Each year, The Cricketer produces a wall chart detailing all of the summer fixtures. It works well as a visual representation of the way the English domestic game is organised. White space is in short supply. It is as much an assault on the senses as a paper wall chart can be.
The Frankenstein committee
If you’ve ever had the misfortune to work with other human beings, you may have had to endure the shared spreadsheet. Get enough people involved in one Excel document and it can quickly spiral into a multi-coloured monster with a life of its own. Many have created it, but no-one truly understands it – let alone controls it.
This particular document stretches from Cambridge MCCU v Northamptonshire at Fenner’s (University match) on April 2nd to Surrey v Northamptonshire in County Championship Division 2 on September 22nd. Between those dates, it does all kinds of crazy shit, little of which makes sense.
Mind them windows
There’s a lot of talk about making a window for ‘an IPL-style T20 league’ (or ‘a Twenty20 league’ as we like to refer to such things). There’s also a conflicting desire to have County Championship cricket throughout the season. Our advice is simple. Pick one.
As it stands, county cricket favours not windows but cracks in the brickwork. They may allow light to entire, in the same way as a window, but they also compromise the integrity of the structure.
Nothing is clear. No competition takes precedence. Everything is diminished as a result.
Disconnect them windows
If you want to know why the one-day final is no longer the showpiece it once was, it’s because 90 per cent of the competition takes place in the last week of July and the first week of August while the final takes place on the 15th of September. The final is a fortnight after the semi-finals, which are 10 days after the quarter finals.
You all know how much we love the word ‘momentum’. This is not it.
The T20 blast is the same. Matches take place on Fridays for most of the season, but there is then a three-week gap before the quarter finals and then another fortnight before the final. The messiest part of the season also coincides with when the County Championship is in the balance, but that competition has to slot in between the two short format tournaments, seemingly at random.
Look at this schedule and what do you see, time and time again, in every single one of the competitions?
Excitement doesn’t build, like pressure in a bladder. It is pissed away, like the contents of a bladder.23 Appeals
Late season, I always try to take in a day of county cricket with my old friend, Charley “The Gent” Malloy. It helps us both to prepare for the inevitable winter withdrawal symptoms to come. The cricket season starts earlier and ends later each year, yet it seems to fly by faster than ever, in the batting of an eyelid. Where do the months go?
In order to investigate this temporal phenomenon, which I shall paraphrase as ‘in search of lost time,’ I decided to add a large packet of madeleines to the picnic. I had bought a large pack of shop madeleines for day two of the Sri Lanka Test, but the combination of The Lord’s Throdkin and other delicacies had rendered them unnecessary that day. Each time I looked at the packet subsequently, I wondered about shop madeleines with at least three months on the best before date and decided to leave them for another day. But that September expiration date was fast approaching. Besides, as any fool knows, when in search of lost time, what you need more than anything else is madeleines.
Charley and I spent the morning session in the pavilion, where we met a delightful chap, originally from Halifax, who lived in Sussex but preferred the delights of Lord’s to those of Hove. He spent most of the time on his gadget looking at the Yorkshire score when he wasn’t talking to us.
Both Charley and I were suffering under the inevitable back strain arising from the traditional pavilion benches, as explained in match reports passim. On this occasion, Charley had done his back gardening (side strain) while I had done my neck by falling face-first on the macadam while playing tennis with Daisy a few week’s previously. We both agreed that the relative comfort and sunshine of the Mound Stand would please us more, as soon as lunch was called.
Once comfortable in The Mound, we tucked in to one of my traditional picnics. An especially good smoked salmon sandwich (Scottish, not Alaskan, although we debated whether the next batch of Scottish salmon would be a foreign import if the referendum next week were to go “yes”). A fine bottle of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc. Some fresh fruit. A delightful prosciutto sandwich, which went well with the last of the wine.
Then, finally, the madeleines. No sooner had the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?
And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings nanny would hand me, after dressing me in my little sailor suit, when I went to say good morning to mama in her boudoir.
“Are you getting involuntary memory from these?” I asked.
“Yup,” said Charley. “I can recall the rare occasions in that grim North-Eastern mining town, when mum would put a small pile of cakes on the table and the whole family would fight like wildcats in the hope that a few crumbs might touch yer palate.”
“Hmm”, I said. “I think we might both be getting false memory rather than involuntary memory from these shop madeleines. Must be the lack of lemon zest. Still, they’re surprisingly good. I’ll have another.”
“Me too”, said Charley.
Indeed, we ate three or four each and Charley took the remainder home to share with his wife and bairns. Bless.
Send your match reports to email@example.com. If it’s a professional match, on no account mention the cricket itself. If it’s an amateur match, feel free to go into excruciating detail.9 Appeals
He’s this guy. And here’s his Cricinfo page which currently features a spectacularly poor headshot (and we of all people know one when we see one). It’s rather as if the photographer has instructed the Antiguan: “Make a sad face. Now do some mouth-breathing. Perfect!”
According to Tony Cozier, Rahkeem Cornwall is a decent prospect. Excellent name, excellent girth – let’s hope he can get into the West Indies side before too long.
This is semi-relevant because England are of course in the Windies at the minute. Most articles we’ve read about the series seem to almost instantly flit to the tours of New Zealand and Australia in the summer, adopting the Colin Graves attitude that England should easily win and that Test matches against the West Indies are barely worth talking about.
What’s your take on that? We feel much the same as we did about all those columns that stated that England would qualify for the quarter finals of the World Cup. In cricket, presuming something is the finest way to negate that very presumption.31 Appeals
Our final King of Cricket appeared on the All Out Cricket website a couple of weeks ago. We didn’t link to it at the time because we thought it would get lost amid all the World Cup stuff. We didn’t want that to happen because it’s Shiv and you all know how we feel about Shiv.
Rickets, Chomsky, Shane Watson talking bollocks and the art of persisting for long enough that eventually the world changes shape to accommodate you. It’s all in there.9 Appeals
As the end of the season approached, it dawned on me that the pile of reading I had hoped to take with me to Lord’s and read on sunny days was mostly still waiting to be read. Not that there had been a shortage of sunshine in the summer of 2014 – indeed it was one of the best that I can remember, but there had been a shortage of midweek first-class cricket at Lord’s during that quieter (work-wise) part of the summer. Indeed Middlesex played no first class cricket at all, anywhere, between 22 July and 31 August.
I had arranged to take Charley The Gent Malloy to see the Durham game the following week, so needed to shop for some picnic food and did have space at least to take an afternoon at Lord’s at the end of the Warwickshire game. I grabbed a book, which I felt I really needed to read for work, then wandered over to HQ, arriving around half-two. I held little hope of making too much headway into the book before stumps in those circumstances, but I needn’t have worried.
I once wrote a book review for Strategy magazine, in which I elucidated a scale I named the FDA (faintly decent article) scale. My theory is that most business and management books inhabit a sort of limbo or purgatory, in which material worthy of perhaps two or three faintly decent articles has been relentlessly padded out into a whole book. Sadly (or perhaps happily in these circumstances), the book I had taken with me to Lord’s was worth a mere two-and-a-half on the FDA scale. Thus, I was able to finish reading it (or rather discern all that was useful to me from it) and close the book just before the stumps were pulled out of the ground.
Sated (book-wise if not cricket-wise) I wandered home via the Porchester Waitrose, in order to buy the picnic food for next week. I very rarely visit any supermarket, let alone one that close to Lord’s. I vaguely hoped that I might see Tim Murtagh weighing up the relative merits of Golden Grahams and Special K in there. Or possibly even Sam Robson asking an assistant to direct him to the shelf where he might find quinoa with bulgar wheat. But no cricketers were to be seen in that supermarket. Shameful. So I quickly bought the small number of items I needed for next week’s picnic and went home.
Send your match reports to firstname.lastname@example.org. If it’s a professional match, on no account mention the cricket itself. If it’s an amateur match, feel free to go into excruciating detail.14 Appeals
In this World Cup, the fielding team was allowed four men outside the thirty-yard circle. It’s different in Powerplays – it’s two outside in the first one and then three in the second – but let’s not worry about that. For the purposes of this article, we’re focusing on what happens in the other 35 overs.
Before 2012, you were allowed five men outside the circle and there seem to be two main schools of thought about the impact of the change.
- More boundaries! Hurray!
- Okay, this is getting a bit silly now.
The main issue seems to be that when the batting side start looking to hit boundaries in the final 10 overs, it’s now very hard to stop them. There’s usually at least one big gap for the batsman to aim for where he’ll probably be safe even if he mishits it. There’s also the fact that where the boundary fielders are placed tends to inform the batsman what sort of a delivery he might expect.
Put these two things together and you get a lot of runs.
Is this a bad thing?*
It’s easy to be a bit cricket hipstery about this, saying the best matches are those with low totals and whatnot, but runs aren’t intrinsically bad. What is bad is if the game becomes one-dimensional and all we see is some sort of boundary-hitting competition.
You look at some matches – often those featuring AB de Villiers – and it feels like that’s what we’re getting. But look at who did well in this tournament. The best teams didn’t thrive because of the runs they scored so much as because of the wickets they took.
Shifting the emphasis
We’ll not write about Mitchell Starc again, suffice to say that he’s been a revelation and with Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Johnson in the side, he had incisive support. New Zealand too attacked with the ball and so too, weirdly, did India. South Africa reached the semi-finals after bowling Sri Lanka out for 133 and Pakistan might have done better had they had even a middling batting line-up to support their wicket-taking bowlers.
The sides that did badly were generally those with defensive approaches to bowling. Before the tournament, much of the talk was about how England would need to make 350 consistently to be in with a chance of competing. If this was intended as a message to the batsmen, it was the bowlers who listened. They seemed resigned to damage limitation from the outset and achieved nothing. West Indies too fielded a somewhat insipid attack and suffered.
The potential for free scoring at the death saw sides place greater emphasis on earlier overs and the aim was to get batsmen out. If you didn’t leave the opposition in an at-least-moderately-fragile position by the 40th over, you were going to be on the receiving end of a hundred hand slap.
Then and now
Is this so bad? Taken in isolation, the late innings near-free-hittery does seem unfair, but it also seems to have encouraged sides to attack with the ball and that, in our eyes, is no bad thing at all.
Think back a few years and the one-day game seemed to be spiralling downwards into some sort of Hades almost entirely populated by part-timers ‘keeping it fairly tight’. No-one went for wickets at any point. You balanced attack and defence at the start, bowled Suresh Raina for seven overs in the middle and then tried to keep things manageable with wide yorkers and slower ball bouncers at the death.
It was shit.
Compare the top-ranked bowlers on 31st March 2012 under the old rules with the top-ranked bowlers now.
Back then: Lonwabo Tsotsobe was the number one bowler and the top ten contained plenty of spinners – Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Hafeez, Graeme Swann, R Ashwin, Dan Vettori and Shakib al Hasan.
Now: Mitchell Starc is number one and the spinners that remain are wicket-takers – Imran Tahir, Ajmal, Sunil Narine and Shakib.
There is a concern in that spinners do seem to have been marginalised at this World Cup, but two things to note are that Australia and New Zealand aren’t famously spin-friendly countries and, more importantly, several of the most effective spinners from over the last few years (Ajmal, Narine and Hafeez) weren’t here.
Vettori, Tahir and Ashwin also hinted that there is still a place for spinners under these fielding restrictions, provided you’re good enough, so overall we’d consider ‘four fielders out’ to have resulted in a net gain.
There is sometimes chaos at the end of an innings, but chaos isn’t bad. And set against that is how bowling sides approach things at the other end of the innings. Respectable fast-medium seamers deliver little of consequence, while fast bowlers who can properly bounce people and hit the stumps are proving invaluable. It isn’t perfect, but that seems an improvement to us.14 Appeals
That’s the surprising conclusion we’ve drawn from the last few weeks of cricket. More on this and a review of Australia’s win yesterday in our final World Cup column for the Mumbai Mirror.
We’ll maybe have a few points to make about the tournament as a whole in coming days (not today, we’re taking a day off), but we’d just like to say that in general we’ve really enjoyed it. Some of it was flat, but it didn’t seem as lifeless as a few of the previous instalments and in New Zealand, Mitchell Starc and India’s bizarre surge in seam bowling ability, there were some great stories to follow.29 Appeals
He just had a bad day once upon a time. Seems a long time ago. We just about managed to remember that far back for our Mumbai Mirror World Cup final day piece, in which we also expressed the hope that the team with no spinner should lose.
We started typing this with New Zealand needing 10 wickets. We were going to say something about how we hoped that turned out to be a very specific moment in time, when lo! Aaron Finch was dismissed…11 Appeals
This World Cup really hasn’t turned out as batsman-centric as people imagined. Batting-centric, maybe, but not batsman-centric.
Australia have Steve Smith and a whole bunch of minor contributors. New Zealand have four overs of Brendon McCullum and then everyone’s a little too shell-shocked to really know what’s going on after that. More on this at the usual place.12 Appeals
There was a long and rambling food analogy that didn’t make it into our review of the second semi-final. It would have been something about Finch’s innings providing a decent amount of substance without really affecting the quality of the meal/Australia’s performance to any great extent.
We also highlighted where India went wrong. If you listen to Shane Warne, his ilk and probably most modern coaches, cricket matches are decided not by ability, but by the degree to which the combatants display nebulous qualities like ‘energy’ and ‘intensity’ and whether or not they ‘back themselves’.
As a writer, we back ourself to call Warne a guff-talking dullard whenever necessary, but we can’t promise that we’ll do so with either energy or intensity.9 Appeals