Tag Archives: Andrew Strauss

On Top of the World

It’s been climbed before, but not by this route. 

England are World Champions having reached the summit via a double assault of the Green|Yellow Band, an airy and exposed crossing of the Protean Ridge, an enforced bivouac on the gale-swept Pakistan Col, a careful, though comparatively straightforward crossing of the Sri Lankan Ice Field and finally the discovery of a route that ‘would go’ up the rock face known as the Indian Steps.

The summit was obtained at 3.15 BST Saturday 12th August 2011, the technical climbing of the final crux having fallen to the intrepid James Anderson brought up on the smooth holds and deep recesses of his native Pennine gritstone.

However, Expedition Leader, Andrew Strauss, was quick to acknowledged by a hastily erected satellite phone that it had been a team effort, citing especially the logistical support masterminded by Andy Flower and his team at Base Camp.

“We were never short of what we needed at any stage of the climb,” he maintained.

Technique, power, stamina, teamwork, courage and a GSOH have all been in abundance to make their ascent of this peak possible.

Now the summit team are in the ‘Death Zone’.  Their ambition is to remain there for the foreseeable future, but the objectives ahead are not to be underestimated. 

Winter climbing turns the Pakistan Col, the Sri Lankan Ice Field and the Indian Steps into a nightmare of crevasses, ice towers and unexpected avalanches all demanding very different techniques to those used this summer.

“We go on from here,” said the modest Strauss. 

Asked why he did it, he replied, “Because it is there.”

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Sri Lanka and England: The Carefree v The Careworn

Before leaving the field at ‘half time’ in the fourth quarter final of the ICC World Cup 2011 played in their own back yard in the R Premadasa Stadium, Colombo, Sri Lanka openly and confidently celebrated keeping England to 229 off their fifty overs.

Not for a moment did they reflect that this score was ten runs more than New Zealand had defended against South Africa the day before in Mirpur.

Carefree is defined as being free of trouble and worry and care and such is Sri Lankan cricket with its full hearted pace, its innovative spin and its ambulant batting.  

After the interval this carefree culture enabled Dilshan and Tharanga to treat the ecstatic home crowd to an exhibition of fluid stroke-play with their high back-lifts, full swings, unfettered footwork and flourishing blade-work which took Sri Lanka to a ten wick annihilation of their opponents.   

In contrast, careworn England displayed the effects of worry and anxiety.  Confined to the crease by burdensome responsibility and intimidated by constant scrutiny, their cricket was riddled with pessimism, deeply defensive and as intrinsically negative as Sri Lanka’s was positive, optimistic and attacking.

Cricket proceeds from a frame of mind.  As the young of today would say, “It’s chicken oriental.” (trans: It’s mental)

Andrew Strauss was more expansive but no less accurate, commenting openly,  “I thought [it] was a good example of playing with fear. We were very tentative and we obviously had a very poor start,” he said. “We are paying the price for that tentativeness.”

Knowing what went wrong is 95% of putting things right.  The 5% is process.  England are unlikely to enter the next world cup on the back of a demanding Ashes Test series followed by a heavy schedule of seven ODIs against Australia and a couple of days R and R in the VIP lounge at Heathrow Airport.

They are unlikely to lose through injury such vital ingredients of their batting and bowling attacks.  They will not be playing on sub-continental wickets.

But in 2015 they will still have to field five or six batsmen with free swinging bats and the aggressive footwork that is not just successful in Asia and not just successful in T20.

They will still need to find four or five spinners with the arsenals capable of beating both sides of the bat, and a handful of seam-up bowlers with the disguised variations of pace and movement now required to challenge the world’s top batsmen in each form of the international game.

Simple?

It will require drier, faster, bouncier, dustier wickets with their rewards to pace and spin.  It will require more encouragement and permissiveness for batsman to dance down the track and hit the ball in front of the wicket.

Above all it will require a revolution in the chicken orientality with which players in England go about their business.  At this point in their careers Strauss, Flower, Vaughan and Graveney have the experience, the authority, and the imagination to lead that revolution through the academies, the development teams, the counties and the national side.

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Conjunction of the Spheres – Bangaluru Style

 

Stuff happens.  Sometimes, when men and women play with time and space, patterns emerge.  As India and England began their first encounter in the ICC World Cup there were, however, few signs of untoward conjunctions. 

Those who eagerly traverse the Twittersphere looking for runes to read would have done well to note a tweet from that Mighty Magus, Shane Warne. Unable pre-match to chose between the teams, the Wizard of Oz half joked, “It’ll be a tie”  (for the which he might have given odds of 1,000 – 1).

Note to the wary: Beware Mighty Magi who half-joke.

At first, though, the times looked all a-kilter.  On a flat and tacky deck in Bangaluru, Sahwag’s bat persistently preceded the ball into the space marked ‘Contact Zone’.  The first time it did so, the white sphere shot skywards towards second slip eluding the outstretched hand of Graeme Swan by millimetres and microseconds – an improbable start.

Repeating the partial eclipse of bat and ball, Sehwag, then squirted the orb squarewards in a looping trajectory just over and beyond a diving Bell (irresistible pun) leaving Anderson the bowler, in a time and space of disbelief.  Impossible.

The first pattern to emerge in this awesome encounter between the best on the planet whose batting power stretched before England like a beam of light heading towards the edge of the universe: Tendulka, Sehwag, Gambhir, Kholi, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Pathan, Harbhajan et al … and the Ashes victors who had been all but humbled by the Dutch and whose form coming into this match was questioned even by their staunchest supporters … yes the first pattern to emerge, therefore, was one of disarrangement, as Sehwag continuing to err in bringing bat and ball in line again played a nanosecond too soon – the ball’s predestined elliptical orbit this time describing a route over the head of an out-of-position mid-on.  Impenetrable.

From that moment on, and across the remaining 99 overs, the stuff began to configure.  Sehwag found the middle and the boundary (an oxymoron which can only be achieved in cricket) and produced a pressure-free atmosphere in which Tendulka could harmonize body and bat with sufficient time to treat the millions tuning in through their cathode rays and flat screen sets to the music of the spheres in a flawless innings of 120.

Surely this match, if not this entire tournament, could not produce a better example of batcraft?  But to believe that was to ignore the power of the developing patterns and symmetries in this matchless match.

At the halfway mark, Third Man’s patent predictor suggested a final score of 340, but at the end of the 30th over a simple doubling of India’s score – the more normal forecasting device – gave India hope of 360.

We had witnessed one great innings and were to witness another, but before that Bresnan, who had already removed Sehwag, returned to take four further wickets to deprive India of a stellar score and to keep them tied – yes tied – by a gossamer thread to Mother Earth at 338. 

Brezzer’s figures were 10.1.5.48 with an economy rate of 4.8 runs an over.  The nearest effort by an England bowler was 6.4 and the worst 9.25.  India’s best would be Bhaji with 5.8 and even the sage-like Zhan’s three wickets were obtained at 6.4 runs an over.  Such was the carnage bowling took on this benign wicket, but such also was the eminence of the Yorkshireman whose 5 wickets were surely the equivalent of an innings of 169 runs and deserved for him the title of Man of the Match (which no doubt went to a batsman).

And from the start of England’s innings this appeared ordained to be the bright and hoped for example of Total Cricket with Strauss and Pietersen playing without fear from the off. 

Pietersen fell at 68 to the third ball of the ninth over when his blistering straight drive was parried by Patel who caught the rebound seated on the ground like a child at a birthday party accepting a rabbit from a hat.

Bell brought to the wicket craft to equal Tendulka’s.  They do things right, they do things well, they exhibit a balance that is near perfection and to see them both at their best on a single day is good fortune in deed.

At the other end the England Captain selected his shots with the precision of a great engineer building a bridge across a broad bay.  Give me a lever long enough and I’ll move the world, had said Archimedes.  Strauss effortlessly levered his way to 50, then, 100, and beyond to the 150 mark.  Nothing seemed able to stop him and England, at 281 for 2, from moving the Earth.

But Bell, suffering from cramp, begged his captain to allow him to kill or cure the pain and restriction with a swipe or two.  Strauss called the batting power play and Bell immediately skied to extra cover.  The batsmen having crossed, Strauss was instantly pinioned – hey-presto – by speed of hand from Khan the Incontestable.

After a time of turmoil and falling wickets, England’s collapse looked terminal when Yardy departed with 32 still required off 15 balls.

But the Chinnaswarmy Stadium offered not only a flat track, but short boundaries to provide an environment more suited to Total Cricket than Total Collapse. 

Dhoni chose Chawla to bowl the 49th over with England requiring 29 from 12.  The choice seemed acute when the first ball confined the batsmen to a single.  But then Swann swiped the ball over the midwicket boundary for six and Bresnan smote the fifth in the same direction for another six.

Hope had briefly returned to English hearts with 14 required from 7, but Brezzer missed the next by a mile and was bowled.

The young and inexperienced Shazad strode to the wicket – exactly the qualities Total Cricket demands in this situation.  Swann’s 2, then a single off the first two balls seemed a capitulation, but  that single had brought Shazad and his fearlessness to the time and place of his fate.  He struck his first ball for a six straight that skimmed like a shooting star to the blackness of the sightscreen behind Patel.

Five runs were required from three balls and the batsmen ran a bye to the wicket keeper.  From the second to last ball Swann running frantically and India fielding clumsily, completed a second run. 

On the identical 5th ball of the 49th over in India’s innings, Khan had similarly called for two but the laws of symmetry had ended there.  Khan had not made his ground and, worse, Patel had placed his bat on the line of the crease.  That line belonged to the umprire, aptly named Erasmus, who smiled the smile umprires smile at such times because they love nothing more than to signal and shout ‘one short’. 

This is where Total Cricket brought us yesterday.  To a point in time and space at which a wicket would win it for India, a single would bring the conjunction of the scores in the freakish feature of a Warned tie, and two or more would give England the magician’s cape.

Swann’s single to mid-off was both climax and anti-climax, coincidentally bringing relief, regret and rejoicing in the Total Conjunction of one of the great 50 over matches of All Time.

As the Mighty Magus might have said, “What other result could there possibly have been?”

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Start-rite – An Ashes Album Page 1

The modern ritual of Test cricket allocates two half days to each side for pre-match preparations at the venue.  This keeps the sides apart and gives each, for a while, exclusive use of the territory. 

At the Gabba, over the years, this has most often been the only time a visiting side has experienced such a sense of ownership.

Here at the start of this winter’s Ashes series, Team England in its entirety of more than two dozen meet the Gabba which when empty looks like a random piece of mosaic but when full can take on the daunting qualities of a bear pit.

All but a couple of the squad are dutifully summoning the positive through joy, a mental technique advocated by Andy Flower.  Only Swann (far left) allows his mind to wander towards the camera, like a schoolboy who finds it hard to concentrate on teacher.  While is that Anderson behind them, out of the union, surveying curator Kevin Mitchell’s handy work?  

Having won the toss and chosen to bat, Andrew Strauss revs onto the field swinging his bat, briefly obscuring his partner Alastair Cook.

The old comrades touch gloves before the enforced parting known to openers, who must each ultimately face alone their cricketing destiny.

Strauss misjudges the width of the third ball of the series when England have yet to score and, cramped for room and off balance, he slices upwards rather than cuts downwards the delivery from Hilfenhaus. 

He shot a Kookaburra in the air

It fell to earth he knew not where

For so swiftly did it fly, his sight

Couldn’t follow it in its flight.

Like a heat-seeking missile, the ball locates the solitary life-form in a huge expanse of the Gabba behind square, the solitary Michael Hussey, who clutches it in the amazement a hermit shows when encountering an unexpected pilgrim.

England’s toppled leader strikes his helmet with an opened gloved hand and in self-chastisement solicitis an explantion from himself, “What have I done?”

Note: The images are supposed to take on the dream-like quality of fading memories.  If you are looking at this in a year’s time they may have disappeared or transformed themselves entirely.

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Winners and Spoils or “Where’s the Entertainment in Winning?”

The object of cricket is to beat the opposition.  There are many ways that playing or watching cricket can be enjoyable or entertaining, but, especially at the highest and most competitive level, winning the encounter is 99% of it.

But victory’s capacity to instil joy decays at break-neck speed.  So, when Andy Flower took the England side out into the middle of a deserted SCG – exercising the visceral and territorial rights of the victor – he will have reminded them that success is a transitory experience best savoured in the ‘now’.   

In urging the side to relish their combined achievements, Flower and Strauss will already have begun the process of fostering the sense of ‘us’ against an unjust world that will fortify the side for the next contest and the next after that.

Douglas Jardine did just that when he was given the job of leading England back to Australia in 1932.  He never forgot and never allowed his side to forget the treatment that Percy Chapman’s 1928/29 side received during their triumphant series when the players’ combined and individual merits were belittled. 

Hammond with a Test match aggregate of 905 runs was dubbed a ‘one stroke player’ and Larwood, whose pace had already exposed weaknesses in the Australian batting, was dismissed as no match for Gregory.

The reaction of the crowds had been directly hostile.  During that Sydney Test fights broke out on the Hill, the barracking never relented, especially of wicket keeper Duckworth after he was involved in a controversial decision.

Some say that Bodyline resulted from a determination to remove the threat of Bradman, but it was much more than that.  It was a psychological ploy to bolster Jardine’s concept of Total Cricket.

To the Winner the Spoils

Today the slurs are subtler but no less unworthy.  “England aren’t a brilliant team – just good at what they do. Where’s the entertainment in that?”

As one Australian blogger summed it up, “What makes them good is not necessarily what gets you excited about cricket.  If they’re your team, you don’t care how they win, but for the rest of us, Australians and everyone else, this was a long series, filled with well drilled quick singles and bowling units combining.”

Smeared as unprofessionally inept in 2006/7, today they are scoffed at for being too professional.

Because cricket is monetised more sophisticatedly than ever before, the cash value of prominent England players is chalked up for all to see at the IPL auction mart.

The worth of showman Pietersen is downgraded from £800k to £400k.  Western pin-up Broad is sold for just £250K. Anderson who was arguably the man of the series has no value, nor do the equally effective T20 cricketers Prior, Bresnan and Swann (though all may have misjudged their reserve pricing tactics and should question the expertise of their agents.) 

Albion Resurgent will never be a popular show, but watching skilful swing bowling, secure fielding, adept batsmanship and life affirming teamwork was a great pleasure.  Different tests now await England, but it is heartening to hope that the reaction of their opponents can make even a victor stronger.

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Back to the Future

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.

"Well done Arthur." "Thanks Don." In England 1948

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!”

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Jack Berry Hobbs – How Did You Do That?

All the talk of Hobbs (and Sutcliffe, Strauss and Cook) persuaded Third Man to nip back in his trusty time machine to have another look at The Master.  

If, like TM, you always wanted to know what the shot in the photo above and the ones below was all about …

… with its echo of Trumper, both feet off the ground, bat behind his ear and quite unlike the ‘stepping out to drive’ of today which is played with the back foot coming behind the front foot and executed with at least one foot always on terra firma

then do please have a look at the film here made by Charles Barnett in 1925 with the written permission of the great man. (and first seen by TM in the new Savoy in P’sfield in 1926.)

5 minutes and 28 seconds into the film Hobbs ‘hops’ off his back foot, both feet off the ground, bat raised high, before landing and swinging.  

It is a length-destroying-shot.  And you’ll see it in slow-mo too.

(Don’t miss the wonderful shots of Tom Hayward with a  mustache and a half, this Movember.)

Why has this shot been lost from the canon to be replaced by the  ‘step out to drive’?  Perhaps because it must have been more difficult to keep the head still or at least in a stable eye line moving towards the ball.

As the above shot and the film also demonstrate, backward attack and defence shots were played with their contact point well in front of the body often with the back foot pointing down the wicket.  Not to be recommended as this opens the hips, squares the shoulders and either results in the down swing coming across the line of the ball, or necessitates an in-to-out line.  But it didn’t stop the great man making 197 centuries.

Note also how, in the film, The Master plays the cut.  He initially adopts a forward press from which he propels himself onto the back foot – a technique that links him to Hussey cutting at the Gabba 84 years later.

But it is not all technique.  Social historians will relish the shots of Parker’s Piece looking like a park in Mumbai with numerous games going on, Jesus College and a packed Oval.

For those who missed the above link to the film, here it is again.  Apologies for the initial advertisement, but it is worth persevering … and there’s more … tomorrow.

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