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 . . .