Tag Archives: Barry Richards

Shadowrun – Meeting Mr Johnson

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For a batsman there is nothing more exciting and, yes, more enjoyable on a cricket field than facing a quick bowler on a decent track. Batting at the United Services Ground, Portsmouth was what the great game – that is The Bat, The Ball and The Very Quick – was all about.

Somewhere in the multiverse Roy Marshall is facing John Snow every day of the week. At the other end Barry Richards or Gordon Greenidge are waiting their turn. No helmets.

It is what all those hours of development were for – a great challenge and the most electrifying release of the best adrenalin that you will ever experience outside of a battle field.

That is why the hook is so addictive. The intensity of that last picture of the ball in front of the nose and the gloves coming across the field of vision and the unique feeling of a timed hook, the fleeting, collaborating glance as the ball sails 45 degrees towards the boundary. The sense of rotation.  More! Gimme more!

Some people say that ‘no one likes facing a really quick bowler. That’s only half right. Try facing John Snow on a feather bed at Lord’s … then pop down to Hove to meet his elephantine memory on something ‘tidal’.

What batsmen dread is bounce they can’t ‘read’. It is always disconcerting.  For some, the control freaks, it can be more than can be borne, like a good young mathematician going into an exam and finding for the first time a problem they can’t immediately solve.

And that is what facing Mitchell Johnson appears to be like.  Every element of a batsman’s experience says that this ball headed this way in these conditions will bounce to this height. And they’re six or seven inches out and it’s too late to bail out. Or worse … the next ball maybe so.

That is why Johnson’s recent accuracy is part of it.  When one in fifty can hit you the human psyche can blank out that possibility, not when ‘it’s’ going to happen sometime in this over.

Andy Robert’s surprise bouncer. Recollections of those who faced S.F. Barnes. Third Man can still recall facing David Harris as if it were yesterday. Illegibility. Mystery. Threat. The Proximity of the Knowable Unknown.

It must take a bit of getting used to when facing Lasith Malinga but his lift and  bounce, like that of Alfred Mynn is nothing near as anomalous  and mentally disintegrating as that of the supremely strong Johnson, with the slightly higher action.

Is there also an element of swing (not out or in swing) but because of the low action and the seam position this provides, might not the swing be down into the pitch steepening the angle of incidence, increasing the steepness of the bounce? That would explain a great deal.

Changing a well grooved physical routine is difficult but changing a well grooved mental reaction to a stimulus is a hundred times harder.

Maybe you could find a five foot bowler able to fling it down at 100mph onto a fielding ramp positioned 8 meters short of the batter.

Someone soon will re-programme their batting reactions and there shall be a contest. Or you could stay indoors and play Shadowrun

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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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Watch this then! – Sir Donald Bradman and the Origins of the Dilshan

The dare is irresistible to young boys.

“I bet you wouldn’t dare go out there and reverse sweep that opening bowler.”

“Watch this then!”

That was the kind of chat you might have overheard listening to a bunch of eleven year old cricketers, five years ago.

Now they’re sixteen and it’s the Dilshan that’s the subject of their dares.

Tillakaratne Dilshan playing the Scoop Shot right out of the coaching manual

Twenty or so years ago cricketers rediscovered that scoring runs could be a three dimensional activity.  In the days of risk-averse batting one might see the odd lofted straight drive, though cricketers have been sacked from Test sides for playing that shot before lunch on the first day of a Test.

The hook was always an explosive shot with the ball soaring skyward, but even then you could hear the coach’s admonishment, “Roll those wrists, TM.”

Roy Marshall famously played the sliced cut that slewed the ball over Third Man’s head for six, but no-one thought of copying that ‘impossible’ shot.

Perhaps it was Barry Richards, copping with the demands of the Gillette and Benson and Hedges formats, who in recent times rediscovered the art of lofting drives over extra cover and clipping leg side shots deliberately up and over the inner ring of fielders.

Field placing tactics evolved with in and out fields, but these could not put the gene entirely back in the bottle.  Shot selection and captaincy had now to consider the third and liberating dimension. 

Batsmen responded to carefully placed in and out leg side fields by developing reverse shots if the on side was packed with extra fielders.  

By the time the preternaturally attacking and wonderfully inventive Sri Lankan, Tillakaratne Dilshan , arrived on the scene there was only one segment of the field left to exploit: the area behind and over the head of the wicket keeper.

Third Man does not hesitate to repeat and underscore this; yes, the area behind and over the head of the wicket keeper.

Perhaps in the nets one day, bored but feeling ‘right’,  Dilshan assumed the position of head butting the half-volley and at the last nano-second produced the bat and, without a further view of the ball, timed a flick over the wicket keepers left shoulder.

“Bet you wouldn’t do that in a match.”

“Watch me, then!”

Yes, Third Man, but what’s this got to do with Sir Donald Bradman?

In Doug Insole’s Cricket From the Middle, the Essex and England allrounder recalls playing in a match at Lords against Middlesex.  Compton had yet to reach three figures and was batting freely but seriously when play stopped for tea. 

During that interval the mischievous and impish Middlesex captain, R.W.V. Robins,  ‘innocently’ enquired of Compton why he never played the straight drive, as this shot was the usually considered the mark of a decent batsman.

Cultural linguists will recognize this as a typically upper middle class mid-twentieth century way of issuing a dare.

Walking out after tea, the Essex players heard Compton tell the bowler, Ray Smith, that his third ball would go back over his head.

The third ball was duly hit for ‘as straight a six as it is possible to see’ reports Insole.

Yes, yes, Third Man, but what had this to do with the ‘Don’ who everyone knows during his entire career played every shot along the ground?

Insole goes on to recall Bradman telling him that once in the course of a big innings in a state match in Australia he had suddenly felt the urge to experiment and he had ‘determined to hit the next ball to fine-leg for four’.

Bradman had told the wicket keeper to stand back, or he would get the ball in his face, and had hit the next delivery, a half volley outside the off stump, over his left shoulder to the boundary.

Voila, The Dilshan … or should we say The Bradman, played fifty years ago.  Of course, for added spice, Bradman the master cricketer had dared himself – the real challenge in life.

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