’s Millennials may, like puppies, have relished a frolic in these fresh conditions, but the more experienced would more likely have sucked through their teeth and whistled in preparation of digging in under their helmets.

The same for both sides? The toss would be significant, and nature and the officials were yet to play their part. It would be well soaked grass-covered earth that provides a challenge even greater than that of the ideal swing conditions.

Australia padded up.  Between the toss and the scheduled start of play, the heavens opened. The scribes at CricInfo thought it a “sprinkling of rain”. Thankfully there is Tom Kingham to bear witness. He corrects them. “Raining quite hard” he contradicts them. Spectators scurry for cover in the cold and damp. To Australian eyes, watching from archways or beneath umbrellas, the groundstaff seem to take an age getting on the covers. The wicket is drenched anew and unfit for play.

And then it’s entertainment and the need to satisfy the paying public. And it is umpires somehow oblivious to the conditions or the effect of a heavy shower on an already damp surface who determine that play will start with just a 5 minute delay. And the covers, so gradual in their placement, will be removed forthwith  just ten minutes before the rescheduled starting time. And Geoffrey Boycott will have his dream come true; modern batsmen playing on (effectively) an uncovered wicket. And the ball will talk and have its say. And the bowlers will grin and disbelieve their luck. And this is not fair. Simply not fair. Nor is it fair to accuse batsmen of cowardice or incompetence, and to condemn them in a single breathe.

Batting was difficult after the second hour, but before it was simply impossible. Put straightforwardly, play should not have begun until the wicket had had time to dry.

They are angry in Dressing Room 7. There they have faced these conditions. Or have relished bowling on them. They know the rewards for the effort of digging it in and seeing the ball fizz as if it has grown wings and is flying like the spitting wind, all whizz and lift that’s sheer.

And batsmen know that Shakespeare was a bowler, for who other than a bowler could conclude that “The quality of mercy is not strain’d”, that “It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath.” Or believe that “It is twice blest”: blessing “ him that gives and him that takes.”


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Routed – A History of the 3rd Test

Retreat from MoscowThere is no other way to describe the beating that Australia took in the 3rd Test at Edgbaston last week. And the causes for this apparent reversal of fortune from the ‘triumph’ at Lord’s were gross errors of management and selection.

Here are some thoughts:

First, the mis-reading of events at Lord’s. The talk of featherbeds has seemed to get the better of everyone. The Lord’s wicket provided bounce and pace. They were ideal conditions for Australian bowlers against England batsmen, many of whose technique has not been tested in such conditions.

The difficulties with consistency of length and direction that Australian bowlers, especially by the two left armers, had at Cardiff were forgotten. The middle order batting weakness was obscured by the two big hundreds from Rogers and Smith. Nevill batting 7 arrived at the wicket with score at 450 and followed this enjoyable batting practice with some comfortable catching courtesy of Lyth et al.  Anderson feigned disinterest.

Australia moved on to Derby but seemed to fail to notice the rain that was making pitch preparation at Edgbaston ‘complex’ with the covers remaining in operation throughout the process. Arriving at the ground, Clarke commented that he had seen nothing like the wicket – the seaming track that England yearned for – yet the Australian High Command chose to leave out the experienced and accurate Siddle, for whom conditions were ideal, drop their Vice Captain, mascot and counter-attacker , Brad Haddin, and, to compound it all, decided to ‘have a bat’ in conditions ideal for Anderson, Broad and Finn. It was as if Australia were totally ignorant of the England v India Test match played on the same ground, the year before. But isn’t that what management and analysers are for?

What then was going on? Or what IS going on? Has Rod Marsh arrived with ‘ideas’ and worse still favourites? Sure there are reasons to question Haddin’s form and Watson’s technique. But what they have in common is membership of the old family business, which is now under new management. If so, England could not have dared hope for these changes and this disruption in the wake of their own dismal performance just a week before.

The Australian batting was woeful. England bowled very well, but the visitors’ middle order, starting this time at No 3, folded and only Rogers coped with the conditions. On the basis that England would bat in similar conditions, 225 might have been a decent score in the circumstances . A bit of grit and, of course, a counter attacking innings from Haddin might have got them there. As it was, the score board froze at 136 just as Napoleon’s advance had frozen at the walls of Moscow.

England arrived at the wicket with an opener whose bat doesn’t come down straight, a number 3 on notice that failure would see the end of his international career and great bowling conditions.

By Starc’s second over, with the ball being sprayed around like a garden hose in the hands of an infant on a very hot day, the bowling coach was dispatched to the fine leg to ‘support’ the bowler. He was followed rapidly by Siddle in his day-glow bib. At the other end Hazlewood found the conditions too helpful and adjusted his line rather than his position at the bowling crease with the inevitable result. (For a tutorial from Mike Hendrick, see this.)

The unpredictable left armers returned to their Cardiff form. On field the captain’s fielding positions and bowling changes became more and more bizarre, resembling those one might make facing a stand of 500 rather than when bowling on a wicket where a score of 150 might have been expected from England. Bell, the condemned man, escaped, the gallows. After a heart-in-mouth start he made a plucky 53 and left the noose that had been round his neck on a hook in the dressing room like a mislaid jock-strap.

England’s first innings ended at a mighty 281, a mammoth and intimidating lead of 145. The game was up. The retreat inevitable.

And finally, what of Johnson and Clarke? The former began Day 2 with two wonderful steeply rising deliveries that disposed of Bairstow and Stokes, and inexplicable decided that that was that as far as this kind of delivery was concerned. Wither Captain Clarke? And in the second innings, defending a lead of just 120 the Captain waited until England were well on their way to victory at 47 for 1, before bringing Johnson into the attack.

One has to ask whether these strange decisions and this poor bowling in wonderful conditions from the quicks would have occurred had the Vice Captain been on the field, organising the seam attack and steadying Clarke’s experimentation.

On the field, rout comes from disorder as much as anything. If morale falls away and capacity evaporates, it is more than anything a failure of command. It is hard not to imagine that players and management are now even more at odds. Lions and donkeys come to mind. But for management to make the necessary changes, it would have to admit their errors of the last week.

That does not seem likely.



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