Duke balls, five-day pitches and the final Test of the summer

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Mike Selvey has written a nice piece about balls. The word ‘caresser’ is used at one point.

He is, of course, writing about Dukes balls, the cricket ball used in England which swings for way longer than the crappy, inferior Kookaburra ball. It has a bigger seam too. It’s a bowler’s ball; a good ball.

The headline of Selvey’s piece refers to Stevie Wonder’s classic track, Sir Duke, which means that for the rest of the day, we will be humming that song while imagining that we are on a train in Sri Lanka. The reason for this is that when we were in that country, many years ago, train announcements were heralded by four escalating notes comprising a major chord. In other words, the first four notes of Sir Duke, played at exactly the same tempo, only they were left hanging there, incomplete, demanding to be continued by the human brain. It was an oddly punishing psychological experience.

In many ways, swing and seam have been the story of the summer. England’s bowlers’ familiarity with these arts seemingly matched by Australian batsmen’s unfamiliarity with the effects. But will we get more of the same at The Oval? Balls are of course only one part of an equation that may also hinge on the weather and pitch.

Anyone who’s visited this country for more than half-an-hour-or-so knows that British skies are a law unto themselves. Pitches, however, are a little more controllable – even if they are to some degree influenced by what’s above them. We’ve mostly had green seamers – good pitches – so far, but that could change. With the series secure, is there a thirst for more of the same or will the yearning for a five-day Test outweigh that?

Five day Tests are not England’s friend. The flatter the pitch and the less challenging it is to bat, the closer we are to Australian conditions. As well as all the great players they produced, a worldwide trend towards true, even surfaces partly helped shunt Australia to their position of dominance for all that time through the Nineties and onwards. Quite simply, Test cricket became more Australian. Things seem to be going the other way now and we’d rather like to see that continue at The Oval, even if it means the final Test only lasts a day and a half.


Mike Gatting wasn't receiving the King Cricket email when he dropped that ludicrously easy chance against India in 1993.


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    1. That article is ace. Quote:

      “Retiring opener Chris Rogers suggested what England is doing is against the spirit of fair competition.”

      What Rogers actually said:

      “It’s difficult. You only have to look at the past two Ashes series and the complete difference in the England wickets that have been prepared — and that is their prerogative,” said Rogers, “England can do whatever they want and we can do whatever we want, but that’s the way it’s going to go. You’re going to tailor the conditions to help your side. It’s up to the other sides to adapt and get better.”

    2. I think the concern is that England winning a match is against the spirit of cricket, which is a rhetorical position that carries a lot of weight. I mean, how many of us can honestly say we started following this sport just to watch England succeed?

    3. Is that for real or is it intended as satire? Apparently the Australia are the only nation willing to prepare “fair” wickets?!

  1. I can report that the opening horn riff of Sir Duke sounds less than special on my baritone ukulele.

    I shall revert to trying to master Sylvia’s Mother.

    1. Too busy to come to the phone.

      You’re spot on there Bert. How did you know?

      Your not THAT fella down Galveston way by any chance, are you?

  2. It’s a gloomy, dank day in London Town.

    English cricket officials have not only done the most incredibly unsporting thing; producing English-style wickets and specifying English-style cricket balls in England, they have also determined some English-style weather for today at least; possibly for the whole of the match.

    Of course, if Australia play better than England they might win in these English conditions, as indeed was the case in 2001, 1997, 1993 and even in 1989 (when the Aussies brought “the worst side ever to tour England” but still won the series 4-0). But it does seem ridiculously unfair that the English authorities are able to control so much; especially the weather.

    1. Gold. Pure gold. The very first word is grammatically wrong, and the meaning gets worse from there.

      Are editors doing for the lulz, putting a big stet on the copy to stop the subs correcting it?

  3. “four escalating notes comprising a major chord”

    Are there four notes in a major chord? At school I was told there were only three in major chords – have I been labouring under a misapprehension all these years? Or was it perhaps a the major 7th/tetrad?

    1. Indeed:

      Thinking about it, lots of announcement prelude jingles all around the world use this chord.

      It is the slightly syncopated rhythm of the Sir Duke riff (and indeed the Sri Lankan Railways jingle) that makes that riff unmistakably Stevie Wonder’s tune.

      From a DJ’s point of view, Sir Duke was a very deceptive record. You could get most people on their feet with it, as pretty much everyone knew it and most people loved the intro. But the record is extremely difficult to sing along with and even harder to dance with.

    2. Thanks for the clarification chaps, I can now get on with my life (by which I mean, trying to fit in some work around checking the cricket score for the rest of the day).

    3. Indeed, it won’t be a productive one, especially if it looks like we’re making swift progress towards the covered 4-1 “not-quite-wash”.

    4. What’s less than a whitewash? A 30 degree ‘fastwash’? Or is that more of a 1-0 in a two-Test series sort of thing, being as it doesn’t really accomplish anything?

    5. You’d never say Eb/Gb in a B-major chord. You’d say D#/F#. the sort of tiny point that only matters to musicians.

    6. …as opposed to an ungifted amateur baritone ukulele player who has written down all of the notes in the sequence of his measly four strings using the flats rather than the sharps.

      In any case, the guitar tabs tend to go by numbers rather than notes, so that four note riff, massively simplified, looks like this:

      D 9
      G 8
      B 7
      e 7

      As you say, Balladeer, not a musician.

  4. On a note of dischord, my auto e-mail re this article arrived at 10.05am today despite being posted at 9:41am PDT yesterday – hence (given the 8 hour time difference) this is bowled at 17:41 yesterday.

    I can see the first appeal to this article appearing before close of play yesterday. KC, why the additional 16 hour+ delay before coming through to my e-mail account?

    On my gheetar, I use 6 notes to form E and G major. More is louder!


    1. Bit baffled by the different time zones in that, but the email’s supposed to go out at roughly the same time each day, including everything from the preceding 24 hours (usually just one post).

  5. 19 runs in an hour. Wow. It looks like we’re in for the long haul here, folks – a classic, five-day test to keep the $urr€y coffers chock-full. Australia will eventually declare their first innings sometime around tea on Monday…

    1. These Aussie openers have heard of hitting fours and sixes but thought ‘why risk it?’ etc.

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