Tag Archives: David Harris

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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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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England v India T20 – Cricket Almost Without Fear

A game of cricket was played on Wednesday at Old Trafford between an Eleven of England and an Eleven of India.  25,000 people attended and enjoyed the fairground atmosphere of forgetful abandon.

This sentence echoes ones from the earliest days of organised cricket when for example an Eleven of Hambledon played an Eleven of Dartford on the 18th August 1756, and a similar number of people might have made their way to Broadhalfpenny Down, which Third Man once likened to a mixture of Glastonbury Festival and a car boot sale, to enjoy the stalls, the food, the drink and the betting

An unintended consequence of Twenty20 cricket has been the rediscovery of the raw ingredients of the game as played a quarter of a millennium ago.

By reducing the resources available to the fielding side whilst maintaining the resources available to the batting Eleven, cricket has rid itself of much of the fear and cultural inhibition that batsmanship has collected in its evolutionary adaptions since those days.

Once, the ball was ‘bowled’ literally along an uneven strip of turf towards a wicket that was formed from two thin stumps placed wide apart, relative to the size of the ball, which might therefore pass through without disturbing the long single bail that bridged them.

The chances of the ball striking those stumps and the batsman being out ‘bowled’ were small.

Bowlers were artful in trying to exploit the terrain to the extent that a pin-ball player may be artful.

Batsmen relied on a good eye, good timing, a good swing and their own power to swipe as far as possible the hapharzard missile, hopping and skipping towards their shins like a canon ball on a battle field.

Surely they knew little anxiety above the trepidation of being bested by a social inferior or, worse, by a rival for the charms of some village girl.  Their attitude to the random was as fatalistic as their attitude to illness, poor harvests, gamekeepers and the vagaries of their landlord: “if God wills it”.

On Wednesday night there were a number of debutantes, to international T20. The first was Ajinkya Rahane  whose innings typified this rediscovered cricket without fear.  The twenty-three year old gloried in England’s short pitched bowling strategy and its under-resourced leg side field.  As well as hooking with authority, his blade scythed elegantly through anything of length on the off.

At 39/1 in the 5th over he was joined by the debutante Dravid.  Not since 1996 has anyone been able to write that phrase; ‘the debutante Dravid’, but here the veteran was tasting the apple of liberty without the worry of expulsion from Eden.

It took his genius seventeen balls to find its timing and the thought arose that this was one responsibility that should not have been requested of him.  But any concern vanished with the execution of three successive and sublime maxima.

Artful bowling at the death by Jade Dernback, pearls in his ears, recalled David Harris in its innovation, manipulation of speed and practiced skill.  His ‘back of the hand’ deliveries arrived with little to distinguish them from, but two yards later than, his orthodox deliveries that might clock 90 mph. 

India, who had earlier been rampant, found themselves restrained to 165. 

The third debutante to note was Alex Hales  who took first strike for England, driving the initial in-swinging delivery from Praveen with confidence and missing his second, a straighter one that cut down the juvenile in his prime with scoring.

As England began the last over requiring 10 to win, the fourth debutante,  Jos Buttler , was next man in.  Third Man, worn down by time and manifold anxieties, feared for this stripling having to come out with only a ball or two with which to force the issue, and hoped, as indeed it turned out, that his first innings would come another day.

When Third Man described this timid view to a 17  year old, the youth protested, “No, he’d have wanted to go out there no matter what, to prove that he could do it.”

Just like Dravid, his fellow debutante.

England won by 6 wickets with 3 balls remaining. 

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Glastonbury, Hambledon and a New Bowling Phenomenon

The trusty time machine has taken Third Man back to 1782.  It is late May and he is sitting at a table in the George at Hambledon, now kept by the redoubtable Richard Nyren, the best captain of the best cricket team in the world.  Or, as his son would later describe him, Hambledon’s ‘head and right arm’.

Nyren is a cricketing entrepreneur.  He is somewhere between a Michael Eves and a Richard Branson. If we are to imagine a fixture played at Broadhalfpenny Down at around this time, there is no better place for the imagination to start than with an image of a Glastonbury Festival; a temporary and tented city built for the enjoyment and entertainment of people from far and wide with all the impermanent infrastructure that is needed to feed and drink and relieve that huge transient community.

For a typical match 20,000 people descended on little Hambledon and camped on Broadhalfpenny Down, two miles outside the village.  They and their horses arrived hungry and thirsty from as far away as Reading, TonbridgeWells and, of course, London Town.  Such numbers needed the services of a city. Tents and pennants and banners advertised food and drink.  The Hutt (later renamed by the entrepreneur The Bat and Ball) was the centre of the hive of activity with fresh made bread and every type of provender.   Bookmakers and bat makers, punch sellers and pie makers set up their stalls.  Smiths and cartwrights set up temporary forges.  Dukes and Earls and Baronets with their VIP ‘all areas’ passes enjoyed exclusive access to the members’ Lodge with its covered seating and expensively covered chairs.

Nyren’s backers have made millions from their wagers won on the backs of the successful teams Nyren has formed and led for a quarter of a century while he himself has prospered from the faire he provides from The Bat and Ball, the commissions he skims from the stall holders and bookmakers, the share of the prize money and the wagers he has won, always backing Hambledon, no matter how dire the situation.  

“Never bet against men such as these,” he once told two members of the Quality with a fearlessness of rank and authority which were at the root of his success.

Nyren is in the process of creating a new venue, close and more convenient to the village, at Windmill Down, and although the wicket will take time to bed in he is already beginning to think highly of it.

Richard is there in person in the George this evening.  He is not serving, but is sitting with some ‘Quality’.  One is obviously a parson.  The others simply exude wealth, position and privilege.  Their talk is loud and indiscrete.

Third Man can make out that they have been playing in or watching a match at Odiham and are taking their ease after a three hour journey home.  The wine and punch is flowing.  Elsewhere the rest of the team are singing. 

But Third Man can see from the intensity of Nyren’s expression that he is in serious discussion. That day he thinks he has has witnessed something special, a new but as yet undeveloped talent, a bowler who with Nyren’s coaching in the new style of bowling could he believes achieve a steepness of bounce, an intimidation and an accuracy that no one in cricket will ever have encountered before.  To Nyren his potential is obvious.

“We must have ‘im for ‘Ambledon, for ‘Ampshire”

The pioneering stalwarts, his great team, are beginning to lose their edge.  If the success of the team and its ability to win big money is to continue, fresh blood must be brought in.  Like a Fergusson operating in the transfer market of today, Nyren and his backers are ruthless in the changes they must make.  

They are in the process of putting together their second great team.  The cream of cricket from Sevenoaks to Dartford awaits the invitation from Nyren. But there that evening the big decision is made.  They are agreed.  This new team will be built around an unknown and a raw and as yet undeveloped talent with the potential pace and bounce to be the scourge of batsman for twenty years.  This new team will be built around David Harris and his extraordinary action.

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Cats, Elephants and Flex Testing in Cricket

The cat is finally out of the bag.  At 12.30 yesterday on the third day of the third Test, Sky broadcast contrasting clips of the actions of Graeme Swann and Saeed Ajmal.  Under the direction of commentator and former umpire David Lloyd, the editor froze the action when their right arms were showing a quarter to three in their deliveries.

Lloyd said, “You see the bent arm of Saeed Amjal – it’s within the 15 degrees allowed by the law, it’s legal – this is the reason why Amjal can bowl the doosra and Swann can’t.”

And with this admission by a senior member of the commentariat (and without contradiction from any of his colleagues) the elephant had finally been acknowledged to have been in the room all the time.

The game of cricket has evolved a further step.  The Laws of Cricket had ‘jerked’ on to accommodate 15 degrees of flex in 2005 like a straightening arm catching up with practice and now, when sufficient time has passed to allow us to forget the strange anatomical and skeletal fictions that had previously been peddled before the amendment, everyone can be open and above board; The Special Ball Cannot Be Bowled, it Can Only Be Thrown, But That’s Legal.  

Anatomically the only way sufficient momentum can be given to a ball released with counter-clockwise rotations with the back of the hand facing the batsman is to jerk the arm straight from a bent position.  Provided that straightening is no more than from 15% of bend the ball is a legal delivery.  This flexing also allows more rotations to be placed on the ball for the clockwise ‘off-spinner’ (counter clockwise for ‘slow left armers’) as countless practitioners of erroneously called finger spin has known for many years; increasing dramatically the potential for drift, dip, turn and bounce.

When in May 2009 an ICC sponsored biomechanical report cleared Amjal’s action the ICC spokesperson was emphatic in stressing that the report “simply confirms that Ajmal is capable of bowling with an action which complies with ICC Regulations” and therefore  “whenever Ajmal bowls in a match in the future, his action will be under the scrutiny of the match officials”.

The spokesperson continued, “according to the ICC regulations, the match officials will use the naked eye to determine whether his action complies with the Laws of Cricket. The permitted degree of elbow extension is 15 degrees and the level of tolerance was set at the point at which such elbow extension will begin to become noticeable to the naked eye. Accordingly, any degree of extension which is visible to the naked eye must and will be reported.”

This of course provides the match officials with an enormously difficult challenge and the game will soon have to accept that a method of adjudicating each delivery will have to be implemented. 

At present the ICC maintains that beyond 15 degrees of flex the ‘the throw’ is visible to the naked eye, but most cricketers will continue to believe that a ‘throw’ can be spotted at degrees of flex lower than 15 degrees.  

Lloyd’s assertion that Amjal’s bent arm for that particular delivery is within the 15 degrees tolerance is exactly that; an assertion.  Big Cricket must now bring in technology to adjudicate on the degree of arm straightening by bowlers.  

Lovers of the game, many of whom still find it difficult to accept the 15 degree tolerance should nevertheless be supporting Shane Warne and Terry Jenner in their campaign for on field testing recently reported in the Daily Telegraph.

This is not the first time that forms of release have been experimented, perfected, performed, protested against, ignored, tolerated, accepted, and finally accommodated in the Laws of Cricket. 

In or around the 1750s Richard Nyren either before coming to Hambledon or soon after his arrival, (probably responding to the demands of ‘bowling’ against John Small (Snr) on practice nights), decided to raise his arm from the grubber ‘bowling position’ at the moment of release to somewhere around waist height – how awkward it must have felt and looked!  How vexing to the ‘legitimate’ bowlers from Slindon, Dartford and Sevenoaks!

It was twenty years later that Nyren’s apprentice, David Harris, took the action to its extreme, to terrorize the poorly protected batsmen of his day by jerking the ball out from a position under his armpit with a mixture of push and flick worthy of a juiced up East European shot-putter from the 1960s.

Again in the 1790s Tom Walker – Old Everlasting – practicing during winter in a barn worked out that he could generate even more pace and bounce than Harris by letting the arm swing out sideways in a ‘round arm’ fashion with the release at or around shoulder height.  

Cricketing authorities first banned the practice with a Law prohibiting ‘round arm’ bowling in 1816: The ball must be bowled (not thrown or jerked), and be delivered underhand, with the hand below the elbow. But if the ball be jerked, or the arm extended from the body horizontally, and any part of the hand be uppermost, or the hand horizontally extended when the ball is delivered, the Umpires shall call “No Ball”.

Gradually this form of bowling burrowed its way into the game and by 1826 Wm Lillywhite and Broadbridge were winning the County Championship for Sussex with round arm bowling.  Batsmen among the legislators were losing their rear-guard action against the practice and in 1835 the relevant part of the Law was amended to read: if the hand be above the shoulder in the delivery, the umpire must call “No Ball”

A voluntary code was soon made mandatory when in 1845 the umpire’s view of the incident was made final.  Ho! Ho!

Our story now moves on to the 26th August 26, 1862 and The Oval where the England bowler Edgar Willsher deliberately bowled overarm to the Surrey batsmen.  In a foretastee of the 1995 Boxing Day Test, Willsher was no-balled six times in succession.  He and his eight fellow professionals in the England team then walked-off the ground in a suspiciously orchestrated protest.

This time the authorities rushed to catch up with practice and in 1864 amended the Laws to allow the bowler to bring his arm through at any height providing he kept it straight and did not throw the ball.

Strictly, cricketers stopped ‘bowling’ the ball the moment two hundred and sixty years ago when Richard Nyren ‘stood up’ to release the delivery, stopped bowling the ball (along the ground) and ‘pitched’ the ball at a length between himself and the batsman adding an extra dimension to the problems of striking a ball with a bat.

Innovation is driven by the tussle of ball and bat.  There are many social and political forces behind the acceptance or the prohibition of innovation but once acceptance has been codified a further difficulty arises over enforcement.   It is a truth universally acknowledged that an unenforced law is irrelevant to the actions and consciousnesses of those to whom the law is meant to apply.

In David Lloyd’s low key admission, yesterday, cricket admitted that it cannot stuff the cat back in the bag, but it has yet to shoot the elephant.

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