Sunday 30 November 2008

English player 'good enough for IPL' - Official!

The line from the sunday papers is that England should return to India with whatever squad they can patch together. While we wait, Mike Atherton is the first journo to confirm that he will be on the plane. Maybe pack your pads, too, Athers. We miss having an opener on 27 not out at lunch. Or just not out at lunch. 

Concealed in the depths of Simon Wilde's why-oh-why in the Times* is the news that Graham Napier has a deal in place to play for Mumbai in the IPL. This is significant in that he'll be just the second Englishman, behind Dimi Mascarenhas, to do so.

So what do Dimi and Napier have in common? That's it - neither of them are in the England one-day set-up (except for inclusion in the pat-on-the-head 30 man 'performance squads' that we cherish so). The point is slightly skewed because those on central contacts can't sign for IPL sides yet, but it's common knowledge that only KP, Freddie, Shah, Bopara and Monty are likely to get one.

Flintoff had a pre-terrorism rant about the importance of playing IPL cricket next year. Which provokes a question as to why Napier and Mascarenhas aren't in the T20 side, never mind the squad. 

It's not as if England don't need someone who can hit 30 off five balls against India, or 24 from four against New Zealand like Dimi did. Dimi can do that stuff. Napier can too, and he can sustain it for far longer because he's not confined to hitting in one area.

So shall we give someone who's good enough for one of the two IPL contracts in England a go. Or shall we just pick Belly again? 

* Can anyone from that newspaper explain why they still insist on calling Mumbai 'Bombay'? They are alone in this. Old stylebooks die hard, eh boys...

Saturday 29 November 2008

The Day of the Pig

For a man who averages 3.8, Iain O'Brien works at his batting. 'I hate bouncers' he wrote in his now world-famous blog, thus guaranteeing one first up from Mitch Johnson (which he ducked rather suavely). He also wrote a nice piece about batting in the nets before the Adelaide Test. 'The bowlers always feel a little quicker,' he said.

That's a lovely observation, and true I think. The quickest spell I ever faced was in the nets at the old county ground in Southampton, way back in the mists of time circa 1980 or so. Me and a bunch of other 16 year-olds full of piss and vinegar were there for a day under the watch of Peter Sainsbury, then Hampshire's coach, and a man whose rheumy eye and still-steady arm were informed by the wisdom of 1300-odd first class wickets. 

We were pecking away on a hot afternoon when Steve Malone turned up in the neighbouring net, to bowl at one of the second XI players. Steve, known to one and all as 'Piggy' after a character in a Two Ronnies sketch, wasn't with the first team for some reason and he wasn't happy. With Sainsbury watching out of the corner of his eye, Piggy worked up a real head of steam, fast and hostile. 

I had a ringside seat, batting in the next-door net. I could hear the ball cleave the air with a high-frequency buzz. The weather was good, the wickets were hard and Piggy was getting some bounce as well as pace. When he got past the bat, the ball sounded like it was hitting a chain-link fence rather than the netting. My dad, in the grip of misplaced ambition, suggested to Sainsbury that we swap nets. Sainsbury, with a slim smile, agreed. 

We changed nets. Piggy was unamused. He ran in, breathing fire and grunting as he let it go. He probably bowled a couple of overs, but it seemed like a lot more. He pinned me. The balls I couldn't leave, I played from about an inch in front of the stumps. The front foot seemed like another country, a distant memory from a happier time. His pace had an actual physical effect on the nervous system, not unlike jumping into very cold water, sharp and breathless. 

That day I learned about the gap that separated us from the real game. The real game was a different one to the one we played. It was like being in the foothills of a mountain and catching sight of its shimmering face still some distance away, hazardous and sheer. 

When IOB's blog triggered the memory, I looked up Steve at cricinfo. They described him as 'fast-medium'. Wonder what he thinks of that. 

Dirty Dozen (or so)

If, as looks likely, England's refuseniks won't return to India for the Tests, I favour a Dirty Dozen-style squad of renegades, bad boys and nearly men who would get on the plane. 

Those who covet an IPL contract can't baulk, so KP and Fred go, along with Ravi Bopara, Ace Shah and Monty Panesar. Vaughany wants a Test place back, so he can jump aboard, as can the Hog. Can't imagine James Foster and Matt Prior knocking it back, or Rob Key, Saj Mahmood, Dimi Mascarenhas, Joe Denly, Graham Napier. Corky would be on the plane before you'd finished asking the question. Even Goughy might be talked into it.

They may not win. They may not even get close, but it would be worth watching. And it would somehow have the right spirit to it, something the bunch who are on their way back seem to have misplaced.

Let's be honest, it's going to be no more or less safe in India in two weeks than it is next April. 

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Mumbai last night

Was going to write something yesterday evening about how being dropped on tour is not like actually being dropped - I am sure that the face of IR Bell will once again soon peer out from above the blue muscle-shirt, and probably even the red - but instead sat watching the news from Mumbai.

The BBC called up Shaun Udal, who found himself commenting on pictures of people being evacuated from the burning windows of the hotel he was due to check into a few hours hence with Middlesex. The newscaster kept calling him 'Shaun Oodle'; not a cricket man, then.

Something that stayed with me from the 7/7 attacks in London in 2005 was that one of the bombers had played cricket as usual the weekend before. One last game. That mindset is impossible to penetrate. 

Tuesday 25 November 2008

The meaning of 77, or The Don recedes

99.94 is the one stat that, to cricketers, does not need to be explained or contextualised. You don't need to be told what it means or who it belongs to. 99.94 stands as the landmark number in the sport.

It's widely known, too, that 99.94 makes Bradman not just the best cricketer of all time, but the best sportsman. Statistically, no-one else in any sport has dominated as Bradman did. 99.94 made him almost 40 per cent better than anyone else who has ever played cricket, a margin that Pele, Nicklaus, Jordan or anyone else cannot approach in their disciplines.

Jeff Thomson once said, 'I didn't believe that anyone could be twice as good as Greg Chappell,' and then he saw the Don messing around in the nets as a 60-something, no pads, dispatching it everywhere.

I came across a lesser-known study that attempted to compare Bradman with players from different eras. Using a 'coefficient of variation' of batting averages, it calculated that a modern player would need to average 77 to match Bradman. 

The study was made at the end of the 90s, before the current era of the bat, so the number may have ticked up a notch, but modern gods Ponting (57), Yousuf and Kallis (55) and Tendulkar (54) fall a long way short. Mike Hussey is the closest at 64, but it feels like he's not begun properly yet. Gilchrist was in the 60s too at one point. None of Pollock, Headley and Sutcliffe, who all finished with career averages above 60, made more than 5000 test runs; Pollock and Headley made less than Hussey has now.

Still, 77. Not even on the horizon. And now it may never be. What I was driving at in this post was that the measures that describe success in cricket feel as though they are about to change. An average, as long as it's acceptable, already means less in limited overs cricket than strike rate. Just as Twenty20 has accelerated 50 over matches, so it will accelerate Tests.

Geoff Boycott, a surprisingly progressive commentator, has already suggested four-day Tests, played as day-nighters, would be a more viable commercial proposition. It will surely happen.

When it does, the meaning of stats will change, subtly at first, and then irrevocably. 99.94 will prove harder to understand.

In the study that showed Bradman was statistically better than anyone in any other sport, the third-most dominant athlete was baseball's Ty Cobb. He played a version of the game that is unrecognisable to the baseball fans of today. They attach more meaning to power-hitting records like those held by McGwire and Bonds than they do to Cobb's base stealing and RBIs.

How we adjust 99.94 in a new era will become important in keeping the game connected to its history. The Don is receding, but not in meaning.

From underneath the Black Cap

Iain O'Brien has a blog. If he were English, it's inconceivable that it would exist. It contains a terrific description of his second innings at the Gabba.

On the subject of online worthiness, David Hopps is blogging for the Guardian from India. Here he is on the frustrations of trying to interview Monty Panesar via the ECB politburo. 

Compare and contrast. 

Monday 24 November 2008

IR Bell: always outnumbered, always outgunned

A case was once made for Ian Ronald Bell opening in the 50 over format. 'We can bat around him,' they said. 'He gets a hundred at a strike rate of 70, we'll win more than we lose,' they said.

But rarely has a single game made any argument for a man look more redundant. In Bangalore, Virender Sehwag hit the first ball he faced for four, and the first ball he faced after a two-hour rain break for six. MS Dhoni hit his first ball for six, and Yusuf Pathan hit his only ball for six. That is the standard of the new age; of the superfreak power hitter.

Bell's 12 from 15 balls could be written off as a bad day. Except it wasn't. It was a normal day. In fact, given his strike rate of 80.00, it was a marginally better than average day. What drove pure despair further into the bones was the sad little tinky-tink his bat made as he tried, mostly in vain, to hit the ball off the square.

He has walked to the middle with that weird, pinched look on his face playing shadow forward defensives 26 times to open in ODIs. He's made 800 runs at 33.33, striking at 70 per 100 balls. He has scored precisely no hundreds. 

In his other 50 innings, he has batted down the order, made 1683 runs at 36.59 at the same rate, despite, presumably, batting in fewer power plays. In nineteen innings in 2008, his top score is 73. 

In this era of the superfreak, England are shockingly adrift. For India Sehwag strikes at 99.36; for West Indies, Gayle goes at 81.21; for Sri Lanka, Jayasuriya strikes at 91.03; for New Zealand, McCullum goes at 90.24; for South Africa, Gibbs strikes at 83.18, and for Pakistan, Afridi goes at 111.20. Adam Gilchrist went at 96.94 for Australia. With the exception of McCullum, all have scored over 5000 runs; with the further exception of Afridi, all have over 6000. Jayasuriya, who started it, has 12,785.

The closest England have come is with Marcus Trescothick, who made 4,335 runs at a rate of 85.21. And he's retired. 

What's most amazing is the near-total absence of debate over Bell's position, or over England's inability to find a player of the kind above given the resources flowing in. 

Sunday 23 November 2008

Body talk... la dah dah

The BCCI-TV cameras dwelled lovingly on the England rooms as the Boys went 4-0 down in Bangalore. You didn't need to be Cracker to work out the psychodramas within. At one end sat Peter Moores, on his own, arms folded, leg crossed against the rest of the room. At the other sat KP, arms also folded, his lackey Bell passing him Red Bull. The rest made themselves scarce. 

In one of those offbeat Ducky-L games, England fell 19 short, despite getting 178 to India's 166. England lost it at the start of their innings, when they scored 21 from the first six. In the power play. Bell made 12 in seven overs. 

NB: Graeme Swann went in before Matt Prior. For the uninitiated, Prior is a Sussex man, where he made his name under coach P. Moores.

Punter punts

Two things that that we outsiders always took as planks of Australian cricket:

i) Pick the team then pick the captain

ii) Let the opposition worry about you

Ricky Ponting after the Test at the Gabba: 'I just think we've got to be a bit more flexible in our selection in different places. We need to look at every way we can to have the most impact. They're some of the lessons we all learned in India. We could have been better equipped for those conditions and if we come up against conditions like that, in Australia or the world*, we need to have guys who can play in them'.

What a very English argument.

Ricky Ponting's average in 2008 - 43.55. From India onwards - 31.88. What a very English average. Don't talk yourself out of a job, pal.

* Australia is actually part of the world, even though it doesn't seem like it sometimes.

Saturday 22 November 2008

The executioner's song

Conventional wisdom says that the greats wake up one day and just know. But how? How can they? Because often the quality that separates them from the rest is belief, and that rarely ever dies, bound up as it is with ego and self-image.

Some go gently into that good night. Others rage against the dying of the light. You won't get two more opposing departures than those of Justin Langer and Steve Waugh, for example. But they had the inevitable in common. They both understood they would have to go, one way or the other. 

Matthew Hayden knows it, hears the whispers. Like the old soldier, his talk is all of his fallen comrades. 'When they leave,' he sighed this week, 'a part of you goes with them'. His winsomeness contrasts with the thousand yard stare that Katich wears as standard. That guy's desire is the property of the unfulfilled.

Hayden has scored so many runs even he must be almost sated by now, and the numbers carry their own hints. 

It has been ten innings since his last hundred. Those innings have been: 0, 13, 0, 29, 83, 16*, 16, 77, 8, 0, an average of 26.88 against a career 52.04.

Steve Waugh's last hundred came nine innings before the end: 78, 61, 0, 56*, 30, 42, 19, 40, 80, an average of 50.75 against a career 51.06.

Justin Langer's last hundred came eight innings before the end: 4, 7, 37, 0, 27, 26, 20*, an average of 20.16 against a career 45.77.

Waugh averaged a hundred every eight innings (32 in 260), Langer one in eight (23 in 182), Hayden one in six (30 in 177). Hayden's stat is leant more weight by the fact he once went 30 innings without one.

The statistics say Hayden is waning. Waugh raged. Langer knew. Hayden hears the song, too.

When the Australian war machine was at its peak, they surrounded your castle and used Hayden as a battering ram. He has been the most okker of Aussies, and therefore not the most loved elsewhere, but it's impossible not to salute him. 

The best compliment I heard paid to an Australian from an Englishman came from Mick Jagger to their opening bowler. 'Glenn McGrath,' he said, reclining in his chair in the pavilion at Lord's. 'What a bastard'.

You knew what he meant. Matty Hayden, what a bastard too.


Friday 21 November 2008

Dream debut

The Australians may have had a bad day at the Gabba. But it wasn't as bad as the day that Imrul Kayes had in Blomfontein. He was out twice. On his debut. In three hours. 

Channel the pain, Imrul. Let it feed you. 

Thursday 20 November 2008

Gone in the Side. And in the Bottom.

On TV, Ryan Sidebottom is all hair and panto grimaces. Watch him patrol a boundary from a few feet away, though, and he's a different proposition, a man of barn door dimensions with shoulders the size of Flintoff's and an arse like a cart-horse.  

Strange and sad then, that his body is in breakdown, gone in the back, calf, groin and Achilles. He has bowled two overs since July. Even the hair has been cut down to size.

Much was made of the seven years in county cricket that had turned him into a bowling machine. A year inside the England bubble of trains, boats and planes put paid to that.

On sunday, six English fast bowlers - Maurice Chambers (21), Jonathan Clare (22), Jade Dernbach (22), Chris Jordan (20), Mark Turner (24) and Chris Woakes (19) - head to Bradenton, a charming town on Florida's Gulf of Mexico, and the IMG Institute of Sport for three weeks of strength work with Huw Bevan, a rugby trainer. The ECB's bowling academy man Kevin Shine says. 'we want to treat them like Olympic athletes, fitter, faster and stronger'. Once Bevan has had a go at them, the six go to Madras and DK Lillee. 

They are at the sharp end of Shine's development programme, which now monitors seamers six-monthly from the age of 13. They all seem decent enough: Jordan got some raves at the start of the season, Justin Langer describes Turner as 'an explosion waiting to happen' (hopefully not an explosion of bones and joints), Woakes was Warwickshire's leading wicket-taker and he, Dernbach and Clare all took over 40 first-class wickets. Shine hopes they 'could be the next world-class bowlers to play for England'. 

Thanks to players like Sidebottom, the ECB are rich enough to do it. However, and this is very English: all except Woakes are older than Tim Southee, who just took 4-63 at the Gabba. Five of them are older than Ishant Sharma, too. Three of them are the same age or older than Stuart Broad. Turner is just a year younger than Dale Steyn. 

It's only a year and a bit since Saj Mahmood (26) and Liam Plunkett (23) were on tour with England. They are going with a squad somewhere, where they'll probably end up bowling at MP Vaughan in the nets all day. The current location of uber-fragile lunk Chris Tremlett, 27, is unknown. 

All are under Shine, being ruthlessly developed. The last fast bowler called up by the selectors? D. Pattinson, a 29-year-old Australian. 

NB: The subtext of this story is nature versus nurture. The most injured of England's bowlers have been the biggest, most muscle-bound guys: Flintoff, Sidebottom, Simon Jones. Despite the hours in the gym, their bulk goes against them. The quick bowlers with the most longevity are the tall, sinewy ones: McGrath, Walsh, Ambrose, Pollock, Dev,  which at least bodes well for Broad, Southee etc. Sometimes you can't beat nature.

Sights you thought you'd never see

Headline in the Sydney Morning Herald

'Black Caps Destroy Australia At The Gabba' *

Now we know why Punter felt he had to be there.

* 'Destroy' might be a little strong with four days left, no...?

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Extended run

England had to do something, and so they have. Ravi Bopara will open in Kanpur, according to the always excellent David Hopps. Matt Prior drops to number eight, eight games into his comeback. His run at the top of the order included one game against Scotland, one where he was required to chase the almost insurmountable South African total of 83 and one in which he did not bat due to rain. Of the eight games, England lost two. 

Stats lie, of course. He was paralysed by spin on monday. Bopara has been bullish in asking for his chance. It will be interesting to see how extended his run is under KP.

A chilling reminder of prior (no pun intended) consistency. Ravi Bopara made his ODI debut on 2 Feb 2007 in Sydney. The XI:


Pietersen had gone home injured. To continue the Spinal Tap theme of the post below, many of the others are of course current residents of the Where Are They Now File. 

Tuesday 18 November 2008

No more six please, we're British

Last night Sky aired their highlights package of the Hong Kong Sixes, which, with its five over a side 45-minute games, is itself a highlights package made flesh. Thus the highlights of the highlights were cricket absurdo ad reductum. 

In one group match, Australia were 52-1 - after two overs. You might think it would be hard to show highlights of those two overs without showing the actual two overs, but Sky did it. 

All the event lacked was Roy and HG on commentary. Instead it had Danny Morrison and Ian Bishop, who, having misjudged their opening tone and become hugely excited by the first few sixes, left themselves with nowhere to go. By the time the 300th - someone was actually counting - sailed skywards, they were reduced to grunting 'it's another maximum' through their destroyed and flapping larynxes. In fact, forget Roy and HG, Benaud and Arlott would have been the dream ticket here.

England won a brilliantly comical final against Australia by losing less wickets in a tied game; not, I'm sure, the criteria by which they thought they would be victorious. Maybe Boycs should go next time, to hold up an end. He's only 68, after all. 

The England team was quite useful: Mascarenhas (so that's where he was), Bresnan, Trott, Napier, Maddy, Wagg. Amusingly, Hoggy turned out for the Stephen Fleming captained All-Stars.

The Oz sent youngsters - do they ever let any opportunity slip? Their squad: John Davidson, Brendan Drew, John Hastings, Michael Hill, Stephen O'Keefe, Nathan Reardon and David Warner.

They looked good, but in a tournament with 300 sixes, so did everybody. To paraphrase Spinal Tap, how many more sixes can there be, and the answer is none. None more sixes...

Monday 17 November 2008

Two jobs

It took a couple of days, but now we know what Duncan Fletcher will be doing while Hampshire boys Giles White and Tony Middleton 'decide how to use his talents'. He'll be working with South Africa.

The only downside for Fletch seems to be that he's required to wear something described, rather sinisterly, as 'a uniform'. Enduring image, isn't it.

The harsh and strange lessons of Moneyball

Billy Beane, the hero of Michael Lewis's revelatory book Moneyball, should have been a superstar. He was a natural, a baseball player so gifted that scouts came from across America to his high school field just to watch him train. He looked a billion dollars. He was a first round draft pick for the New York Mets in 1980. 

And then he played 148 games in six seasons for four different teams. He hit a career total of three home runs. 

Billy would have been just another schoolboy phenomenon who couldn't cut it in the major leagues had he not absorbed the lesson of his own life. Instead, he realised that how baseball looked wasn't necessarily how baseball really was. 

He became general manager of the Oakland As in 1997 and proceeded to pull off the greatest ongoing giant-killing in sport by recognising that conventional wisdom meant very little in an organic, living game. 

Baseball runs on stats. Ultimately, teams, players, eras are defined by them. And Billy worked out that the stats used in baseball were wrong. Or at least, they were out of date. Standard measures like RBIs and stolen bases were relics of a bygone age. Their usage led enormously rich teams to waste huge amounts of money and time on players that would never deliver. 

Beane found his new measures of success or failure in a fanboy's book of geeky stats called Baseball Abstract. He began working with a new set of standards named sabermetrics. With them, he discovered that many effective players were being rejected by other teams because they looked weird and ugly, and because they weren't successful by the old measures. The Oakland As ended up with a bunch of cheap rejects who consistently outperformed the market. Beane now co-owns the team. He is a superstar at last. Everyone in baseball uses sabermetrics.

Baseball was reshaped by many things: the size, strength and athleticism of its players (and, it should be noted, rampant steroid use), and external factors like the demands of TV. It took 37 years for Roger Maris's single-season home run record of 61 to be broken, but once Mark McGwire had done it, it was broken twice more in three years. As soon as players understood what was possible, they went and did it.

Cricket's reshaping is happening much more quickly. Imran Nazir just got 111 from 44 balls in the ICL final, and it doesn't even seem that extraordinary any more. 

The lesson of Moneyball is, what are the stats that define this new game? Strike rate during powerplays? Economy rate whilst bowling second? Boundaries to balls faced ratio? The Batsman doesn't know, but I don't think it's the establishment that are going to find them. So it's over to the geeks and the freaks. The answers are out there.

England's limited over sides seem a little like the baseball teams that Billy Beane overcame. It's not that they're not thinking, it's just that they're not thinking the right things. Beane thought differently and came up with a team full of unfashionable freaks.

Napier, Mascarenhas, Rashid, Panesar, Wright, Key... who knows? But Moores doesn't have much longer to find out. Beane used his stats to develop and drive a philosophy on playing the game. What's Peter's?

NB: KP's post-matchers just get better. Today's was along the lines of: 'okay, we were thrashed, but we were less thrashed than last time...' Accentuate the positives, chap.

Sunday 16 November 2008


Who knows what's in Ricky Ponting's head at the moment. Probably something which sounds like that really terrible album Radiohead made after OK Computer, playing over and over again

Then, through all the white noise and static and steely screech of alienation comes something else: the sound of Harbhajan Singh.

'Ponting is a very average captain and an average player too. I can get Ponting out any time. Even when I come post a six-month lay off. He got a hundred in Bangalore but I don't think that's enough. He needs to come back and score some more before he can claim to be a complete batsman. He needs to go and learn to bat against spin bowling.'

Somehow the word 'average' really does its work here.

Function creep

Duncan Fletcher is back. The men of Hampshire will soon feel that unsettling, implacable gaze fall upon them as he appears, ethereally, silently and unannounced, behind them in the nets. The ubiquitous shades, age-inappropriate though they are, will be there too. 

It's another coup for Rod Bransgrove, the man who brought Warne and Pietersen to the Rose Bowl. A Warnie apprentice, Giles White, is the tyro team manager. Tony Middleton is academy coach. 

Enter Fletch, and shades, as 'consultant'. White and Middleton will 'decide how to use his talents', while Fletch conducts 'an audit of coaching procedure'.

So, to recap, Fletcher will be auditing White and Middleton, while White and Middleton decide 'how to use his talents'.

Fletcher, like all coaches touched by greatness, has one way of doing things. His. Is it just the Batsman or is anyone else thinking 'director of football'?

Friday 14 November 2008

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

KP got it just about right today. Sometimes you just have to say hats off. Yuvraj was regal, even if he was wearing a girdle (there was something vaguely New Romantic about him - if only he'd had Chanderpaul's eye liners on too), and never better than with the six he hit off Flintoff towards the end. It rose like a long iron struck from a fairway bunker. His rhythm is transcendent. Low to high with that rhythm, the ball coming on and a 60 yard boundary... it's no mystery.

Warnie was on fire in his column in The Times, too. 'Brad Haddin can be as dangerous as Adam Gilchrist,' he wrote. 'He hasn't shown it yet...'

Yeah, we've got a few who haven't shown it yet as well, Shane. 

He did bang the drum for Dimi Mascarenhas, who just won player of the tournament at the Hong Kong Sixes. He's right. Who can Dimi have upset?

Thursday 13 November 2008

MP Vaughan b McGrath, Lee, Naved, O'Brien, Oram, Steyn, Collymore...

Men used to go to sea for freedom. Now they go freelance... Jeremy Kyle and his feuding proles, spot of lunch with the crossword, re-runs of vintage Grand Designs, all on in the background of course, just so things don't get too quiet... 

Yesterday the Batsman took a break from the wordface just as Sky decided to fill some broadcast hours with a two-hour round-up of the Ashes 2005. You really can't watch it often enough, can you?

You find something new with every encounter. This time it was Michael Vaughan getting bowled. For someone who maintains he doesn't get bowled a lot, he seems to get bowled a lot. He was bowled in both innings at Lord's by McGrath, bowled by Lee in the second innings at Edgbaston, and then again by Lee in Manchester, albeit from a no-ball during his 166.

Subsequently, he's been bowled by Rana Naved in Faisalabad at the end of '05, and then, after his year off with fetlock damage, by Corey Collymore in Manchester, by RP Singh at Lord's, by Zaheer Khan at Trent Bridge, by Jacob Oram in Wellington, by Iain O'Brien at Trent Bridge and by Dale Steyn at Lord's. 

In his Test career, he has been bowled 22 times in 147 innings; however 10 of those have come in his last 46 digs. And don't even talk about Lord's.

A quick, unscientific random sample by way of comparison:

Ricky Ponting bowled 24 times in 206 innings
Matthew Hayden 19 times in 175 innings
Jacques Kallis 40 times in 209 innings
Sachin Tendulkar 40 times in 256 innins
Kevin Pietersen 9 times in 80 innings
Mike Hussey 11 times in 49 innings

This rather more comprehensive survey concludes that the modern, post-1990 batsman with an average of over 35 is bowled in around 15 per cent of his innings. Vaughan falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. 

So statistically, Michael Vaughan doesn't get bowled a lot. But for someone who doesn't get bowled a lot, Michael Vaughan gets bowled. A lot. Or at least he appears to. Several reasons ruffle the Batsman's cap...

i) When he gets bowled, he gets bowled badly: off stump or off and middle, playing defensively and simply missing it. It's somehow more vivid that way.

ii) He gets bowled by a lot of fast-medium bowlers. McGrath is of the highest class, but consider Rana Naved, Corey Collymore, RP Singh, Iain O'Brien and big Jake Oram. 

iii) He has an idiotic look on his face when it happens. 

iv) Finally, and here's where the Batsman thinks the stats may be slightly behind the curve, the trend in modern batting is to get yourself right across the stumps and have the head on a line outside off stump. Thus aggressive players who come at the bowler looking to hit straight or leg side - Pietersen, Hayden, Ponting - tend to remove bowled from the equation. All have been out LBW more often than they have been castled (Pietersen 12, Hayden 26, Ponting 36).

Compare them to an old-time classicist like:

Geoff Boycott, bowled 30 times in 193 innings, leg before only 27. 
Or even Mike Hussey (stats above), another natural offside player. As is Vaughan of course.

Being bowled is the most devastating way to get out psychologically, I think. It's a product of the most basic failure of purpose: missing the ball. A decent batsman playing at his natural level should not be bowled often. It hurts too much. 

The Old Batsman himself bears several scars, the most livid from a jaffa of a slower ball at Basingstoke that I played about three shots to, none of which came close to connecting. I remember it still, with all of those years gone by... 

It's a subject too raw to leave without some comfort. Jacques Kallis has been bowled 40 times in his Test career. He has faced 22,232 deliveries. 22,192 of them have not hit the stumps. Way to go, big man.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Yeah but, no but...

Australians are brilliant, aren't they? When they lose a series, they require their captain to face the press as soon as he gets back home. And when they say as soon as he gets back home, they mean at the airport

It's happened to Ricky Ponting twice now, in 2005, and again yesterday. Assuming the position once more, he said, 'I've had an opportunity to sit back over the last couple of days and think about those decisions that I've made, or that I made there and then, and even talking to other players, I'm very comfortable with the decisions that I've made'.

Shane Warne helpfully translated via his newspaper column: 'One of Rick's strengths is to admit his mistakes and I'm sure on the way home he relived every moment of the final Test and the mistakes that he made'. 

Cheers, Warnie. Thanks for that. Ponting also received some 'help' from fearless team coach Tim Nielsen, who used the high-profile forum of his blog to address the subject of the over rate: 'is it alright to break the rules as long as you win without worrying about the consequences?'

Er, hasn't stopped them any other time, Tim. You sure you're Australian? Check your passport, fella.

Meanwhile, England have been enjoying the advantages of having KP as captain. His technique is far simpler and more effective than Ponting's. He just pretends it hasn't happened. 'Oh, what, that match? That knockabout you're referring to? I'd forgotten about that. We're just focused on our controllables...'

As Ed Smith rightly pointed out in The Wisden Cricketer, technology means that today's player can no longer return to the pavilion claiming to have been sawn off when he wasn't. The truth is all they have back in the dressing room. The main arena for creative excuses now comes in front of the media. Excellent!

Monday 10 November 2008

Boycott, the lion in winter

Last week, The Guardian sent four of their writers to meet their childhood heroes. Stephen Moss chose Geoffrey Boycott (read his piece here). Geoffrey was, and probably still is, my father's hero too. For me, he was too distant and unknowable; even for an obsessive, his obsession was palpable. He could be glimpsed in the books I bought and collected; the tour diaries that made him the butt of team jokes about his hair transplant and his baked bean diet; the autobiographies that recounted anecdotes of run-outs and faux pas and boorish one-liners. 

We thought all of his character was there in his batting, which was courageous, selfish, monomaniacal and technically unsurpassed. Me and my dad watched the World Cup Final of 1979 from the top tier of the Compton Stand, underneath the clock. West Indies got 286 (from 60 overs - when ODIs used to last a day...) a total that seemed like the sheer face of a glacier back then. Boycott and Brearley set out in dogged pursuit against Roberts, Holding, Croft and Garner (the concept of a one-day specialist did not really exist - how easy life was). After 30 overs England were 129-0. They needed 157 from 30 overs with 10 wickets in hand. This was thought an impossible chase, and a middle order of Randall, Gooch, Gower, Botham and Larkins folded to Croft and Garner, England were all out for 194 and still had nine overs left. Such was one-day cricket in 1979. Boycott had batted beautifully to his own internal rhythm. Holding got him for 57. 

Two winters later, Holding bowled him that famous over in Barbados, supposedly the quickest of all time. Boycott said, 'it was the only time I got out for nought and didn't feel a profound sense of failure'. It's rarely mentioned that he went to Antigua two weeks later and made 104 not out against Roberts, Holding, Garner and Croft. He was 41 years old. 

'Watch Boycott' was the eternal advice of my youth, from my dad at least. What he loved about him was not just his excellence, but the way he walked out to bat, immaculate, a state exacerbated when he opened with Goochie, who tramped out there looking like he'd just climbed off a park bench. I realise now that what my dad liked was the way Geoffrey's look represented his state of mind: nothing left to chance. 

The great day finally came when my father met Boycott. He'd worked on the refurbishment of Lillywhites at Piccadilly Circus, and Boycott came to the grand opening. My dad collared him for ten minutes, and Boycott was charm personified. The words that came down from the mount for me were 'bat for as long as you can, and never mind the other boogers...'

It wasn't until he retired - at 46 - and took to the commentary box that it became obvious that you couldn't know Boycott just from his batting. He turned out to be a womaniser, a raconteur, a man of unvarnished truth and insight, and full of quirks too. Last summer on Test Match Special, he revealed he was a big fan of Feng Shui. Most of all, as Stephen Moss's lovely piece showed, the lion in winter has been mellowed by cancer, his fire drawn by fatherhood and marriage. In an audio clip, Moss recites Geoffrey's well-known claim that he'd give up the rest of his life for five more years at the crease, in his prime. Well no more. Living had conquered his obsession at last. 

My favourite Boycott story comes from David Lloyd. Boycott called him one day, and, as is apparently usual, began talking with no introduction.
'You and me, playing golf, 9.00am this wednesday'.
'I can't Geoffrey, I'm going fishing,' was Lloyd's reply.
'That were always your problem, fishing outside off stump,' said Geoffrey, and hung up.

Sunday 9 November 2008

Still Krejzy. Or, The Madness Of King Ricky

How do you follow

43.5 1 215 8 ?

If you're Jason Krejza, with: 

31 3 143 4

For match figures of (look away now if you are of sensitive disposition):

74.5 4 358 12

It gets better. Up until tea on Day 4, Krejza had bowled almost 40% of Australia's total overs from a run-up of about four paces. Yet they were so far behind the rate, Ponting (and the team management) decided that, rather than risk Ponting's banning from their next Test (against that terrifying New Zealand side in Brisbane, where Australia have not lost this century) they would cede a realistic chance to force a face-saving win in India, a place their forebears spent careers trying to conquer. 

It's heartbreaking to report that the Australian press have not taken it well. In The Australian, Malcolm Conn wrote: "In what must surely be Ricky Ponting's worst day as national captain, he may have cost Australia the Border-Gavaskar Trophy by attempting to to save himself from suspension." In the Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Roebuck called it "one of the most baffling displays of captaincy seen in the long and proud history of Australian cricket".

Better get a few tomorrow then, Punter.

One last note on Jason Krezja: Tim Nielsen said he didn't play in the first three Tests "because he wasn't ready".

Tim old mate, no-one could be ready for that...

Oh, and he was on a hat-trick. Again. He only got Laxman and Ganguly this time. 

Saturday 8 November 2008

Locked in the arms of a Krejzy life

Cricket: the game of desperate and beautiful anomalies.

43.5 1 215 8

The dream debut is the dreariest of sporting cliches. But Jason's Krejza's first bowl in Test cricket - all eight or so hours of it - was gloriously, illogically, undeniably dreamlike. To recap:

His first three overs went for 32.
His first Test wicket was Dravid, his second was Sehwag.
His were the most expensive debut bowling figures in 1,892 Test matches. 
He speared the tail in a spell of 5-19.
He became the eighth man in Tests to take eight wickets on debut (more dreaminess: Lance Klusener is one of the others...).
He dismissed three of the big four, plus Sehwag and Dhoni, and had Tendulkar dropped - twice.
He went at 4.9 runs per over.
At one point he was on a hat trick.
He took 0-199 in his only warm-up match, meaning his two bowls in India so far have gone for over 400.
It was his first-ever five-fer in first class cricket.

Presumably he woke up after that lot covered in sweat and thinking he'd gone to a wedding in his pyjamas.

Now, does anyone actually know if he can bowl or not? Anyone?

Thursday 6 November 2008

Batting: endless failure and despair

A nice little stat from Nagpur:

Sachin has more scores of 50+ than any other player in Tests: 
91, made in 251 innings.

By comparison, Ricky Ponting has 77 in 204 innings

Brian Lara 82 in 232 innings

Jacques Kallis 78 in 209 inns

Rahul Dravid 78 in 222 inns

Thus, statistically, even these great players fail more often than they succeed. And the bowlers try to tell you it's a batsman's game...

NB: India's debutant in Nagpur, Murali Vijay, just made a double hundred in an opening stand of 462 for Tamil Nadu against Maharashtra. His partner Abhinav Mukund got a triple. New ball wasn't doing much, then?

Wednesday 5 November 2008

New Labour for the new labourers

In the UK, we used to have a Minister for Sport. Now we have a Ministry for Culture, which includes sport. It's run by doe-eyed Andy Burnham who last week was upset by how much money the Premiership chavs and proles were rolling in, but this week felt queasy about noble England lowering themselves to play for the Stanford dollar.

Oh yeah? Tell it to Darren Sammy, MS Dhoni, Swapnil Asnodkar, Shahid Afridi and all of the other kids from the villages of West Indies, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka who have been lifted up by playing for money in the Stanford match, the IPL and ICL. Money has driven cricket since 1844. Andy Burnham should find someone whose cash can get a bat into the hands of kids from Moss Side, Croxteth and Peckham, someone whose cash can lift up the people he apparently represents.

A list of recent cultural developments that haven't disturbed the Minister's delicate sensibility: 
Damian Hurst flogging his Beautiful Inside My Head Forever exhibition for £70m 
Daniel Craig cleaning up in the new James Bond film 
Louis Hamilton making £10m from his F1 season
Andy Murray winning $3m this summer  

They must be devaluing art, cinema and sport too? No? Andy? Hello....

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Objects of fetish

The crash and burn of Woodworm, flash bat providers to KP and Andrew Flintoff, wasn't quite on the scale of Lehmann Bros, but just as the IPL and Stanford Super Series carry vague echoes of Kerry Packer's circus, so Woodworm immediately brought St Peter to mind.

St Peter, with their graphically beautiful SP logo, burst into the consciousness by signing one of the biggest stars of the day, Tony Greig, to front them. Greig not only used the bat but debuted the classic 'mitts', the one-piece batting gloves that became instant objects of fetish. After a century of lumpen sausage gloves (and even spikes for the nets) how sleek and 21st century were Greiggy's mitts. Club grounds were soon awash with SP bats and gloves. If I remember correctly, even King Viv had a brief SP flirtation post Jumbo and before Duncan Fearnley. Then as soon as they had arrived, they were gone (although a cursory search reveals you can still pick up SP bats in Oz).

The Batsman landed an SP from a bloke my father met on a building site. It was far too heavy for my puny early adolescent wrists but the pull of the logo was great. I used it the first time I batted through an innings (instant nostalgia: first bat I scored a fifty with was a Slazenger, first hundred with a Gray Nicolls Scoop (!), thousand runs in a season for the first time with a County: Christ I can even remember how each one smelt. The two best I ever held were a Slazenger V12 that belonged to a teammate - I was still in and using it when he came to the wicket; he was saintly enough not to demand it back at that moment - and a short-handled Jumbo in a sale at a shop in Kingston (Surrey, not Jamaica) that picked up like a wand and that I've always regretted not buying).

Selecting and using bats looms heavily in the psyche of almost every batsman (see Marcus Trescothick's recent autobiography, and Ramps' devotion to the Gray Nicolls Predator that took him to the hundred hundreds). When you pick up a bat that you're going to use, you just know. You have to be strong if it's a make you don't favour. 

KP will now front adidas's assault on the bat market, while Freddie looked like he was using Puma out in Antigua. The Batsman has met Puma's batmaker and can testify to his talent. He did, however, look up from his lathe and lament, "it all depends how good your stickers are these days..."

NB: The names of bats used to reflect their shape or heritage: Jumbo, Scoop, Signature etc. Now they're becoming as nonsensical as car brands. The adidas range are called Incurza, Libra and Pellara. Which one are you?

Monday 3 November 2008

The Stanford Non-Prison Experiment (ii)

The papers here in England were a festival of predictability, albeit mitigated in terms of length by their need to devote several acres of otherwise useful space to the latest developments at Harringay Hotspurs and/or some man who drove a billion-dollar racing car slightly faster than some other man. The prevailing view, naturally, was: England - rubbish, Stanford Superstars - heartwarming, now can we go to India please... 

But the nugget of elusive truth was in there, and the Batsman finally stumbled on it via this quote from Giles Clarke, the ECB's own shining superstar: 'the week has brought to the surface a large amount of cultural and philosophical issues'.
Giles old mate, you've got that one right. 

Some years ago, Bill Drummond, who was a pop star with a group called KLF, took a million quid - which represented most, if not all, of his earnings from said group - and threw the lot onto a bonfire. It was meant to be some sort of arch art-terrorism prank, but as Drummond later admitted, it ruined his life. 

England had tied themselves in knots over earning an easy mil - 'can I smile when we pick up the cheque; how long should I leave it before I buy the new motor etc etc' - when the real freight of Stanford's brutally brilliant offer has its heft elsewhere. Each of the defeated players will, one quiet evening many months from now, realise that they do not have $1m. They would not be human if they didn't. Drummond suffered months of depression as the feeling sank into his bones.

Sporting careers, like life in the middle ages, can be nasty, brutish and short. As Chris Gayle said, 'who doesn't need a million dollars?'. What England did wrong was allow liberal guilt to eat into their heads like brainworms. 

In Clarke's desire to get the players a sop as the IPL set sail without them, he certainly considered the downsides of England winning the match. But how long did he think about the downsides of not winning it? 

NB: The county chairmen who elected Clarke to the ECB are now astonished to find that Giles, who after all has an MA in Persian from Oxford as well as various wine and pet emporiums, has been outnegotiated by a billionaire financier from Texas with many years of experience in ramping sports events and another man who turned India into the new powerbase of the game overnight. They might not even re-elect him, they threaten. Now, now chaps. English cricket didn't get where it is today by being hasty...

Instant Sharma

1429 runs were scored  in the Delhi Test last week, 1428 of them by batsmen other than Ishant Sharma. Ishant's tremendous appearance as nightwatchman at the end of day three was run over by other, more newsworthy stories, but the five minutes and two balls he survived were a comedy classic. He made Jimmy Adams look like King Viv circa 1976. In this age of instant worldwide video analysis, Ishant has just lined up at least a decade's worth of short stuff for himself. Chin chin!

Sunday 2 November 2008

The Stanford Non-Prison Experiment (i)

A fuller reflection on the weekend in Antigua once the Batsman has a tour of the papers tomorrow, but a couple of thoughts that might otherwise get trampled in the stampede:

i) Ravishing Rudi Koertzen referred a good-looking leg before shout from Steve Harmison to Steve Davis, the TV umpire. Davis checked it wasn't a no ball and then used the pitch tracker to establish that the ball landed marginally outside Chris Gayle's leg stump. It took about 35 seconds. The world did not end. 

ii) Stanford has essentially used his money to bypass the West Indies Cricket Board and set up his own team. They showed more unity than the real West Indies team has in two decades. Supposing an equally rich fella came along and sidelined the ECB? 

iii) There have been many late night pavilion discussions on who you might choose to bat for your life, if you had to. On Saturday night, it turned out, Chris Gayle was batting for his brother's. Gayle's $1m will pay for heart treatment. Cavalier Chris is not often top of any list of this kind, but as he said afterwards, 'my back is broad'. It was, it was. 

Shire horses for courses

For most of us most of the time, professional cricket is a mediated experience, ie, we're not playing or watching it live, but getting it via the radio or the box (and these days via subscription to the box, another level of mediation - if you can't afford it, sod orf...). 

While the Batsman idled away his idyllic childhood, the experience was mediated by men like John Arlott, Richie Benaud, Don Mosey, Fred Trueman, Brian Johnson, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Jim Laker and so on. Some were former cricketers and some were not. In general, the non-cricketers described and the cricketers added expert comment. That was the point of their partnership. 

The great Arlott, a man with a poet's soul who learned his cricket at the Batsman's beloved May's Bounty, offered not just description, but a way of living. When he went to South Africa, back in the mad, bad old days, he was required to enter his race on a customs form. He wrote 'human'. He befriended everyone from Dylan Thomas to Ian Botham. He took a leather satchel to the commentary box with him and inside it were two bottles of good claret and a glass. He pressed his face into the microphone until you could hear every plosive and sibilant of a genuine Hampshire accent and said things like, 'here comes Botham, running in like a shire horse cresting the breeze'. Perfect and beautiful visions of resonance and truth.

Sky Sports would not have employed John Arlott (and Arlott, let's be honest, wouldn't have worked for them). They wouldn't have employed him because he hasn't recently captained England, and thus, apparently, can't offer the level of insight provided by, say, Nasser Hussain. 

That's not to knock Nasser, or Sky, particularly. This movement towards ex-pros only is not confined to Sky or to cricket. But it's sad that no-one is growing up hearing rich and full voices like Arlott's alongside theirs, in genuine partnership. The reason we love cricket is for the way it fits into life, not stands apart from it. It has dimensions that former England captains cannot reach. 

NB: the best (English) former pro presenter/expert/analyst are quite palpably Mark Nicholas, Sir Geoffrey and Simon Hughes, none of whom are employed by Sky. Why is that, exactly?

Watching Genius (i)

I have only seen genius  - genuine, undeniable, ineffable genius - on two or three occasions. The first was at the Batsman's first club on a warm August wednesday in a long-ago summer. The Hampshire team - captained by Richard Gilliat, the Patrician left hander - arrived to play our First XI in a benefit game for Barry Richards. 

BA Richards was the Batsman's first hero. We'd been in position for two hours just watch his car, which turned out to be a red Ford Granada, take the speedbumps down the laneway to the club. It did so in some style. No-one had the nerve to approach him as he opened the door and stepped out, drawing the revered red-striped Gray-Nicolls from the boot, glowing like Excalibur... When Gilliat came out of the pavilion to toss up, Barry emerged from the dressing room with his pads on, from which we gathered Hampshire would bat however the coin came down. 

For many weeks we had been anticipating BA's encounter with the club's quick bowler, a demon PE teacher with a film-star beard named Dinger Bell. Dinger bowled at us Under 13s in the nets sometimes from a few paces, hair billowing behind him, and it felt like facing Michael Holding. Today, he was off his full, glamorous run. Bazza adjusted his famous blue cap and walked to the middle, the same fuzz of hair and teeth that we saw on TV in the John Player League. Dinger opened up from his favoured far end, wicketkeeper and slips (plural - there was optimism for you) halfway to the boundary. Richards let the first one pass. Christ, we though, maybe even Barry Richards thinks Dinger Bell is quick... 

Dinger ran in again and let one go, short, at Bazza's ribs. Richards backed away, took the time, apparently, to enjoy the view and wave at his girlfriend, before placing a horizontal bat under the ball and lifting it directly over the wicketkeeper's head for six. It was still going up as it went into the car park, quite close to Bazza's red Granada. Here was genius, on our own ground. 

Despite his reputation for boredom at the crease, he scored 60-odd before he retired, including one flick off his legs that went over the trees, out of the ground and landed on the first green of the adjacent pitch and putt. His bat rang as he hit the ball. In the tea interval, I asked for his autograph. 'I'm just eating my sandwich at the moment,' he said. Genius had spoken. How the Batsman treasured those words...