Tag Archives: cricket

Whitaker, Engage the Enemy More Closely

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When Third Man met James Whitaker last summer at Loughborough he seem resolved to act. He appeared to know what the players wanted and what was needed. They wanted to be left to their own professional resources, to be free to take responsibility for their individual and team performances.

They wanted to be in control from the moment of their selection. They wanted clear permissions to play the game their own way, to express their own talent. As an ex-pro with a good mind he knew the value of this.

But he and Downton seemed to have accepted that they had to work within the framework given to them by Clarke viz, the Flowers managerial, incremental improvement philosophy.

It might be the way Flower thought cricket should be managed. But he had lost sight, in his development as a coach, of how he himself had flourished as a remarkable player. The captain/manager in him took control of the batsman in him.

And Flower had convinced The Powers That Be, and of course he had recruited an army of ‘staff’ to back him up and impose his methodology. Those who couldn’t play within this regime either suffered chronic loss of form or were discarded as potential destabilizing forces. Moores was and is a Flower cipher.

Whitaker and Downton didn’t think they could challenge this power and those decisions. They were wrong. They spent 15 months assuaging that force instead of taking it on.

If they have now been ‘forced’ into change for defensive reasons rather from seeing experience the falsity of the efficacy of the Flower approach, then, there will be no further change. And England’s agony will continue in every form of the game in the months to come.

But if together they have seen that change must happen then they will be planning a total transformation of the England set up; in a way that puts talent first and the requirements of talent as the first consideration.

No longer will players fear the laptop and every other assessment of their performance. They will see the evidence of analysis as an aid and not as an inquisition. The information gathered will be theirs to exploit or to reject if they so wish. Nothing must get in the way of their instincts, of their mental and physical reactions which they have honed over the years.

They must be allowed to wear themselves rather than forced into some identikit of a ‘world class cricketer’ produced by Big Data.

The new England cricketing culture they produce must be Nelsonian: “Engage the enemy more closely”. The purpose of cricket: joy. The first requirement: zeal. The means: Attack!

It requires a team of Millennials and their job is to create opportunities for these young blades to play without fear. The cricket of tomorrow will grow from T20. The up-coming World Cup will be as ‘revolutionary’ as the world cup won by Sri Lanka in 1996. It will be the first World Cup that truly expresses the lessons of T20 innovations. Batting and bowling attacks will stand toe to toe with never a step back by either.

This is the new cricketing world into which England will either dash or dither. Not in the next six weeks but in the next six years. If transformation is continuous, all concerned must be given time, becuase it will take time.

Let’s hope today was a first step and not a tactical retreat in-order to advance again over an unimportant bit of No Man’s Land.

And a sign that this is happening? That change is endemic? For a start, a dressing room which during the hours of play is the privileged preserve of 12 players and one coach.

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Fordism in a Post-Fordist Cricketing World

1924 Model T Assembly Line

@DavidMutton rings the Great House from Stateside today to tell the Squire about James Morgan’s  important, powerful, damning, accurate demolition of Paul Downton’s dismal diving, ducking response to Simon Mann’s reasonable good-natured inquiries.

It has to be said that the Squire has been mortified by things that have happened prior to and during the Tour of Sri Lanka.

“It is vital when dealing with organisations to ask the question: ‘where’s the power?”

True. The Squire keeps to hand his ECB Power Map. It is spread out on an ancient map-table in the Great Library. He takes Third Man thither.

“Look here TM. Where’s the source? Is power in the hands of Cook … of James Whitaker … of Downton …. of Moores … even of Giles ‘Tradesman’ Clarke?   No it’s still Flower’s power.”

“Every dumb decision that the ECB has made over the last 18 months originates from that man, Flower, his beastly managerial culture that stamps on Flair and Improvisation with the Hammer of Conformity. The decision to keep Flower and his Odious Culture of Compliance with its Fearful Clientism has extinguished the Very Life Force of cricket in England.”

“No-one other than Moores would a) have been acceptable to Flower and b) have accepted the limited scope of the coaching job on offer in the first place. England chose a local lad when someone of world class was essential.”

“Flower and Moores have to have Cook until Root is thought ready. Ditto Morgan. So having inked those three batsmen into place others have to be batted out of position, and yet others excluded from the side completely. It is the price of having a compliant Captain and paramount Flower.”

“The whole rickety edifice is bolstered by carefully distributed access to information that produces a compliant (client status) mainstream media that uses what intelligence it has to invent ways of justifying in the unjustifiable Though Mann did a better job than most with his opportunity.”

“Carefully distributed access to cricketing development opportunities from 15 years of age onwards, isolation of the England development programmes from counties creates, client-like and compliant cricketing talent to the exclusion of those who do not pass the Flower Entrance Exams and regular Performance Reviews ensures that no one can develop let alone get themselves selected who has not come through this factory.”

“How many Maxwells, Warners and Finches are out there ready in our Green and Pleasant Land to tan the leather and mock the mighty?”

“It’s Fordism in a Post-Fordist cricketing world. It’s anathema to our Generation Y cricketers which is why so many of them are failing to express their full potential in this stultifying regime.”

“It’s the business strategy dictating the cricketing strategy, dictating the development strategy, dictating the selection strategy, dictating the communications strategy to the utter frustration everyone and which James demolishes in his excellent piece.”

“Get me Downton and Whitaker on the Dog and Bone, TM. If they have anything about them, after an ear battering from me they’ll have those numpties out on their ears immediately after the World Cup. They could do a bit of recruiting while they’re over there. Can’t they see what’s been happening in Yorkshire? In Yorkshire, Third Man.”

“And get me a cold towel while you’re at it.”

“And a brandy”

“A large one.”

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They’re Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace

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Over on the Cricket Couch, an excellent piece gives prominence to the consideration of the C word – Conformity – in the saga of England’s cricketing organisation.

Conformity is the prized value for all hierarchical cultures with their top down, authoritarian philosophy and supportive ethics.  Conformity is pursued, and seeks acceptance, by castigating and disorganizing its alternatives; individuality, autonomy, equality and fatalism.

A key insight into organisational approaches and the ethical tool kits that support them is that each requires the existence of one or more of the others, so that it has something to organize against.

This is evident as the ECB and Andy Flower’s painstakingly configured hierarchy endeavours to re-impose itself – The King is Dead, Long Live the King – by organizing against Kevin Pietersen. What else is a maverick than a non-conformist? How else does the dynasty reassert its legitimacy when its continuance is called into question, if not by identifying the foe without?

You cannot build a totally hierarchical culture. The irony for Flower is that for his hierarchical culture to ‘gel’ you have to have a Pietersen.

The dynamics of cricket pose problems for all five cultural approaches. A good cricket team requires the qualities provided by people whose talents are best developed in different cultural environments. Different players respond well to different types and combinations of cultures.

So, not only is there an ‘I’ in team (where the individualists are free to express themselves) but there is an ‘i’ where the loner feels validated, a ‘who gives a damn’ where the fatalist sits and a ‘we’ were the egalitarians feel ‘togetherness’.

Here are five crude sketches: Boycott is a loner. Gooch a hierarchist, Gower a fatalist, Botham an individualist, Willis an egalitarian.  This is why the Squire and Third Man have always advocated a clumsy solution in which there is something for the hierarchists, the individualists, the egalitarians, the loners and the fatalists.

Mike Brearley’s success in the face of the vibrant diversity of cricketers was to realise who needed more of what they wanted and less of what they didn’t want – and how this can only be achieved when no-one gets all they wanted and no-one gets nothing from the way the team operates.

What went wrong for Flower over the last 18 months is that fewer and fewer team members were willing to accept the hierarchical culture. Irrepressible individualists threw off the yoke, one by one, the loners began to drift into their isolated corners of the dressing room, the egalitarians began to form an enclave. The regime lost control.

Why was the hierarchical option pursued?  Because sports psychology has built its edifice on business psychology, where for too long conformity and the ability to give and take well established instructions appeared to be successful.

A second irony for Flower, Downton and the ECB is that just as these hierarchical values were being thrown over by the forces unleashed in the new economy – English cricket was making them its own.

Many are talking and writing as if Flower has left the scene. But has he? He seems to have been given responsibility for developing leadership. This is no doubt something which he is obsessed with. And offers him the chance to both develop and introduce his ideas without the demands of touring and team management. But his influence on culture, on team ethics and philosophy will be if anything stronger. As the Jesuits were believed to have said, ““Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man”.

The ECB and Team England therefore have more to learn from Google, Facebook and Twitter than just better PR. But if the new director does not insist on Flower’s absolute departure, it will be clear that nothing has been learned.

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Harvest Time or Be It Ever So Out of the Way*

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It is a dreary day at Whirled’s End and the news from Australia is ‘not good’, so, the Squire has retreated into the Library to work on his paper, The Bowling of George Herbert 1607 – 31

It has for some time been clear to His Grace that Herbert was an avid cricketer. His research, much of it on the ground, reveals that as a youth Herbert turned out for an early Middlesex XI, tweaking the ball deceptively on the flags outside St Margaret’s.  There are also College records (sadly now lost) of Herbert bowling for Trinity on the Old Field. And there are reliable accounts of the old parson, in full season, enjoying an over or two for Fugglestone-cum-Bemerton C.C. followed by a little music at midnight with fellow players in the Herbert Arms, Wilton.

“Surely, Third Man, cricket provides the lesser but no less insightful metaphor in his late poem, Coloss 3 for 3.”

“Good figures indeed, Your Grace.”

“Who but a wristy, tweaking bowler of grubs would have in his kitbag words and phrases such as ‘express’, ‘double motion’, ‘straight’, ‘hid’, ‘obliquely bend’, ‘wrapt in flesh’, ‘tends to earth’, ‘winds’, ‘that still one eye’, ‘aim and shoot’, ‘that which is on high’ or ‘Quitting with daily labour all My pleasure’?”

“Ah, the joy of a 7fer, Sir!”

“You must agree, they are the very stuff of bowling acumen where accuracy, surprise and deception mark out the good from the ordinary.”

But deeper still the Squire discerns the hidden subtlety of flight, the cloak of disguise that tricks the eye; reality and ruse, the imaginary and the revelatory, the obvious and the hidden.

“Here before your eyes a simple game of bat and ball; through the lens of which you may, with the careful watchfulness of the batsman, distinguish the arc of life and so  pass, like the sun skipping across the sky, to meaning, and gather in ‘at harvest an eternall Treasure’

Coloss 3:3

Our life is hid with Christ in God

My words & thoughts do both expresse this notion,
That Life hath with the sun a double motion.
The first Is straight, and our diurnall friend,
The other Hid and doth obliquely bend.
One life is wrapt In flesh, and tends to earth:
The other winds towards Him, whose happie birth
Taught me to live here so, That still one eye
Should aim and shoot at that which Is on high:
Quitting with daily labour all My pleasure,
To gain at harvest an eternall Treasure.

 

*John Ruskin to his mother, “the fact is, I really am getting more pious than I was, owing primarily to George Herbert, who is the only religious person I ever could understand or agree with, and secondarily to Fra Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli, who make one believe everything they paint, be it ever so out of the way.” Quoted by John Drury, Music at Midnight, The Life and Poetry of George Herbert. 2013

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Dérive and the Best Approach to Bowling Part II

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“Mr Finn, you look lost.”

“I am as a matter of fact.”

“Well that’s the best place from which to start.”

“I beg your pardon. Look, I really ought to be getting on my way.”

The little man, who had accosted him, did not take the celebrity cricketer’s polite hint.

“To be sure you should.”

“I mean, shouldn’t YOU be getting on YOUR way?”

“Indeed I should, but I sense a troubled mind and I’m not for leaving a young man with a worried cast alone in this great big city. Why don’t we walk together and let the city speak to us. Who knows, it may help.”

They walked for hours, talking sometimes, not at others, taking in the sudden change of ambiance in streets where psychic atmospheres would change within the space of a yard or two.

Finn began to lead. Strolling aimlessly, he took a path that soon had no relation to the physical terrain.

“If you do this, there is no need to worry about missing the stumps at the bowler’s end,” said his companion. “Just open yourself to the appealing or repelling character of the locality. It is how you did it as a child.”

“But this is not the way I was taught.”

“My boy, what really matters never depends on causes to be uncovered by careful analysis and turned to some high account. Throw that nonsense all away. Find your own way to the wicket.”

And suddenly there they were in an enormous open and expansive square, with not a landmark in sight. The Professor of Psycho-geography, for such he was, took a piece of chalk from his pocket, drew a short line on the ground and moved some distance away to the side.

“Now bowl from that mark. Find the path of least resistance. Feel the rhythm marshaling the power within you.”

He was running now, like he had never run before and in a moment, without a single thought, he found himself at some imaginary crease, releasing the ball, his body pivoting over his left foot like some Archimedean point from which to lift the world.  Vividly he saw a ball leave his hand and travel towards some invisible set of stumps.

“Good, good, good,” he heard the Professor cry, his academic eye focused on the spot where Finn’s front foot had landed.  Quickly reaching the spot, the old man took the chalk and marked the spot. Then he handed Finn a piece of pink thread and some silver nail scissors.

“Now take the other end back to that first mark and cut the string to length.”

Finn did so, then wound the string in a ball and placed it in his pocket for same keeping.

Looking up he noticed the busy street of the main shopping district, cabs flashed by, shoppers barged into him. But not a trace remained of the Professor.

His heart sank. A nervous hand felt for his pocket. The thread; it was still there.

*A dérive is an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, on which the subtle aesthetic contours of the surrounding architecture and geography subconsciously direct the travellers, with the ultimate goal of encountering an entirely new and authentic experience.

** Third Man’s use of  psycho-geography and the place of Situationists in cricket was earlier explored in posts such as these.

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Dérive and Finding the Best Approach to Bowling Part I

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It might have been Brisbane or Adelaide or Perth or Melbourne: looking back he could never quite remember.

He and Boyd were sitting out a Test match, their highviz jackets like ill-fitting breast and back plates. He was sucking his thumb and dreaming of salmon leaping in a still pool. He was sure of that.

“Finn is a great Irish name, to be sure,” Boyd had said by way of nothing. “Yes, Finn McCool was Ireland’s greatest spear thrower and a mighty hero.”

He did not interrupt; the brogue was a comfort to him in his torment and shame. He couldn’t hit a barn door or bowl a ball fast enough to shatter the thinnest piece of Waterford glass.

“Of course Finn was not always a great spearsman. Once upon a time he couldn’t hit a barn door or shatter the thinnest piece of Waterford glass.”

“Is that true, Boyd?”

“Ah! He was a magical, benevolent giant was Finn McCool.”

“So, how did he become a great spearthrower?”

“The young Finn met a leprechaun, the poet Finnegas, so he did, near the river Boyne and studied under him.”

“I think that’s what I need if I’m ever going to get myself sorted, Boyd.”

“Well, before you wish for that you might need to know a little more. You see, Finnegas had spent seven years trying to catch the salmon of knowledge, which lived in a pool on the Boyne. The story was, that, whoever ate the salmon, would gain all the knowledge in the world. Eventually he caught it, and told young Finn to cook it for him.”

“I sense trouble.”

“And you’d be right. While cooking it, Finn McCool burned his thumb, and, quick as a flash, he put his thumb in his mouth, swallowing a piece of the salmon’s skin. With the salmon’s wisdom, he then knew how to gain revenge against all his enemies and, whenever in a fix, all he had to do was suck that thumb.”

“That, Boyd, is a great help!” sighed Finn bashing the tall Irishman round the head with a towel and nearly missing.

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Who Will Master Time Tomorrow? The Importance of the Scoring Rate in Long Distance Cricket

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Third Man hopes that George Dobell (again), Freddie Wilde and Peter Miller won’t mind if he singles them out for taking the position that, in Test cricket, scoring rates don’t matter.

“Look, there was a whole day left in that Test, England’s/Carberry’s/Compton’s/Boycott’s  slow scoring rates are not important. We need more batsmen grinding it out. Dig in.”

Google ‘why the scoring rate is important in cricket’ and you will get page after page of links to post after post saying that ‘whereas the scoring rate is important in ODI it isn’t in Test match cricket.’

Of course you’d find it impossible to get that opinion from someone who has played big cricket.

Here’s a go at explaining why coaches want batsmen in IIs, County, State and Test cricket to press on the opposition through the scoring rate and why grinding it out is counterproductive and will get you the sack:

In no particular order:

A high scoring rate puts pressure on the bowler and reduces his effectiveness.  It has a similar effect on bowlers waiting their turn.

Upping the scoring rate reduces the number of fielders in close catching positions and allows batsmen to get away with mistakes.

By spreading the field, the batsmen make room to knock singles.  Bowlers hate change and love routine.  They relay on rhythm and hate having to recalibrate their attack each time a single or a three is scored.

Bowlers don’t like 1s, 2s,3s,4s and 6s being knocked off their bowling, to state the obvious.

Batsmen like scoring 1s, 2s,3s,4s and 6s.  Mysteriously it helps them see the ball earlier and ‘bigger’. The move more freely and more instinctively.

Upping the scoring rate puts pressure on fielders and makes for more misfields and dropped catches.

It also puts pressure on the fielding Captain, jazzing the quality of his thoughts.

Increased scoring rates create momentum.

Now momentum is a mysterious concept and it is natural that a time traveller, like Third Man, is more at home with the idea.  Momentum changes the way time is experienced.  In the case of the batting side gaining momentum, it slows time for them and quickens time for the fielding side.

That is why cricketers playing for the counties are taught quite early on – say when they are twelve – to hurry things up when they are taking wickets and to slow things down when they aren’t.

Batting is especially about slowing time down so that it all goes further; more time.

A batsman with a slow scoring rate creates pressure for the guy at the other end and for those who are coming in later, just as much in 4 and 5 day cricket, as in ODIs and T20. He quickens time for his partner. That is why it is the great sin in batting.

Just remember when you are having sweet dreams about Geoff Boycott’s batting that only Bob Barber ever managed to score runs at the other end; (Did Gooch, once?) that he dominated the batting order at a time when England rarely won Test matches – digin – doesn’t win.

Anyone who finds this hard to accept might do worse than to read True Colours, by Adam Gilchrist (Test s-r 80+)

Not wishing to labour the point about Millenials too much, but one of them, David D. Burstein, titled his book about them, Fast Future.

You know what they say at the Pavilion at the Edge of the Universe; “Fast Future:Slow Time”

Today, Haddin (75 from 90 balls faced) mastered time. Ask Smith, Johnson and Harris what it felt like for them. Or Anderson, Broad, Cook?

Who will master time tomorrow?

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