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.