A quick bit of housekeeping before the second Test. We received a review copy of Alan Tyers’ new book a few weeks ago and haven’t yet said anything about it.
On a related note, we’ll freely admit to not having read all of the cricket books, so if you’ve any recommendations to make for Christmas, stick them in the comments and we’ll add them to the bottom of the article. It might prove useful to someone, somewhere.
First, the review
And we’d better start with a disclaimer. We met Alan Tyers once and he was an absolute gent. It was on the one occasion we’ve been to Lord’s and it mizzled all day (not that this is particularly relevant).
The premise of Tutenkhamen’s Tracksuit is hinted at by the subtitle – The History of Sport in 100ish Objects. The book is supposed to be an exhibition catalogue for a display at the National Museum of the History of Sport, Orkney. Every item gets a double page spread with a description of what it is and why it is significant, accompanied by an image. It’s worth noting that the whole thing looks ruddy amazing. It’s full colour with art produced by regular collaborator, Beach.
The objects themselves are incredibly varied – and not just because it’s about sport as a whole, not solely cricket. With a few, like Lance Armstrong’s school report, you can see at least part of the joke coming in advance; but others, like ‘seminal hard rock iconography’ are far more opaque at first glance.
That’s the joy of this book, for us. Tyers’ last cricket-themed book, Crickileaks, suffered a little for being obvious in places, but Tutenkhamen’s Tracksuit doesn’t make the same mistake at all. Flicking through it, you find you have to read, otherwise you won’t really understand ‘Iron Mike’s iron’ or ‘the Shola amoeba’.
There is cricket here, but to be honest the entries about other sports are probably more enjoyable because you’re less likely to see jokes coming (although we enjoyed ‘the Barmy Army knife’ regardless of predictability). Having broader material opens up a lot more possibilities and perhaps elevates this above WG Grace Ate My Pedalo in some ways – although we recommend that book too.
WG Grace Ate My Pedalo isn’t the only Victorian-themed book by Alan Tyers, incidentally. He’s also written Gin & Juice: The Victorian Guide to Parenting as well as the impeccably titled Who Moved My Stilton?: The Victorian Guide to Getting Ahead in Business. That might be of relevance if you trust Alan to write well, but need to buy something for some idiot who doesn’t like cricket.
In summary, Tutenkhamen’s Tracksuit is excellent and is also sized to double as a thigh pad should you be in need of one. You can buy it from Amazon here.
Christmas cricket book recommendations
As chosen by our readers. You may or may not be able to find further information about each of them in the comments below.
- Penguins Stopped Play (Sam)
- Coming Back To Me (Sam)
- More Than A Game: The Story of Cricket’s Early Years (Chuck)
- W. G. Grace: A Life (Chuck)
- What I Love About Cricket: (Mufti of Tufnell Park)
- A Lot of Hard Yakka (Steve)
Brendon McCullum is a man whose batting achievements don’t exactly tally with his profile. He’s bolstered his reputation with captaincy and wicketkeeping and the peculiar nature of his one-day assaults, but he basically has a very middling record with the bat. However, he has just scored his eighth Test hundred and helped New Zealand to a first innings position of rare heft against the West Indies.
McCullum’s approach is spectacular but often sees him depart for 62, even when he’s playing well. His captaincy is innovative and exciting, but his team still loses more than it wins. Perhaps just a little of the freeform jazz could be shed in favour of a decent bassline.
A friend of ours has a cool scar by his eye which is very similar to McCullum’s. He did it by accidentally headbutting a newel post while removing a T-shirt.15 Appeals
Okay, let’s take stock. England can’t bat and Australia can’t bat. Generalising masks specific truths, but this is actually a fair summary of where we stand.
Mo’tchell Johnson has gathered headlines, but England also failed to score off Ryan Harris (forgivable) and shed middle order wickets against Nathan Lyon (probably not forgivable). Peter Siddle did okay too. That pretty much amounts to not batting well in all kinds of different ways. There’s a suggestion they didn’t cope well with the crowd either. There’s a lot to correct.
With the exception of Michael Clarke, Australia just can’t bat. Most of them are capable of scoring runs, but you don’t really need to get them out; you just need to avoid doing anything stupid and eventually they’ll get themselves out.
However, this is easier said than done for England, whose bowling currently looks thinner than Michael Rasmussen. There used to be a fight to be third seamer. Now it’s a fight to evade the position. Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin are taking every opportunity to press for exclusion and so Chris Tremlett might retain his place simply through spurning incompetence.
Then there is the intriguing Graeme Swann subplot, where some sort of diktat has gone out to every Australian that they should take a bat and try and launch him over the top. They want rid. But how committed are they to this? Suicidally committed? It’ll be interesting to see how this one pans out.
If England are to get anything from this series, they need to start batting well in Adelaide – no later. With just a few days’ gap between the second and third Tests, long innings this week will be doubly valuable and a draw in which you’ve done most of the batting could pumice the edge off fast bowlers looking forward to the bounce of the Waca.
Darren Lehmann says that Australia don’t rotate any more and it doesn’t look like England even have the option. The second Test isn’t a must-win game; it’s a must-not-lose game with a view to dulling fast bowlers for the following game through time-consuming attrition.
Put that on a T-shirt.13 Appeals
At least it does if you’re a connoisseur of games which have really bad bugs. We once spent an entire afternoon trying to get a game to reproduce the caption “Docking completercycle”. As such, this looks magic to our eyes.
They should rename it “Stuart Broad v The Netherlands Simulator”.
This video’s our favourite. As well as one of the batsmen overtaking the other, watch out for the ominous umpire. What will happen when he makes contact with the fielder near the stumps? The slow build-up’s everything here.
Writing this kind of a website, there’s an optimum level of seriousness when it comes to bad news. Good news is hard to write about, but so is truly bad news like the current Jonathan Trott thing.
What’s easiest is a good old-fashioned display of incompetence. That gives you something to rant about as well as people to ridicule. It’s only funny to get so het up about sport if everyone fundamentally understands that it’s not really worth getting all that het up about. To some extent, the joke’s always on us.
But with Trott, what do you do? You feel like you should tackle the story because it’s such big news – but at the same time, the self-importance of the sport and its media aren’t in the foreground asking to be mocked.
We’ve done a piece for Cricinfo. It’s not about Jonathan Trott, but it’s linked.13 Appeals
We’ve just read that Australia’s ‘in-your-face approach’ underpinned their first Test win. It’s the kind of thing you hear a lot. Ex-players often plead for the team to be more combative. They say that Australia play their best cricket when they’re aggressive.
But is it that they play better when they’re aggressive, or is it just that they tend to get a bit gobbier when they’re winning?
One’s a cause; the other’s a symptom; and each says something rather different about the players who become more vocal.
As Mitchell Johnson said about the first Test:
“It was pretty quiet the whole match until sort of closer to the end.”
When you’d basically already won, you mean?25 Appeals
Sunday starts for County Championship matches and Twenty20 matches on a Friday night. It ain’t all bad.
The latter could even become ‘a thing’, as detailed here. Shall we try and make it a thing? What should it involve? Perhaps we could try and source beer brewed in the counties playing the televised match each week. Or we could try and prepare a delicacy native to the region – throdkin for Lancashire, balti for Warwickshire and a food closely associated with Northamptonshire’s opposition for Northamptonshire.
We’ve a faint suspicion this is going to turn into one of those posts where you all start listing things in the comments. That’s fine. Knock yourselves out.23 Appeals
Writing in The Times, Mike Atherton has said of the England setup:
“The impression is of a closed, institutionalised and claustrophobic world.”
We’re sure he chose his words carefully. It’s also worth noting that this is a man who felt the strains of international cricket despite only ever considering it a game. He has previously written of his efforts to quash feelings that what he was doing was inherently trivial in a bid to muster more emotion and passion:
“I somehow had to convince myself that what I was doing was the most important thing in the world – that if I failed all manner of plague and pestilence would descend.”
The point is, even a man like Atherton felt the pressure and he now perceives an even more mentally taxing environment for current England players.
It’s not so much that players are managed and mollycoddled and supervised, it’s what David Hopps draws attention to in his article for Cricinfo, that players feel like they are being judged at all times.
Imagine that level of surveillance. The principle behind the Panopticon was that people would behave in the desired manner even when they weren’t being watched, simply because they would feel that they might be being watched. Imagine the pressure of that. Imagine the effect it has on you.
The Panopticon was a design for a prison, by the way.
Hopps uses a quote from a nameless England player who says that it can feel like you are constantly being assessed when you’re within the England setup. We have no idea who that player was, but it instantly brought to mind the strange case of Nick Compton, who said after he had been discarded that he didn’t feel that the management really knew him.
More than anything, Compton appears to have been rejected on the basis of his character and while much of the incriminating detail will have been culled from the skittish innings in his final match, you wonder how much was gleaned while watching him away from the middle. Maybe the selectors got that one right, but if other players watching on deduced how the decision was reached, what was the cost?6 Appeals
For all that we’re meant to be enlightened, modern folk who are au fait with mental health issues, there’s an odd reluctance to enter into specifics when someone is suffering ‘a stress-related illness’.
Physical v mental
In a sense, medical problems are nobody’s business but the sportsman in question. It seems invasive when we learn of Shoaib Akhtar’s genital warts or the problems Tom Boonen’s been having with his barse. But yet we’ll hear all the details about a hamstring strain or knee problem. We’ll hear too many details. We’ll hear medical jargon most of us are ill-equipped to comprehend.
But with stress, we don’t get a clear picture. Apparently that would be prying in a way in which providing the details about a physical injury would not. That’s probably correct, but as readers we’ve become conditioned to expect detail. The absence breeds conjecture.
‘Stress-related illness’ is a vague slice of the depression spectrum. There’s mild anxiety at one end and suicide at the other. There are many different symptoms – such as pessimism, destructive thought patterns, persistent elevated heart rate, insomnia and self-harm – and different people will experience different combinations to different degrees.
Everything we experience goes through the brain. When that’s fucked, you can’t shrug it off. It’s all-consuming; a muddied bottleneck which soils everything that passes through it. This is why modern society is increasingly sympathetic to sportsmen who are struggling – because more and more people understand, or, unfortunately, have experience of depression.
So why so few details?
A sportsman’s personal identity and sense of self worth are invariably closely linked to performance. For a batsman, that is something intrinsically fickle and fragile. Most of us therefore understand that depression is a very real occupational hazard. Why then is the information provided to the press so vague?
Perhaps mental fragility is considered a professional weakness and therefore somehow ‘off limits’ to the press, but Michael Clarke’s bad back is a professional weakness to which endless column inches have been devoted in recent months. What’s the difference?
Is it that detailing the problem might pile extra pressure on the player who is suffering? A counter argument would be that getting things out in the open has been shown to lighten the mental load for a number of people in a similar position. Men are particularly prone to crippling themselves with their attempts to conceal their struggles and no men attempt to be men’s men like sportsmen.
You’d hope we aren’t seeing an aspect of the kind of institutional warrior culture so spectacularly eviscerated by Brian Phillips writing about the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal, but you suspect we might be.
So what of Jonathan Trott?
Is it related to his struggles in the first Test? Probably to a degree, because as we said above, personal identity is likely to be entwined with professional performance. However, it will certainly have been something that’s been slowly building rather than a direct response. In that sense, his second innings at the Gabba could be seen as a symptom, rather than a cause.
Inevitably, there will be talk of weakness. Invariably, it will be from people who aren’t worth listening to. Some Australians have a propensity to stereotype their compatriots as mentally tough, physically tough hardcases and a corollary of this is that they see the English as mentally flimsy big girl’s blouses. They will take Trott’s departure as vindication of their prejudices.
However, they might like to ponder something first. The man they perceive to have crushed Jonathan Trott is Mitchell Johnson. Johnson sought counselling as a result of the baiting he has received at the hands of a large number of England fans. He isn’t the first Aussie quick to show mental fragility either. Shaun Tait has been open about experiencing bouts of depression. It can happen to anyone – although it’s pretty obvious that it’s more likely to happen to cricketers.45 Appeals
Today’s grim moment of clarity came courtesy of Mark Butcher midway through the highlights which show immediately after the day’s play. “Michael Clarke made good decisions throughout this match,” he said.
Note ‘made’ not ‘has made’. Australia had won then? The rest of the highlights were a joy, particularly when they told us about long rain delays which constricted the time in which England had to lose all of their remaining wickets.
It’s hard to pinpoint what went wrong in this match. However, that’s only because a pin is an entirely inappropriate tool for the job. What you instead need is a nine-inch paint roller with which to daub a great big cross.
England batted like idiots. The bowlers did a great, if not flawless, job in the first innings and actually performed creditably in the second innings given that the pitch was true and they’d only had about nine minutes’ break since bowling in the first innings. The batsmen, however, failed twice.
Yesterday, we identified Jonathan Trott’s dismissal as being among the worst of recent times. Today, we’d like to nominate Matt Prior’s. It probably wasn’t as bad as Trott’s, in all honesty, but playing at a ball you needn’t play at when it is only likely to go to one of two fielders positioned behind you on the leg-side? That would be pretty stupid even if you didn’t get out doing exactly the same thing off the only ball you faced in the first innings – a dismissal which itself happened one ball after another batsman had been dismissed in identical fashion.
Towards the end of the match, a stump microphone picked up Michael Clarke saying to Jimmy Anderson:
“Get ready for a fucking broken arm.”
Clarke later described it as ‘banter’ which is further proof that you would never want to spend time with anyone who ever uses that word.
Not that we’re necessarily getting on our high horse about the comment itself. Say what you like. We actually think it might work. Jimmy fights a perpetual battle to keep the rage that fuels him from devouring the control which allows him to do his job. There may well come a point at which he hates Clarke so much, he’ll lose control. That’s fine for a fast bowler, but control is basically Jimmy’s weapon.27 Appeals