Thursday 25 September 2014

Commentate, Don't Prognosticate

I read a lot of cricket books, mainly biographies and histories. A common theme for any cricketer turned commentator is 'Advice Received From Richie'. Although, why they need to include it I don't know, since they all tell the same story.

The generic tale runs something along the lines of said commentator talking about the future, about who will win the game, series, who will succeed, fail etc etc. In the story Richie Benaud sits back and says nothing, a cryptic smile on his face. He always lets them sink. There's no hand on the rudder from Richie, no pre-game crimp notes. You're on your own.

The writer always says how during the call, very shortly after the wayward prediction, it proved to be a lot of hoary bollocks. Another cryptic half-smile from the doyen.

At the end of the game the commentator asks Richie, "so how'd I go?" And Richie always tells them that they ought to watch and call the game, not try and make predictions about the future. Say what you can see is happening, don't guess at what you can't see and don't know. Best lesson they ever learnt, they all say.

I always think, why didn't you just read the last guy's book? Learn from his mistake. Don't go and do it yourself.

But it seems, for each individual, it is irresistible. Which team will, or most definitely will not, win the World Cup? Who will eventually be regarded as an all-time great, or not (Alastair Cook, discuss)? What did Andrew Gale really say?

People just can't help themselves.

Thursday 18 September 2014

Know Your Limits

I used to play cricket with a guy who had been a champion hockey player. U/19 State representative or some such. The season he played with us was the first time he'd played proper cricket.

He batted like a hockey player. A right hander, he could only hit the ball in front of square on the on side. He pushed forward through the line of the ball and turned his wrists on contact, so the ball always squirted away through mid-wicket, even if he'd hit it from two feet outside off stump.

If it was short he just swung harder, bringing the bat through in the same arc as every other shot, as if driving at the ball, connecting with the bat horizontal out in front of him. For all the world it looked like he would hit it straight up. But when he hit it he turned the face, and the ball would fly off at right angles.

The competition we played in only had six teams, and so we played each other three times each season, and since he was such a limited player the oppo started to work him out. His solution? He  batted left handed.

I mean he'd switch in the middle of an innings. He'd make twenty runs or so batting right-handed, and then he'd turn around and bat left-handed for a while.

He batted left-handed just like a hockey player - except a completely different player. Left handed he basically played two shots. He still pushed through the line of the ball, except left handed the bat stayed straight, so he hit through cover. And left handed he could absolutely smoke the ball through and behind point with the most amazing square cuts and late cuts.

He would always switch hands in the middle of an over, and often as not would actually pull out of his stance as the bowler ran in, and then switch over. The opposition captain would stand aghast for a while, not quite believing what was going on. Then he would scratch his head and try to work out where all the fieldsman would have to go.

Sometimes the other captain would object, but they had no grounds. You are are free to switch hands if you are silly enough to do it, so long as you inform everyone.

So when the oppo captain made a fuss hockey-boy would stand in his opposite stance and wait for the field to change. Then he would go into his stance, tap tap tap, bowler starts coming in. Then he would pull out and switch back to the other hand again!

I once saw him do it four times without facing a ball, completely unfazed about the oppo going mental at him. They soon learnt just to get into position and shut up.

By the end of the season the other teams pretty much had him sussed. They had worked out where to bowl whichever way he faced up.

They knew where, but they couldn't always hit the mark the first few balls. He often got free runs for the first couple of balls after the switch whilst the bowler was trying to find their line all over again. He was his own right-hand, left-hand combination.

He topped our batting averages that season.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Why Bowling Sucks

There are a lot of reasons why bowling sucks:

Its bloody hard work.

You will be injured, no exceptions.

The batsmen get all the glory.

For the batsman every run counts (statistically). The bowler might bowl brilliantly but there won't necessarily be statistics to prove his brilliance.

But, every run counts ... against you.

Even if you get the batsmen to hit a catch, the fieldsman might not catch it.

The LBW law. OK, the batsman has to stand somewhere, but he's got a fucking bat.

Even if you get a bloke plumb LBW, the umpire might not give it.

Its a batsmen's game with not only all the rules, but the unwritten conventions, in the batsman's favour.

The bats get better, the ball stays the same.

In international cricket they have flat, flat decks.

You have to do that weird jumpy, spinny, dancey thing with the whirly arms (ie the bowling action).

You look a bit silly doing that.

You are not allowed to just chuck it like a normal person would.

Err ... even though it has been scientifically proven that basically everybody does chuck it to some degree.

Horses for courses means you might get dropped on a certain type of wicket - but they don't treat the batsmen like horses.

And absolute worst of all ...

This is how you bat: Watch the ball, hit the ball. That's it. The ball. Not the bowler.

This is how you bowl: Put the ball in exactly the place the batsman doesn't want it. Each batsman. Individually. No standard plan, no consistent approach. Every bloke you come up against watch his technique, know his mindset, find his flaws. And then work away at that until you get him out. Then do it again with a different bloke that has a completely different technique, mindset etc. Each new opponent requires you to put the ball somewhere totally different to the last bloke.

Meanwhile that bloke just watches the ball, hits the ball, no matter who you are. They don't really care who you are.

Thursday 11 September 2014


Pommy cricket fans go on with a lot of hysterical nonsense. It's the reason that England never dominate for very long. They love hysteria more than the game. They are addicted to it.

Right now in England the conversation surrounding their cricket team is all about how they haven't got a hope of winning the World Cup, that they are useless and are going to get smashed.

What hysterical nonsense!

I only watch cricket on Australian free-to-air telly and so I have not seen all of the England players. But I can tell you that most of the ones I have seen are bloody good cricketers. These are players that are as good or better than anyone in the world (OK, Chris Woakes I am still waiting for enlightenment, I'm not quite sure what the English selectors are seeing in him, but I am willing to wait and see).

That's all it takes, you know. Players that are good enough and who believe they are good enough. Good enough to compete, good enough to excel, good enough to dominate.

That's it. Talent and belief.

England have the talent. They aren't Zimbabwe, say, or Nepal (or Holland! Sorry, don't go there). Neither Zimbabwe nor Nepal will win the World Cup. They don't have enough players who are good enough.

England have players who are good enough. That's all it takes. To make the statement now that they categorically absolutely will not win the World Cup? Hysterical nonsense.

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Kissing the World Cup

Over the next few months you are going to hear a lot of talk about tactics and strategy in one day cricket. Right now it is dominating the conversation in England and no doubt will in any country that doesn't win every single game it plays between now and the World Cup.

Its a lot of nonsense for the most part. Journos and bloggers need something to say, something to fill up space each day, and so they get that old chestnut out and roast it for a bit. In all honesty its why I got a start on this blog and then left it for a while. Trying to do it myself made me realise that the only way to write every day is to babble on with the same nonsense. Either that, or contradict yourself.

So I am going to say this once.

In a 50-over game of cricket (assuming pitch and weather are fine, obviously there are always exceptions) I believe you ought to ride the run rate. You want the run rate at 5 or thereabouts, no matter what. If you are going at 3 an over after 20 overs, and you've already lost six wickets, don't consolidate, start flogging it. You might as well take the risk, you are going to lose anyway. Unless you can get the rate somewhere near 5 for the whole of the first forty overs you have no hope of winning a game of cricket against a decent opposition, so don't fuck about, get on with it.

Then at the 40-over mark, just go bananas. Keep It Simple Stupid.

And if you are a bowler ... I have no sympathy for you, who would want to do that?


I am currently reading a book about Bodyline. I have probably read a dozen of them.

Sometimes in the comments section of blogs or on Cricinfo you get some pommy bloke bigging up Jardine as if the guy is some kind of hero because he 'won' the Ashes.

I find it difficult to see Bodyline as anything other than cheating.

There are a lot of aspects of a game of cricket - traditions, conventions, interpretations of rules, codes of behaviour - that aren't written down. And no wonder, have you seen the laws of cricket? Its long enough as it is.

Apart from the rules, in cricket there is an expectation that you will have a bit of nous, and won't deliberately breach these conventions.

No-one before Jardine ever stacked the close leg field and then told his bowlers to rip it into the batsmen's chest and head. There was no rule against it. People just thought if you did that, you'd have to be a proper arse. Indeed, they thought you'd have to be such an arse they could not conceive that anyone would do it, and hence they devised no rules for it. They just assumed it wouldn't happen.

I'll tell you what else is not against the rules. Pinging the ball at the batsmen's head when they are running between wickets. Or just standing there for that matter. There is absolutely nothing in the laws of cricket that says a fieldsmen can't pick up the ball, take careful aim, and peg it straight into a bloke's head. Obviously this in itself would not get the batsman out. But it would certainly disturb him. And if you kept doing it, eventually the bloke would be knocked unconscious or killed outright and then you wouldn't have to get his wicket, anyway, would you? He'd be off like Oldfield.

Doing that sounds pretty callous and completely absurd and of course no-one would do it. If they did, it would in a very short period be considered cheating. They would write new rules to stop anyone from doing it.

I know this, because that's what they did with Bodyline.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Sachin Tendulkar

If you want people from the subcontinent to read your blog you have to write about Sachin Tendulkar. And if you want to generate a lot of comments down the bottom there so you look popular you have to write something controversial.

Unfortunately, I do kind of think Sachin Tendulkar was the best batsman of his generation.

Not of all time, of course. Like everyone else he wasn't half the batsman Don Bradman was, only a crackpot would tell you otherwise.

My favourite ever Tendulkar innings was the 241* he made in Sydney in 2004. He was woeful. I have never seen a bloke so terribly out of form make so many runs. That's mental strength. That's courage. That's determination.

People often put up Brian Lara as a contender, but I have never forgiven Lara for the South Africa tour in 1998. Here he was the great black star of the game, the captain, making the West Indies first big tour of a post-apartheid South Africa. Here was a man who had the chance to inspire black South Africa to the game, and to stand as a beacon of black pride and achievement. The captain of a team that has black pride woven into its tapestry, a team that has at times placed black pride foresquare in its aspirations. 

Turns out he's a petulant brat, who went on strike for more money and then played appallingly.

I'd personally put Steve Waugh up for a candidate, he had true grit and his numbers stack up for most of the time that he and Tendulkar went head to head. But Steve of all people knows that his technique could never match Sachin.

Waugh was like an old jeep, battered and tattered, the top knocked off long ago, but tough enough to keep on bashing through the bush.

Tendulkar was like a limousine cruising the boulevard.

Although, the significance is not lost that the hard-grind true-grit 241 mentioned above was made in Steve Waugh's last Test. Cop that Tugga, you lost that battle, too.

Jacques Kallis has every right to the title. The dude made a lot of runs. There's absolutely no reason why I wouldn't consider him Tendulkar's superior. A bit robotic though.

And there's an out. He could bowl. He might not be the greatest bowler ever to pull boots on but he was bloody handy. So we can stick him in the allrounder category, he's not a batsman really, so he doesn't threaten the precious status. Bloody handy though. And he just went and went. Like a robot.

Kumar Sangakarra certainly has the numbers, but he's only made one hundred in five games in Australia (and five fifties), and since that's the cricket that I get to see, I probably haven't seen enough to make a call. Struggles in South Africa and used to struggle in England. He fixed that recently, but Sachin is retired now.

Sachin smashed it, just about everywhere.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Sachin Tendulkar, the best batsman of his generation.

Tuesday 15 July 2014


I used to play cricket with a guy who only had one eye. He had lost the other one in a motorcycle accident when he was a teenager. He was from a different town, the next one south of us, and after his accident they told him he couldn't play for their representative side any more. He, and his brother, told them where to shove it and for the next twenty years were the two best players we had.

His brother was the quicker of the two and an awkward customer to face because he was one of these guys where all the pace seemed to come from a flick of the wrist. He was just about as quick off five paces as off his long run, and even on our dead home track he could get it to sit up sharply from a good length. Unfortunately, my first game with the town he did himself an injury and I never played with him again.

The town I played for was in the middle of NSW on a major north-south highway and every game one of the teams travelled literally for hours. That first day was an away game and I got a ride home with the two brothers. I sat in the passenger seat and asked what was the deal with all the rocks – the foot well was full of pebbles. They said, “Oh, that's to throw at the Victorians.”

They played a game where if they spotted a Victorian number plate they would ping the car with a rock. The rest of us, all good NSW boys, thought, “Yeah, fair enough.”

The brother I did play with was still a very good bowler. As he got older and lost pace he replaced it with swerve. When he lost the knack he got by on accuracy. And right at the end of his career when even that had been sapped out of him by thirty years in the hot sun, he still took wickets on pure bluff, convincing the other team that he was just as good and just as dangerous as always.

A bloke with one eye being a good bowler didn't surprise me, but you would think without the depth of field to accurately gauge perspective he wouldn't be much of a batsman, but he was consistently our best. Not on style so much, but Jesus he could hit a ball. He shelled them into the trees regularly, making 30 or 40 every time he batted, at better than a run a ball, mostly with boundaries.

He was batting one day when we had hired a bus to take us to the ground. Our skipper was sitting in the driver's seat facing the ground, scoring, the big book open on the steering wheel, the other scorer (his own brother in fact – it was a small town) in the seat next to him.

The fella with one eye smashed the ball high, high and handsome. It went up and up, and arced back down. Straight at the bus windscreen.

I will remember all my life our captain squealing like a little girl, trapped, groping blindly for the door handle whilst still transfixed by the flight of the ball, his eyes popping like a cartoon character, as the ball hurtled toward the glass in front of him.

Its funny because the ball bounced thunk off the glass without breaking it and rebounded almost back to the centre wicket. But we all knew it could have been serious.

One extra bonus that comes with playing blokes in your team that come from a different town is that if you are desperate you can always get them to tap on the shoulder someone else from that town to make up the numbers.

There was one bloke who for a season or so came and played with us regularly. I remember one Saturday I was fielding at mid-on and the fella with one eye was bowling, his mate not there at all. I said, “What's happened to your mate today?”

He said, “He couldn't play today. He's getting married this afternoon.”

I said, “Married? Didn't he invite you to the wedding?”

The bloke with one eye said, “Yeah, I'm supposed to be best man. But you don't get married on a Saturday in summer if you want me to come.”

Monday 14 July 2014


This post is about women's cricket, but I don't call men's cricket “men's cricket”, I just call it cricket.

I don't follow the women's game. If I was really pushed I could possibly name a dozen or so players, mostly Australians, but I'd be flat out telling you what they do. Elyse Perry is probably the only one I would recognise if I passed them on the street.

I've tried to follow the game by looking at scorecards and reading match reports. One of the apps on my phone has a photos feature and they seem to post a lot of the women's game, so for a while I was looking at those regularly, but eventually I fell out of the habit.

The trouble is that it is never on the box. OK, so not a lot of men's cricket (err, cricket) is on free-to-air telly either in my opinion, or that is to say I only get to see International cricket played in Australia, the Ashes in England and the Big Bash. But this is at least sufficient that I have seen most of the players and I can picture in my mind what they look like – their bowling action, their batting style, if they are tall or short, handsome or a bit creepy. It means when I am stranded with only the Cricinfo commentary to get me through I can picture the game, I can imagine what is happening, and therefore it keeps me interested.

Sometimes it takes a bit to catch up, of course. For example in the current series between England and India I have never seen Sam Robson, Moeen Ali, Vijay, Dhawan, Pujara, Rahane, Shami or Binny. But I know I will see them in the next few months either in Tests or the World Cup. And I've seen Binny's dad play of course.

Elyse Perry is the only woman whose bowling action I can recall, that drawn from highlights on the news, since even if the team the story is about Elyse isn't in, her bowling is all they show.

Actually I watched an Australia-England one day match a few years back on internet stream and I still recall Katherine Brunt's action as well, but that is just because she is awesome.

So I struggle to follow the women's game because I don't see it. If it was on the telly I would watch it regularly. If it were played locally (and I live in Newcastle so it might happen) I would go and watch it at the ground.

There seems to be a view though that the women's game will never be as popular or as much of a spectacle as the men's game, for one reason, which has two results.

Women are not as strong as men. To put that more accurately, women at the top of their sport are generally not as strong as men at the top of their sport. I have no doubt that Katherine Brunt is stronger than me.

Result number one, supposedly, is you are not going to get the big hits, the sixers, the maximums (if that's what they are still calling it in T20). I reckon that's spurious insofar as I am not sure the crowds care as much about the maximums as the commentators and administrators think they do, and it is also a view that has been or soon will be superseded by technology. My five-year-old could hit a six with one of these new bats.

Result number two, they can't bowl as quick, which in theory means you won't get four tall women spending an entire game banging the ball in mid-way down the pitch, winning the match on pure terror and intimidation. Good. That's an improvement to begin with.

And secondly, its nonsense anyway. If they didn't show the dodgy speed camera results on the telly you couldn't really pick a serious express bowler from a normal fast-medium trundler anyway. Except that the batsman gives it away. Watching truly scary pace bowling doesn't come down to how fast the projectile moves, but how obviously the batsman is shitting themselves.

If it is true that women don't have the muscle to move the ball as quick, it would follow that they also don't have the rapid muscle twitch fibre to get out of the way as quickly. So it is the same challenge of skill to skill. I can't see why it would not be the same spectacle to watch.

Anyway, I personally think if I were batting against Katherine Brunt she would beat me for pace every time.

Sunday 13 July 2014

A Swampy History

It is not often you see a big double in one innings matched by a big double from the other side, especially where the two double-centurions are batting at 7. That is what happened in the recently concluded Australia A versus India A game. Naman Ohja made 219* and then Mitchell Marsh made 211.

The Marsh name always catches my attention. It is almost embarrassing to admit it, and it says a lot more about me than him, but when I was a kid my great hero was Geoff Marsh.

At the time I was a reluctant opening bowler but they also sent me out to open the batting. This was not because I had any talent as a batsman, but because I scored very, very, veeery slowly and these were the days when people thought at least one of your openers ought to be a stonewaller. Actually England still seem to think this.

Geoff Marsh essentially didn't have the talent for Test cricket and therefore he pottered around, made runs out of pushing and running, and generally looked a bit of a plodder. I admired this.

I think my admiration for Geoff Marsh did my game long-term damage, not because I tried to bat like him, but because this was also the time in my life when I purchased a cricket bat, a bat I used for the rest of my career.

Geoff Marsh and David Boon used huge cricket bats, Boon especially, his bat was like a railway sleeper with Gray-Nicolls stickers on it. So I got a bat that was way too heavy for me and remained a plunker and a plodder. I may well have been anyway but I would nevertheless advise kids to get a bat that is as light as they think they will still get value from. This is Dean Jones' advice, not mine.

Obviously I thought Geoff Marsh was living a fantasy, an everyman who had stumbled into Test cricket. Several years ago the mighty Jarrod Kimber on the awesome Cricket With Balls wrote a post along these lines about Bryce McGain, that watching him was like watching one of us going out there to have a go.

Absolute nonsense of course, McGain may have been a nuffy at Test level but if he played at my lower grade country cricket level, he would be smashing me out of the park every time I bowled, and I doubt I would even get a bat on the ball when he bowled.

There is noone anywhere near Test level, First Class level, hell metropolitan first grade level, that isn't grossly more talented than any of the fools I played cricket with. I never saw McGain as something like me, I saw him as a bloke with a lot of talent, just not enough to make it in the big time.

In December 1989 Geoff Marsh made 355* for Western Australia in Shield cricket.

When I realised that Geoff Marsh had two kids who looked like being superstars I became very excited. The part of the Geoff Marsh legend that I liked best is where he had a net and a bowling machine on his farm and his wife used to stand for hours feeding balls in for Geoff to practise. I thought, now that's the way to raise a boy. Clearly someone stood and let Shaun and Mitchell play the machine as they grew up.

My oldest child was born two weeks into the first season of the IPL, and it was on free telly in the middle of the night. I was up often enough to soothe the baby or stoke the fire and it was my biggest thrill to watch Shaun Marsh bat. It excited me that here was a kid who literally grew up in the Australian dressing room, having Test cricketers give him throw-downs when he was not more than a toddler. In the IPL he looked a genius. He still looks a genius.

He made a hunded on his Test debut in Sri Lanka, and then failed miserably until he was dropped. He made a hundred in South Africa this year, and then resumed normal service with a pair and he got dropped. He is not a lad to set your heart on.

What I like best about Mitchell Marsh is that he could have been a footballer and he picked cricket instead. That is rare. Most of them go the other way. Cricket loses a handful of truly talented players to Australian Rules every year. Even some of them we kept, like James Brayshaw and Shane Warne, I suspect would have stuck with the footy if only their talent lay more in that direction. David Boon admitted as much himself. I heard him say at a sportsman's night a few years ago that he still misses the smell of the liniment.

Mitchell March coming good with a big double is great news for Australian cricket. Finally someone to replace Shane Watson (indeed someone who may at last be the Watson that Watson never was).

But I personally have history with the Marsh clan, and I'm not holding my breath. With Mitchell I'll just wait and see.

Saturday 12 July 2014


Bowling is a pretty weird thing to do. To anyone who is not into cricket it must look perverse. What a strange idea, to throw a ball without bending your elbow.

I watch cricket for the art of the game, technique, the grace, the individuality of players, each unique in their shape and form, a litany of means to the same end.

I love watching batsmen. As I have said before, it is poetry writ in physics. Bowlers? Meh. It looks a bit weird.

I still enjoy the diversity, the singularity of anyone's action, but there are few actions that are poetic to me. I like the loop and flow of the shapes the body-in-motion makes for bowlers like Anderson or Dale Steyn. I like the bull-charge head-down aggression of a real workhorse like Peter Siddle, or Merv Hughes. But most bowlers just look like they are doing something incredibly unnatural, awkwardly and painfully.

Sucks for me, cause the only aspect of cricket I was ever even momentarily good at was bowling quick. Apparently I had a very singular action. Wrong foot and no jump. I am told (I have never seen it) I used to run straight through the crease with a double-windmill arm action. “I've never seen anyone else do it like that,” my Dad told me.

But I hated bowling. I loved batting, I wanted to be a batsman. Or failing that, watch a batsman. Indeed I enjoyed batting so much that I would occasionally bowl half volleys just to watch a really good batsmen play really good shots. Not a recipe for success. I was also lazy of course, and bowling is hard work.

The windmill I reckon came from being hyper-conscious of the straight-arm thing. I was raised by very conservative old-school Aussie cricketers. Bowling was as much about not chucking the thing as it was about getting it to the other end.

Now chucking is OK. Well, to a fifteen degree flex in the elbow it's OK.

Do you know, I would be totally fine with them just allowing flex, as far as you want, however you want. Just chuck the thing. Bowling is weird anyway.

It would change the game, of course. Everyone would chuck it. No exaggeration there, literally everyone would chuck it. You can bowl faster. You can get more bounce. You could hit the seam more consistently. You could get some wicked turn on the ball. Even swing bowlers would work out how to swing it more consistently if they were throwing it instead of doing the run-in, load-up, whirl-your-arms-about thing.

It wouldn't turn into baseball though, because you would be a fool not to throw it into the ground and take advantage of bounce and movement. Baseball pitchers would do that if they were allowed to.

Batting would get harder, and some batsmen who are quite good under the bowling rule just would not ever get it, their rhythms wouldn't adjust to the new rhythms of a chucked ball.

But some batsmen, most good batsmen, would adjust to it. And hell, they've got massive new bats, short boundaries, hard grounds with short grass, flat decks, they're wearing pads and helmets, they would still be protected by all sorts of arcane laws (lbw), and they would still get the benefit of the doubt if they just look sulky enough at the right moment.

If Shane Shillingford and Kane Williamson, and even Saeed Ajmal and Murali have proven one thing, its that they are still playable, at least as much as any top-line no-flex bowler.

Even the chuckers need extraordinary skill to defeat a top batsman. Letting them do it might just bring back some of the balance.

I'm just throwing it out there.

Friday 11 July 2014

Pink Balls

They are going to have a day-night Test match.

Sounds good to me, I love watching cricket in the evenings. My wife will hate it. Come to think of it, I probably won't be allowed to watch it.

Apparently this is why they are doing it – better ratings on the telly.

Like the Perth Test match, apparently that gets better ratings because the time difference means its on in the evening in the Eastern States.

You know Perth, that would be the venue that isn't getting a Test this season. So … not that lucrative then?

The trouble is they can't find a ball to play with. They've tried orange, they've tried green, and now they have pink balls.

The reaction to the pink ball has been … let's call it mixed.

One complaint, from the batsmen who got out against it, is they can't see it that well. I assume by that under normal circumstances they see the ball perfectly well all the time. A real good view of it sliding past the outside edge and smashing into off stump.

The other complaint is that it doesn't play the same, it doesn't swing or seam as much, perhaps doesn't bounce as much as a red Kookaburra.

I'd like to take a short detour here to celebrate what a magnificent game we have. Like life itself it is the product of an extremely unlikely string of coincidences and too-convenient arrangements. If the planet was a just a little further or a little closer to the sun, if it didn't have that orbital wobble, if another whopping great hunk of rock hadn't settled just far enough away etc.

The cricket ball is a lump of cork, wrapped in string and sewn into a couple of bits of cow skin.

It turns out that the cow skin has just the right properties to last just the right amount of time and do just the right things when sailing through the air or contacting a piece of compacted clay to make the game of cricket just exactly as complex as it needs to be.

And when treated the ball goes red, a beautiful rich cherry red. No treatment will produce the same qualities, but with a different colour. Amazing, really. An absolutely natural game.

To make different colours they have to colour it artificially, with lacquer, and the lacquer changes the way the ball behaves.

But, of course, the balls aren't all the same anyway.

Even using the same brand there is quite a bit of variation. Anyone who has looked into a box of brand-new Kookaburras has noticed the range of colours that cherry red comes in.

And then in England they have the Duke, and in India the SG. The balls behave so differently that countries make agreements about which ball they will use.

The most obvious contrast is between the Duke and the Kookaburra, and the essential differences are the higher seam and the extra lacquer on the Duke ball. It means the ball (potentially, if you have the talent to do it) swings slightly more slightly later and may also cut more off the seam.

They still play though. The balls are different – but the balance between bat and ball is the same.

The pink ball doesn't behave exactly the way a lovely cherry red Kookaburra does.

I am wondering if they have tried changing the ball itself? Raise the seam so it cuts off the wicket more, for example, or change the pattern of stitching searching for extra swing?

After all, it doesn't have to behave just like a cherry red Kookaburra. It only has to give the bowler enough assistance to create a balance between bat and ball.

Monday 23 June 2014

Join the Club

Now I know I am going against the flow here but I actually agree with the changes that have been made to the governance of the ICC.

This is because I do not believe in an all-powerful 'world governing body' – what sort of fucked-up Big Brother shit is that?

And let's say you do have a 'world body', in status and power superior to any of its constituent members – who are these people? Where are you getting these world citizens free of the fetters of association with any of the bodies it administers?

The ICC is not a collaboration of nations. England, India, Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand etc in this case are not nations – they are cricket associations. The ICC is a collaboration of cricket associations, most of whom happen to be constituted at a national level, although not necessarily, and of course the West Indies aren't.

I believe the power stops, and should stop, at that level. Each association empowers representatives to speak on their behalf.

From that point on they might as well be a bunch of blokes in a pub. Want a game of cricket? Yes, mate. Or – Nah, thanks, we're not really interested.

I can't even see any counter argument that makes any sense.

Don't give me shit about democracy, if you want a democracy then just let India run the game, they have the majority of the constituents, not just the money.

And don't give me shit about 'someone has to make the rules'. Rubbish. And in my own private life, fuck off. I'll play by the rules if I agree with them, otherwise I will make my own decisions, decide on my own value system, like any intelligent person should. We can negotiate on what we agree on.

Yes but Captain, I hear you saying, why then should India, Australia and England call the shots?

If its a bunch of blokes then don't all the blokes get a say? Yeah, for sure they do. But India, Australia and England are only going to play if you play the way they are comfortable with.

And if it turns out you don't want to do that, but then without these guys you also can't find a way to play at all, well, I guess you need to make a decision about what you really want. Your decision, no-one is forcing you to play Test cricket.

So what about when a new bloke sticks his head through the saloon doors, sees all these fellas sitting at the bar, and wants to join the crowd? (Believe it or not this is the subject of this particular post, all that stuff up there was just prelude).

Again, simple, and I believe you all know the protocol there. He needs to join the shout. Or, at the very least, buy his own drink.

This is how I would determine who is in the Test club and who isn't – if you can afford it you are in, if you can't you aint.

In other words, if you have the stadiums, if you have the crowds who can fund the games, the television audience that can attract the advertising revenue, and you can pay your way then you are in.

If it turns out that you are financially a burden, because in reality your country is not that interested in cricket, its really just a bit of a minority interest, you don't have the fans who are willing to stump up their own cash to see a game and so you can't afford the grounds, the coaches or the players, well, don't play.

So if I were the ICC India, Australia, England (and the other blokes) I would set some basic rules.

If you can manage at least 24 Tests in a four-year period against at least four existing Test members, then you're in. All you have to do is get on the blower and come to a mutually beneficial (or at least workable) financial arrangement and it's done.

If you can pay your way, you play.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

I Do Declare

In the first Test of the 2014 England Sri Lanka series Alastair Cook declared too late and cost his team the game.

This is not an opinion, this is fact, a glance at the scorecard will show you that.

My opinion is that he did what I would have done. I may have even kept batting until all out.

His bowling line-up was Broad, a guy who has recently been worked too hard with too little support; Anderson, a great bowler who has just been through an uncharacteristically lean patch; Chris Jordan, completely untried; Liam Plunkett, picked out of left field, in the hope that Sri Lanka might wilt under relentless pace; and, well, that's it. A couple of batsmen who lob up little dobleys.

Sri Lanka have Sangakkara and Jayawardene, who could well do it on their own if its their day and they want it badly enough. They have cause to want it badly.

And by not declaring Gary Ballance could make his first Test ton. This is important. Its a young side. It is in a phase of its development where finding things to celebrate is worth prolonging the journey for.

But I am an idiot. I floundered around my whole career in lower grade cricket and only ever captained a side once.

I never got a chance at making a declaration. I won the toss and elected to bowl on a perfect wicket on a 40 degree day. I had my reasons, of course. I was also Secretary of the club and the poor mug stuck with trying to find eleven blokes willing to play. We got hammered every week, and we never had training. My theory was that if we bowled first every time we would eventually be fit enough, even if we were never good enough.

I crept away to the toss whilst the rest of the team were distracted and came back and said we'd lost the toss and been asked to bowl. At this point one of my teammates informed the rest of them that he had in fact snuck out after me and had overheard the whole transaction.

The team erupted, the warm up chat quickly descended into argument, and I unfortunately told them the real reason I had bowled: It had taken me three days to find enough players, we'd just travelled nearly three hours to get there, and I was buggered if we were gonna be rolled for fuck-all and be heading home again by lunchtime.

With this confident endorsement ringing in their ears, the only thing that would have saved us from a loss is if we'd all died first in the extreme heat. Some of them nearly did.

I was subsequently deposed and banned from ever being captain again.

If I were captaining England I would have done what Alastair Cook did.

Monday 16 June 2014

On Custom Built Techniques

For several years prior to his departure from the game Jonathan Trott was my favourite batsman to watch.

I never did get the whining about the slow scoring rate or the accusation that he was boring. I did not find him boring to watch at all, not in the slightest.

What I like most about cricket is technique. I have no interest in sport, I do not follow the footy, I ignore the Olympics, the various non-cricket World Cups (including T20), all forms of competitive exercise (swimming, running, do they do one for push-ups?). My interest is art and I watch cricket as an art form.

What I love about cricket is the grace, it is poetry written in physics. Every player, at every level, every single individual, no matter if they have slavishly tried to follow the textbook or just go out to give it a whack, every person has a technique that is unique to them. Home made, and the more you can see the custom in the build, the more I like it.

Give me Steve Waugh any day, you can keep Mark.

Mark made it look natural, he had long flowing arcs in his play, delicate balance and was fluid in moving to and through the line of the ball.

Steve always looked like he had first sat down and solved the problem of how to address the ball like it was his HSC algebra exam. You could almost see him picturing in his head the charts and graphs he had drawn at home showing this foot goes there, and then this knee goes there, and then I do this with my hands, puzzling his way through it even as the ball arrived. I loved that. Every shot custom built for each potential variation in the delivery.

I am finding it fascinating watching Philip Hughes try to wrangle his technique. He has the sort of technique that would not normally make it past lower grade country cricket, insofar as it is built on playing just two shots and neither of them involve any sort of defence.

He stands waiting to smash the ball square to the point fence. If its not short enough to do that he maintains that same stance and arcs the bat down through the line of the ball and drives to the cover fence instead.

Any other delivery, he's got nothin'.

No doubt for most of his youth he didn't need anything else. By the time the opposition worked out to bowl it at the point of his shoulder, or fizz it over middle and off at hand height, he'd already smashed his first hundred and was on his way to take you for a double.

At Test level of course they worked him out. Now he has to work out what to do about it.

For the first couple of years I reckon he made the mistake of listening to 'coaches'. I mean here the folks what have read the books and believe there be some magic dance (“do the textbook”) that resolves in the ideal shot to any given delivery. He tried to patch up all the shots he didn't have by grafting in textbook variations. What happened is that he became a very weak imitation of a textbook-style batsman, and was also no longer in the set-up position to nail the two shots he has.

What he really needs to do, and I believe he is doing it now, is to custom-build the rest of his technique. If he is good enough to nail the short ball to the point fence then he is good enough to work out what to do with every other delivery as well.

Mind you, he also needs to take the same approach, he has to learn all the other shots in a way that works for him, that works in the same way as the big booming square cut.

In other words, don't just weave away from the ball at the point of the shoulder, work out how to smash that ball to the boundary as well. The clever fuckers bowling them at him will soon stop putting them there.

Thursday 12 June 2014

What The Buttler Heard

The people in the England set-up can think whatever they like, but they sure as hell shouldn't be saying that Jos Buttler isn't ready to play Test cricket.

And Jos Buttler should not only not be saying it, he shouldn't be thinking it.

Jos, if anyone ever tells you this, tell them to fuck off.

You see, it doesn't matter if you have not made a lot of runs in first class cricket yet. It doesn't matter if you have not been a full-time keeper all your life. The only thing that matters is the next ball.

When the ball comes at you in Test cricket, if you are behind the pegs, you are good enough to catch it neatly and cleanly. If you are in front of the pegs you are good enough to hit the bloody thing. That's all the counts.

If you are good enough for one ball, you are good enough for every ball. You just need to keep believing you can do it, ball after ball. Anything anyone else tells you is a lot of bullshit.

You are good enough, son. Just get out there and do it.

Oh, and Jos, don't back up too far. That's cheating.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Why T20 is Boring

It takes too long. No, I'm serious.

I mean how long ago did that IPL thing start? That seems to have gone forever.

This summer just gone they put the Big Bash on free telly for the first time. I watched most of the first week. By mid-way through the second week I started to think, who the fuck are these guys? Did they win last time? I don't remember. Does it matter if they win this game? If I look at the games ahead is this one crucial? Crikey, how many games are there? So if they lose this game, does it actually matter? Hmmm.

By the third week I had entirely lost track of who played for who, which team was wearing pink and which one was in lime green. Do I know? Do I care? Does anyone? It just went on and on.

Because, this is the thing about Test cricket: it's instant.

The second a guy gets out, that's it, that's history, that's what he did and that's what he will have done forever.

Every run counts, maybe not to the game, but to history, and history is made the very second the run is completed.

That's what the mountain of stats is all about. History is important in Test cricket.

I collect cricket books. I own around 230 of them, and I've read three times that many. Things that happened in an instant forty, seventy, ninety years ago, from the moment they occurred were locked down, immutable, forever, in this great arc of narrative that helps sustain my existence.

In Test cricket I get a result instantly. Every ball. It's history. Every ball.

In T20 I am flat out working out who the hell is playing for the blue team this year. And I find it hard to believe that anyone is going to care in one hundred years' time.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Like For Like

I never did like Kevin Pietersen. Not just because he is a dickhead, because he is ugly.

I watch cricket for the grace and beauty of the game and Kevin is a lanky, stiff-legged gimp of a batsman.

I hate the way he is constantly knee flexing, I hate the ugly faces he makes stretching his jaw, I hate the way he fiddles with the bat, the pulling on the knee flap, the grabbing at the front of his jumper. It all annoys me.

When he finally settles down to face a ball he crouches too low, his back-lift is too high and in his follow-through he waves the bat around his head like a Klingon with a bat'leth.

In his forward shots he brings his feet together like a tin soldier, and his famous 'flamingo' is nothing but a stiff, ugly swipe in the air to short mid-wicket.

I suppose I also have a slight issue with where he came from.

A privileged white man in a society where resources for more than a hundred years were dragged out of poor black communities for the benefit of greedy, aggressive, exploitative Caucasians.

And when this disgusting social order is finally broken does Kevin put his shoulder to the stone, making whatever meagre contribution he can to the restoration of freedom and fairness?

No, in his late teens, as soon as a black kiddie gets picked in front of him, he takes his privilege and frumps off to England.

So now he has gone and in the very next Test England have picked not one, but two replacements. Chris Jordan, who left his own country in his late teens to go and play in England, and Sam Robson, who left his own country in his late teens to go and play in England.

Chris Jordan is from Barbados, a third world country, a remote island in the Caribbean, offering little in the way of social or financial opportunity. He is certainly good enough to have played for his own country, almost certainly good enough to play for his region, but England offered a better life, a life unattainable in his own society.

He still could, of course, have put his shoulder to the stone and tried to improve whatever he felt was wrong in that society, but he didn't. I guess its understandable.

Sam Robson is from Sydney, from an expensive inner-city suburb, a student of elite private schools, and has status unreachable even by most Australians. From a social standpoint he is privileged.

He was picked in all the age group teams for NSW, had access to the very best coaches, hell, his old man is still employed by the Sydney Cricket Ground to run indoor cricket nets for the elite. In cricket terms, his upbringing was beyond privileged, he was a prince.

He says he is playing for England because he lives there, it is his home, he likes it, he wants to be there. He doesn't say he has any issues with Australia, but he aint living here, making grand claims about this joint is he?

Look, I get it, really I do. I don't especially want to be living in this bogan hellhole either. I imagine I would be much happier in England, living amongst cultured folks who have educations and such, and who know how to be behave in polite society.

Mind you, I have never been to England and my entire notion of the place is drawn from Jane Austen novels. I'm willing to believe it is not quite like that in reality.

But even if I had the capacity to live and work in England I wouldn't. I was born a bogan, and for better or worse, since this is where the resources were dragged from to bring me up, then this is where I ought to put my shoulder to the stone. Some baggage you just don't put down.

Whether I like it or not, if I were good enough to play for Australia, even if I thought all of my team-mates were uncouth, drunken bozos I would still play only for them, because I am an Australian.

It was good enough for Don Bradman.

Sam Robson is no Don Bradman. I have never seen him play, so I don't have an opinion on how good he is. I guess I will never know if he was good enough to be picked for Australia.

Monday 9 June 2014

The Ballad of Freddy and Sammy

Freddy Flintoff is attempting a comeback to county representative cricket, he says for the joy of the game. Darren Sammy has just retired from Test cricket, he says because the selectors won't pick him. I say bully for Freddy and boo to Sammy.

One of the many things I like about Greg Matthews is that he says he has never retired. If they want to pick him, he's fit and ready to play.

I'm a fan of Darren Sammy. I never had any problem seeing why they kept picking him and I would see no problem with continuing to pick him. He's not much of a bowler, but over a long period he's consistently been the third or fourth best the West Indies have had at the time. He can't really bat, I wouldn't rely on him, but every now and again he goes off, at least as frequently and successfully as you could reasonably expect from your number eight. He can field, he conducts himself well in public, he looks cool, and he might as well captain the side. I don't see a problem.

But they dropped him. Meh. Maybe they had to, maybe they'll regret it. But, apparently, Darren's not hanging around to find out. None of this going back to first class cricket and putting the performances on the board for Mr Sammy. No sir. He's read the paper. He's not good enough. Goes to show no good comes from reading the paper.

It is a shame for West Indies cricket, though.

Surely Sammy of all people understands the value of selection pressure and the importance of competition for places to the good health of a cricket team. It would be better if he had returned quietly to first class cricket and gave every other player in the West Indies the impression that if they wanted to get into the Test team they'd need to be shit-hot to get past him, whether he believed it true or not. I don't see how it is helping anyone to go holding up his little cardboard sign, no matter how passive aggressive he wants to be about it.

Meanwhile in England Flintoff is getting sage advice from has-beens and never-weres that maybe he ought to think twice, that maybe he's not good enough any more, indeed that maybe 'the game has moved on' in such a way that it is now unfathomable to poor old Fred. Ridiculous.

He had the talent, and so he still has the talent. He's the age that most decent players are still running around. Even mediocre cricketers commonly play well past age 36 in county cricket. Not just those loafing batsmen, either.

Bowlers playing past their mid-thirties include seriously quick bowlers like Lee and Nannes. There is no reason that a 36-year-old cannot condition his body to bowl fast medium. He's had a nice long rest.

It strikes me that some of the nay-saying going on has something to do with not spoiling the legend. Lets face it the poms think of 2005 the way older men recall that one great root they had in their twenties. Its an image not to be sullied.

The good news is that these romantic fools have nothing to concern themselves over. There is no need to worry that Fred is going to bespoil his exalted status now – he's been working on that for years! He's been there, done that and made it into a television show.

The lad can play though. Just let him play.

Sunday 8 June 2014

How England Lost The Ashes

This is the story of how England lost the Ashes. Actually, it's more of a theory.

Prior to the 2013 Ashes series England was for a while regarded as the best team in the world. They did this through batting long. They had two of the all-time great batsmen (my opinion) in Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott up front, setting a solid platform, and three players down the list that could play match-winning innings – Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Joe Root. The sixth position in the line-up they had messed around with and hadn't really found a solution.

In the 12 months or so prior to the Ashes they had not been mounting up the big scores like they once had, but everyone assumed that was a minor glitch that would resolve itself.

The problem they thought they really had was that the platform that Cook and Trott and A N Other were building up front was taking too long, that it was a drudge, that it was robbing the innings of impetus. The English press and public, who seem to get bored when England are winning, started banging on about it. Most of the blame seemed to be levelled at poor old Trotty, and I for one hope that anybody who ever thought it was hilarious to tweet or comment #Trott's Fault now feel deeply ashamed of themselves.

They had tried out Nick Compton and dumped him and then they tried Joe Root up front. Both very slow. All three starters very, very slow. They still won the Ashes in 2013 of course, but not convincingly, and because Australia, both the team and the country, seems to have a hoodoo over England, they decided to do something about it.

They decided they needed a bit of a goer up front to bat with and between Cooky and Trotty. Someone who would have a dash, pick up the rate, put some pressure back on the bowlers and otherwise let the real superstars do their (very slow) thing. Someone who could have a dash because they weren't frightened of cocking it up and getting out.

So when taking this sort of radical new direction, who are you going to call on?

Well, it would make sense to pick a bloke with a reputation as a bit of a dasher, maybe someone who is already mature, possibly even verging on past it, someone who has nothing to lose and the maturity to know the job and get out there and do it. They picked Michael Carberry.

Cooky had an ordinary series, he didn't score much and he still scored slowly. Poor old Trott went home, a tragic loss to world cricket. Joe Root, who had been displaced from the opener's spot for being too slow, now found himself at 3 and scoring even slower – fair enough, though, he was doing what everyone knew was Trott's job.

Michael Carberry … shit himself. Terrified to lash out, not game to back his eye or hands, he was a statue, a slow old grinder mark IV, but nowhere near as good as the other three. He survived, but that's about all you can say.

Alright, you could probably say he survived enough that statistically he was one of England's better performers, but what he actually did was halt progress. The scoring seized up completely all around him, made the Aussie bowlers feel as if they were kings, and put far too much pressure on the rest of the batting order. Rather than fix the problem, he illustrated it.

The thing is though, he kept doing it, and he kept getting picked. Either he didn't understand his job, or he was incapable of doing it. And Andy Flower (and Cooky, and Goochy, and a bus load of back room staff you've never heard of) either failed to tell him what the job was, or Carberry failed to listen. In the end it probably doesn't matter which – the coach's job one way or another is to communicate with the player, tell them what is expected of him, and most important of all, give the guy the belief that he can go and deliver on that expectation.

Is it coincidence that when he got home Carberry complained publicly that no-one in the England set-up was telling him what was expected of him?

There is a debate now whether England losing the Ashes should be laid at the feet of the players or the coaching staff. Carberry is the illustration of the answer.

You see, Carberry is not good enough to play Test cricket, he just doesn't have the ability. But with the exception of a couple of randoms they pulled off the beach for the last Test, the rest of the squad are. The players are good enough. All the players had to do was believe in themselves.

They got smashed. They didn't believe in themselves. In fact, they seemed dazed and confused.

A coach has one job, really. Make the players believe in themselves, make them think they can win – scratch that, WILL win.

My theory is that the coaching staff lost the Ashes for England, and for evidence I present Michael Carberry.

Saturday 7 June 2014

Intent versus Aggression

Cricket coaches the world over talk about 'intent'. Even the Australians seemed to switch to this word when they were being blancmanged by the fat Saffa. I notice under Darren Lehman they've gone back to calling it aggression.

You cannot win a game of cricket without intent. If you are bowling it is no good just to chuck it up there and hope, you need to know where you are bowling it and how you intend the ball to behave, and you need to deliver on that intention.

If you are batting, in defense you don't want to just have the ball hit your bat, you want to defend with intent, you want to hit the ball and kill it stone dead.

If you are attacking don't just wallop the ball, intend to hit it into the ground straight at the gap.

There also needs to be a tactical intention, and whatever the tactics are, intend to boss the game.

The English cricket team sometimes seems to lack intent. They let the game drift. They let the other team boss the game. It drives Australians nuts, watching them do that, it just seems wrong and a really good way to lose the game.

Australians don't call it intent, they call it aggression.

This is to catch the very magnitude of their meaning, the ferocity of the intent required.

It also describes a mental and emotional framework that aids a player in finding the intensity of intention.

Unfortunately the outward manifestation of this emotional framework is also called aggression, and frequently in discussing how Australian cricket works, these two meanings are not merely confused but conflated.

Some people when they say aggression they mean sledging, but that isn't what Darren Lehman and Michael Clarke and Australian Cricket mean when they say they will play 'an aggressive brand of cricket' - they mean they will play with a will, with a strong intent.

They kinda also mean that they will walk like a man and boss the game, but that isn't sledging.

Australians sledge for a whole other reason.

A game of cricket takes a long time, for entire days players stand out there in each other's company. A game of cricket is not a sport, its an experimental community. It is ridiculous to think that players wouldn't speak to each other. Who spends an entire day in their workplace and doesn't speak?

Personalities come out and Australians are arseholes.

Truly, we are raised this way. Staunchly individualist, spoilt and intoxicated by natural fortune, a culture of perpetual banter, a history of crime and violence, a language drenched in blood, excrement and sex. This is the base we are working from.

Other cultures have other traits, other foundations and cultural markers. Some cultures think it is important to be polite, and putting oneself forward might be considered damn rude. Some encourage a veil on direct communication, encourage broad servility, expect humility. Many cultures expect emotion and language to be taken as literal,whilst others take communication as a performance art.

The polite countries can easily take offence at Australian culture. It is boorish, it can be bullying. But there is also an element of cultural misunderstanding in there. Some of it is just how we behave, and you can't persecute a person for their nation's cultural norms.

To really understand the dynamic you also need to know that most Australians don't know this, we don't think there is anything wrong with how we behave and how we speak. We can't understand why other people might have been offended just because what we said might have been a bit loud, and a bit colourful, and a bit, let's face it, here's the rub, 'cause it's not very polite to say is it? A bit true.

Because the bastard of it is of course, we are fucking good at cricket and every cunt knows it and wants to know how we do it.

Well, are you listening without the cultural bias? Sorry if I don't sound polite.

To start with, you need to be fucken aggressive . . .