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Steve Smith woefully out of form in the nets

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

That’s what we’ve heard. We’ve heard that Steve Smith can’t find the middle of the bat when he’s batting in the nets.

Smith may or may not have commented: “I’ve been hitting it really well out in the middle, so I don’t think I’m out of form. If I can just keep on performing well, sooner or later it’s all going to come together and I’ll get some decent results in my preparation as well.

“The coaches say they can’t see too much right with my technique, so it’s the same as it’s always been. I think if I can just stay patient then a good solid net session is right around the corner.”

Conversely, when it comes to Tests, Steve Smith is most definitely not due.

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David Warner is totally bossing net cricket

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

David Warner says: “I couldn’t be hitting the ball any better but it’s just that the runs aren’t coming for me at the moment.”

In this week’s Cricket Badger, we point out that this runs counter to Temba Bavuma’s matter-of-fact observation that, “you can’t be playing well and not scoring runs.”

Warner is, presumably, crisply striking the ball straight to slip. In the next couple of days, he’ll get the opportunity to prove his ability to hit it elsewhere.

If there’s one kind of form we love above all others, it’s net form. A batsman’s professional life is bound up with events that are out of his control to a far greater extent than he’d ever care to accept. This leads to a necessary level of self-delusion that is far higher than a rational person would maintain and at no time is this delusion more apparent than when net form is cited.

The next development for Warner will either be:

  1. Scoring some runs – ‘proof’ that he was always in form
  2. Another failure, which he’ll chalk up as the latest in a lengthening list of aberrations

If you’re a batsman, run-scoring is the norm – because if it isn’t, what the hell are you doing with your life?

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Everyone’s going mental about Hampshire’s Mason Crane

Despite his name, Mason Crane is not some kind of specialist stoneworking construction vehicle. No, HE IS A DESTRUCTION… person.

Crane is a 20-year-old leg-spinner who boasts the customary English leg-spinner’s first-class bowling average of 39. Things have changed over the winter though and from now on you’re going to start noticing everyone going mental about him.

This post gives you the opportunity to get in early. Forewarned, you can be ahead of the game and deploy your jaded cynicism from the outset.

Crane went to Australia this winter and hung out with Stuart MacGill. He played grade cricket, took three seven-wicket hauls on the bounce and was picked by New South Wales. He took 2-50 and 3-66 for them.

After that, he headed to the UAE for the North v South series. In the third match, he ripped out the North’s three, four, five and six in a spell of 4-1, which you can see highlights of here.

Pitches vary, but the drift hints that he is – in standard cricket parlance – giving it a rip, which can only be a good thing.

Having hopped straight over the bandwagon, our current position is that leg-spinners are never really fit for purpose at the age of 20, but Crane appears to have made rapid progress over the winter and we’re keen to see him do well this coming season.

We may remount the bandwagon at some point further down the line, so we’re just going to leave today’s article behind as a marker to prove that we’ve already been aboard.

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Steve Smith’s shonky technique keeps him hiding in plain sight

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

The notion of a ‘best batsman in the world’ is stupid. You rate them based on what’s already happened and it counts for nothing the next time they’re pitched into competitive cricket. Cricket is not a prolonged personal odyssey, it’s a series of matches between teams. A high ranking gives you some idea who to look out for, but it is not an end in itself.

The buffer

In December, Steve Smith scored a hundred and we said that everyone would instantly forget the situation the day before and now proclaim him clearly the best batsman in the world.

Our point was that Smith, Virat Kohli, Joe Root and Kane Williamson were all performing at a similar level and ‘the best batsman in the world’ was generally whoever had been batting most recently.

Well, according to the latest rankings, Smith’s opened up a gap. Like so many foods, rankings are best served heavily salted – but they can be informative. According to these ones, not only can Smith afford a couple of failures and still be ahead of his contemporary rivals, his current score is also behind only four other batsmen ever.

Smith is on 941, looking up to the peak scores of Don Bradman (961), Len Hutton (945), Jack Hobbs (942) and Ricky Ponting (also 942 – has anyone checked the decimals?).

Viv Richards and Garry Sobers peaked at 938; Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers never topped 935; and Brian Lara never got above 911.

What does this tell us?

Steve Smith is not better than all of the above. What this tells us that he’s been playing well for long enough to earn himself entry into the kinds of mind-crushingly tedious putting-players-in-order conversations that the comments sections of cricket websites occasionally descend into.

That, in itself, is a notable achievement. It’s also further fuel for our argument that batsmen with hideous techniques are fundamentally better bets than stylish ones. Not only do the shonkier-looking have to do more to win people over, their textbook rivals may also have little room for technical improvement.

In short, succeed with a dog shit method and you’ve probably got a half decent eye.

Myopic hindsight

Smith’s technique is very much his own. Back in 2013, we floated the possibility that this could be misleading, but it was still impossible to foresee what was to come.

In many ways it remains hard to see – even when sporting the night vision goggles of hindsight. The numbers are there (he averages 60.98), but can you honestly say that you don’t still think to yourself: “Ah, things’ll sort themselves out eventually. Give it time.”

What if things don’t sort themselves out? What if Steve Smith is the best batsman in the world?

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Mop-up of the day – the batsmen in and out of form

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Australia drew with India, but let’s not focus on how admirably they’re performing. Who the hell wants to read about that? Let’s instead concentrate on tangentia.

David Warner has said that “it will turn around” for him with regards to his recent poor form. We agree. If he keeps being disciplined and preparing assiduously, pretty soon he’ll find himself playing in Australia again and everything’ll be fine.

Virat Kohli has called Cheteshwar Pujara “priceless” and “the most composed player we have in the team.” What he didn’t call him was India’s best batsman.

Elsewhere, the ECB seemingly have plans to play World Cup matches at the imaginatively named London Stadium, which was built for the 2012 Olympics. While there’s a certain jaded “seriously?” quality to this news in light of their having encouraged counties to invest heavily in their grounds for the last however many years, it’s equally true that it would be great to have 60,000 people attending a cricket match in Britain.

Finally, take a look at our latest Cricinfo Twitter round-up, in which we flirt with the sack by devoting around half of the column to Charles Dagnall’s attempt to repair a brick shed. The critics have been calling it nothing at all because hardly anyone’s felt moved to read it.

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Steve Smith’s brain fades still further, Bangladesh do the reverse

Bangladesh have won nine Tests and we make this their second win.

The convention is to remove matches in which Bangladesh feature from all Test statistics. This seems unduly harsh at the best of times, but it seems even more so when it’s them who you’re measuring.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of omission, we’ve stripped away all of their Test victories that might be disregarded for one reason or another and we’ve been left with their win over England last October and this one against Sri Lanka. Truly, it is Bangladesh’s Golden Era.

For the record, the Tigers’ other seven wins comprise five against Zimbabwe and two against one of those stand-in West Indies teams, which on this occasion featured luminaries such as Omar Phillips and David Bernard.

Meanwhile, over in Ranchi…

Steve Smith has suffered another horrendous brain fade, leading to grave concerns about his long-term mental health. Smith calmly held his bat out of the way of a ball pitching outside leg, only for it to hit his off stump.

If this brain fadery continues at its current rate, it will be but weeks before he’s entirely forgotten how to execute his magnificent double-elbowed chicken dance bowling action. As this is the only aspect of Steve Smith’s cricket in which we take any pleasure, we’d be keen for him to seek psychiatric treatment post-haste.

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The South hit the North and the great flattener

Hit the North cover

One of the few things that people agree upon about the lyrics of The Fall’s Hit the North is that one of the first lines is “my cat says eeeeee-ack”.

So what can we agree upon about the South’s hitting of the North’s bowlers today? That it was more successful than the North’s hitting of the South’s bowlers, we suppose.

As for the relative northern- and southernness of these supposedly representative sides, we remain unimpressed. The birthplaces of the North’s batsmen – Hong Kong, Kent, Transvaal, Cumbria, Shrewsbury, Bristol – don’t hint that too many of them would pass our patented ‘butter-bath’ test.

Because what is the supposed North-South divide about, if not monophthongs?

Elsewhere, SHAKIB AL HASAN earned himself a bit of impulsive upper case usage after making a hundred and giving Bangladesh a first innings lead over Sri Lanka. He’s one to watch. Mark our words.

New Zealand and South Africa are also Testing each other. Looking at the scores so far, we’re hoping the pitch is hinting that it might be the kind of flattener on which Nathan Astle did his thing. You never know.

 

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Remember what Test cricket in India used to be like?

Big innings, bigger innings, small innings, smaller innings. That used to the be the sequence for a Test match taking place in India. Declarations happened a lot.

Australia just made 451 and it seems a good score, but it wasn’t so long ago you’d be thinking that a team had been skittled if it had only made 451. These sorts of matches still happen, of course. England made over 400 in the first innings of the fourth and fifth Tests last year and lost both by an innings.

Surveying the third Test between India and Australia, it seems like a reversion to the archetype. But how can we be sure? Those old Magic Eye pictures never revealed themselves when you tried to will them to. You just had to chill out and wait and hope that your Zen-like staring-into-the-middle-distance state would do the job before you.

So we’re going with that. We’re adopting a Zen-like, coffee-drinking, reading other news, maybe popping out for a couple of pints later and possibly buying some fried chicken state. All will become clear.

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Video: Steve Smith tries to counter Wriddiham Saha’s ball-delving

Day one of the third Test between India and Australia. Glenn Maxwell played cricket and made runs, Steve Smith uglied yet another hundred and Wriddiham Saha went snuffling around in the Australian captain’s crotch in an attempt to pluck out a ball.

Here’s a video.

Got to admire his persistence.

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I Don’t Like Cricket, I Hate It – the North v South edition

A semi-regular feature in which we ask Prince Prefab about cricket – even though he hates cricket. We are in bold. Prince Prefab is not.

Anything you want to know about this week’s North v South cricket matches?

Is this real? Is it really North versus South? Are they trying to drum up interest in this manner?

Absolutely real. I don’t know about interest up-drumming being the primary aim. It’s a kind of pre-season taking-a-look-at-people thing mostly, but I think they’re maybe hoping it’ll become “a thing” too.

Balls to that. I know this is barely related but I hate the whole north/south thing. Northerners are hard and friendly salt of the earth folk, southerners are soft and unfriendly. I’m a northerner and I know loads of soft and unfriendly bastards up here.

And, in a country where you can basically walk from the top to the bottom of it in an afternoon or so, we are supposed to believe that there are different characteristics between the people who live about half an hour apart. Balls, balls, balls. Dog balls, cat balls, lion balls. Balls.

Yeah, if a southerner told you that Lancashire and the North had nothing going for them compared to the South, you’d just shrug it off, wouldn’t you?

They’re just being a colossal ball bag. But the fact they are being a colossal ball bag has nothing to do with the fact that they’re a southerner.

Even when they’re saying the New Forest pisses all over the Forest of Bowland, say?

Well, if they’re referring to pure ‘woodage’ they’d be spot on. The Forest of Bowland has relatively few trees, the ‘forest’ in its name, being used in its traditional sense meaning ‘royal hunting ground’. If they mean the New Forest is just generally better than they are, of course, talking balls.

Let’s steer this back towards another kind of balls. Would we be right in saying that you are unlikely to be won over to the sport by a North v South match played in the United Arab Emirates then?

That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard. I’d rather go on a stag do in Blackpool than watch that.

What about a stag do in Margate?

At this point Prince Prefab sent us a surprisingly long, detailed and sweary work of fiction focusing on the bitter personal rivalry between Terry Bardane and Tony Abercrombie, two competitors at the Blackpool and Fylde Annual Veteran’s Pole Vault Championship at Stanley Park. The story climaxes with one of the crowd being impaled by a pole after describing this website as ‘shit’. We deduced from this response that our North v South discussion had probably run its course.

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