Tag Archives: Harold Larwood

Moneyball or Moneybat? Revaluing Cricketing Assets

Today sees the release in the UK of the film Moneyball, by the makers of the Oscar winning film, The Social Network, and featuring Brad Pitt as another modern American hero, the Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane.

It’s based on the book of that name by Michael Lewis subtitled, The Art of Winning An Unfair Game and tells of Beane’s attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget by employing sabermetrics,  the analysis of in-game activity developed by Bill James.

James was a baseball tragic who looked long, hard and with fresh eyes at why baseball teams win and lose.  His ideas were so ‘left field’ that he had to publish his own books in a bid to reach an audience.

Beane, who felt that in his own career his true talents and potential were never properly made use of was drawn to James’ theories and insights which valued a player untraditionally, focusing on the players real contributions to winning and, importantly, not losing.

Rather than look at pitchers in the conventional way, he looked at which allowed runners to steal the most bases.  Rather than concentrate on runs scored he concentrated on runs created.

His concept of the ‘Range Factor’  turned appreciation on its head from over-valuing attack to revaluing a player’s defensive contributions.

His ‘Defensive Efficiency Rating’ showed the percentage of balls in play that a defense turns into an out. And his ‘Pythagorean Winning Percentage’ produced statistics explaining the relationship of wins and losses to runs scored and runs allowed.

Using sabermetrics, Beane was able to spend his pint-size budget signing players from the draft that the big teams were overlooking. The Oakland A’s dominated baseball … until the big shots started using the same approach.

Perhaps the biggest lesson that cricket could take from James was his refocusing away from runs scored onto runs allowed.

As the motivation behind the organisation of cricket moved from gambling to Arnoldian  Muscular Christianity  and the virtues necessary for those capable of administering an Empire, the spot light, the laws and the glory were focused on the ‘art’ of batting – you know – bowling is indeed a manly activity but batting is gentlemanly.

Even the full professionalization of the game has never really exorcised that Ghost in the Game.  Limited overs cricket has increased the appreciation of the value of fielding.  Modern tail-enders who were once encouraged to have a swipe and make way for the main action are now expected to contribute runs. 

But the glamour remains with the top order batsman.  Sides must have six of them AND the keeper must be able to bat even if he misses the odd catch and is unlikely to stump an opponent unless trips over yards down the track.

Hardly fair? 

Regular readers will know that Third Man, who started his days when the Squire and his fellows paid him to bowl at them on club practice nights at Hambledon and remembers, as if it was yesterday, the Varsity cricketers coming down in the summer and taking up the batting places in the precursor to the County Championship, is always vexed when the Man of the Match award goes to the batsman getting 174 out a total of 600  on a ‘road’, when a bowler in the same match who has taken ten wickets is left to enjoy a beer in the ice bath.

No one can deny that a ‘fifer’ is a tougher ask in Test cricket than a century, yet both secure a coveted place on the honour’s board.

For many cricketers, it’s an unfair game, where the opportunities and the subsequent rewards don’t necessarily go to those most able to contribute to winning.  In cricket, its Moneybat … until that is someone comes up with a formula for calculating the true worth of a player’s contribution to winning. 

Unless the Squire is planning economies among the staff at the Great House, this task may account for His recent preoccupation with a thick tome entitled, Human Resource Accounting.

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Compare the Drives No.10 – Khawaja and Jackson

Did A.A. (Archie) Jackson manage a snooze before he came out to play his first innings for Australia?  Usman Khawaja did just that during the lunch interval immediately prior to taking guard on day one of the final Test in Sydney a few hours ago.

There are some parallels, not least in importance being first deliveries after lunch breaks, the first in Test cricket for Khawaja and for Jackson … well let’s come to that in good time.

'Truth is Beauty'. There are no known imagines of Keats playing cricket. If there were ...

Like Usman, Archie was not born in Australia.  He was a Scotsman from Rutherglen in Lanarkshire.   He arrived with his family in Balmain, Sydney as a 12 year old in 1921.

Like Usman, Archie also played for New South Wales, where he began his  first class career at the age of 17.   

He toured New Zealand with Australia a season later and received his cap as a nineteen year old against Chapman’s MCC side in 1929.  

The parralels continue as Jackson  was brought into the side to replace a great star and team fixture, in his case V.Y. Richardson.  Australia were then as now being forced by retirements, injuries and age to rebuild their team.

Their situation was even worse.   They were three nil down in the series  and no less under the cosh off the field, where the Australian press and supporters were giving them as good a bashing as their opponents.

Third Man has described the three previous Test in the series, all won by England at Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.  

In the fourth Test, At Adelaide in the first week of 1929, England batted first  and when Hobbs and Sutcliffe had taken the score to 143 it looked as if Australia were yet again rolling over in front of  the English juggernaut, but beautiful bowling by Grimmett (52.1 overs 12 maidens 5 for 102) kept Australia in the match despite yet another undefeated century by Hammond.

Bill and an apprehensive Archie already haunted by the illness that would kill him two and a half years later at the age of 23 walk out to bat during the 1930 tour of England.

Jackson walked out to open the batting with Woodfull but in the flash of an eye Australia were 19 for 3 with Tate, Larwood and White doing the damage.  England’s 334 all out looked a very long way off. It is not hard to imagine the invective from the crowd and estimate the intoxicating mixture of tension and self-belief experienced by Jackson.

Third Man does not doubt that Archie like Usman after his knock today would have described his first experience of Test match batting as ‘fun’; fun, fun, fun.

Archie’s, though, was a much more extraordinary baptism as, joined by his captain J. Ryder, he proceeded to give an apparently nerveless exhibition of brilliant stroke play with delicate glances, wristy cuts and searing drives all made under considerable pressure from good bowling. 

Heel raised and ready to play the spinner late

This photograph (right) hints at the lightness of his footwork. 

J.C. ‘Farmer’ White the Somerset slow left armer had manacled the Australian batsmen throughout the series, bowling shorter and flatter deliveries that were hard to get away and which bought time for Tate and Larwood to recover in the intense heat.  

But Jackson was the first Australian in that series to ‘jump in’ to drive White in the grand manner of a Hobbs (see Jack, How Did You Do That?) or, whispering it carefully, the young man’s hero, Victor Trumper.

At lunch on the third day Jackson had painstakingly taken his score to the precipice that is 97.  As the players resumed the field, Chapman called back a refreshed Larwood to the attack inorder to squeeze every possible ounce of potentially paralyzing anxiety out of the situation.

Top of the handle and a very straight front leg.

The Nottingham Express himself describes his first ball after that lunch break, eighty two years ago.

“With 97 runs against his name and having had his back to the wall, he cover-drove me to bring up his hundred.  That ball was delivered as fast as any I had ever bowled previously.

“That glorious stroke has lived in my memory to this day for its ease and perfect timing.  I am sure that few among the many thousands present sighted the ball as it raced to the boundary.”

Today, England were probably very glad to see the back of Usman Khawaja, sweeping against the turn as (urgh) young men are tempted too easily to do.  But England in 1929 had to wait until Jackson was 164 before he was lbw to White.

What are the odds that he too was sweeping against the turn?

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1926 Ashes Decider

 

While some were boarding the Torbay Express to spend the summer on the English Riviera 25,000 were queuing down the St John’s Wood Road  to watch the second Test between England and Australia at Lord’s . They can be seen on a Pathe News film here.

After the wash out at Trent Bridge, there was great excitement as Carr and Collins tossed for innings surrounded by spectators.  Was it an early example of the media dictating terms or did the Captains really not bother making their way to the middle?

“We’ll have a bat,” said the Australian captain.

The Larwood Express had been brought in for Hearne but no one and nothing – not even leg theory with four short legs, three behind square – could stop the great Bardsley from ‘taking his bat out’ for 193 in Australia’s 383 all out.

In England’s ‘dig’, Hobbs (119) and Sutcliffe (82) put on 182 for the first wicket, then, Woolley (87), Hendren (127*) and Chapman (50*) took the score on to 475 for 3 declared.  What a batting exhibition that was.

Macartney, whose birthday fell on the Sunday rest day, made the first of his three centuries as a forty year old (133*) when Australia batted out time on the third and final day of the match.

Pathe News now takes us on to Leeds and another draw with Australia making 494 (Woodfull 141, Macartney 151 and Richardson 100 all scoring big) and forcing England to follow on 200 behind.  In their second innings England did a Gabba Twenty10, scoring 254 for 3 with Hobbs and Sutcliffe putting on 156 for the first wicket to save the three day Test match.

At Old Trafford there was yet more rain, causing another late start on Saturday’s opening day, this time followed by just 10 balls and 6 runs for the frustrated spectators. 

Hobbs, deputising for Carr as the first professional captain for 39 years, could not stop Woodfall from making his second successive century and Macartney his third in a row.  When England had made 305 for 5, time was called on another draw, increasing the public clamour for four-day Tests.

For the deciding and timeless Test at the Oval, Chapman took over the England captaincy.  Australia led on first innings by just 22 runs.  It was in England’s opening innings of the match that Hobbs, playing ‘divinely’, missed a full toss from Mailey, sadly not captured here by the cameera man.

Surely the famous ‘miss’ can be explained by the amount of drift and dip the wrist spinner would have got on the ball – imagine Warne’s wonder ball, but without the pitch and turn.

England then made 436 with Hobbs (100) and Sutcliffe (161) putting on 172 for the first wicket.  This does not tell half the story.  With an overnight score of 49, the pair had resumed the next morning after torrential overnight rain.  As the sun cooked the wicket, Richardson’s off-breaks from the Vauxhall end and Macartney’s slow lefty arm from the pavilion end turned and kicked viciously – here imagine Underwood in ’68 bowling from both ends.  This was extraordinary batting.

Requiring 415 to win, Australia were ripped apart by Larwood (3-34) then Rhodes (4-44). 

It is often remarked that Gregory batted without gloves even to Larwood. Can that be true?  Gloves were skimpy affairs with the sausages on tapes that were wound round the hands and would have been difficult to see on film.  But surely this film confirms that the Australian faced his opposite number without gloves.

And so England won the Ashes for the first time in 14 long years with so much real death and distruction between that it was really a different world in which Pathe News captured a pitch invasion as if it was a West Indian victory in the 1970s. 

“We want Chapman …We want Rhodes,” roared the crowd.

All this captured in 14 minutes of celluloid.   For those counting the minutes to midnight tonight, this film offers more interest than yet another 14 minutes of pre-match twaddle from Sky.  Do please have a look.

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Crowd Psychology – 2nd Ashes Test Sydney December 1928

Percy Chapman preux chevalier now led his merry but generally elderly men on from their seismic victory at the Gabba described earlier to the cauldron of  Sydney Cricket Ground where the outfielder senses intolerable isolation in a crowded place and even the wicketkeeper can hear himself barracked.

Mead had played his last Test and made way for Geary.  For Australia, Richardson replaced Bradman, the gentle Nothling came in for the broken Gregory, who had therefore also played his last Test, and the off-spinner Blackie made his debut at the unlikely age of 46.  The effects of the carnage of the First World War are clear to see with each side missing the Lost Generation of young players who might have been.

Hobbs and Sutcliffe opened the innings and put on 37 before Sutcliffe's dismissal brought forth Hammond.

Australia were bowled out for 253 with Geary taking 5 for 35 in 18 overs and Larwood picked up 3 for 77 in 26.2 overs.  Controversy attended the early dismissal of Kippax who was bowled off his pads from outside leg stump but the batsman claimed that ‘keeper Duckworth had broken the wicket.

The scene was then set for Hammond to take command. Coming in with England at 37 for 1, he reigned supreme for 7 hours 41 minutes during which time he scored 251 in England’s total of 636 all out.

Wally Hammond - the economy of the cover drive

Australia’s second innings of 397 contained centuries for Barnacle Bill Woodfull and the multi-initialed H.S.T.L Hendry, but it was barely enough to make England bat again and the tourists won the second Test by 8 wickets and went 2 – 0 up in the series. 

Tate bowls to Hendry probably on his way to 112 in Australia's second innings. Some consolation for the crowd but not enough to to forestall an eight wicket drubbing which gave a cricket mad country much to talk about.

In the home side’s second innings the damage had been done by Tate with 4 for 99 from 46 overs, but Larwood’s influence, although on paper insignificant with 1 for 105 from 35 overs, was in fact considerable as batsmen took risks at the other end either to avoid him or to protect the lower order from him.  Barker and Rosewater in Test Cricket England v Australia suggest that, ‘There was an impression, too, that at times he bowled at the batsman.’

The Australian crowds and commentariat were in two minds. Either this was the worst, oldest and least worthy side ever to reach Australian shores or given the results so far, the luckiest. The temperature metaphorically as well as literally was rising as the antipodean spring turned into high summer.

Four years later Jardine was to use the following quotation from R.W.Thompson’s  Down Under, a non-cricketing account of a period he spent in the Dominion, to show that the reaction in 1932/33 was in many ways no different to that which had preceded it.

Of 1928, Thompson writes,  “A far more serious series of events now commenced.  I refer to the cricket Test matches between England and Australia.  The papers and the people relegated all other business and thoughts to the background.  I had not realised that cricket could be taken so seriously.  The attitude of the general public and of the crowds at the matches was amazing.  This was no game.  It was warfare …”

Thompson wrote that, ‘There was little sporting spirit … The merits of England’s players were belittled and scoffed at, dismissed as luck.”

Jardine obscures the names so that his 1934 readers might at first think it was a report of that winter’s tour, but in 2010 there is no need for such artifice.

Argument, thought Thompson, was now unavoidable.  “I thanked God for Hammond and his double centuries, and Larwood and his Ponsford-baffling bowling (actually hand breaking bowling – TM). These two were unanswerable.  Nevertheless, the Australians called Hammond a one-stroke player, and Larwood, they said was not as fast as Gregory.”

According to Thompson, “The Sydney Test provided the newspapers with copy for several weeks, and the general public with material for heated and scathing debate …”   Duckworth, he writes, “was barracked unmercifully for many days afterwards …”   The Kippax incident being “discussed unsportingly on every hand.”

Thompson found it very hard, “to get an acknowledgement of England’s worth from anyone, even though we were winning.”

Yet, if the temperature was rising, it was to soar yet further as both sides made their way to Melbourne and the New Year Test.

To be continued …

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