Archive | September 2012

LOSers may be winners at the World T20

Brian McKechnie is an unlikely trailblazer. But he merits a nod of acknowledgement from George Bailey, Lasith Malinga, Keiron Pollard and others competing in the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka.

McKechnie was part of the New Zealand Prudential World Cup squad in 1975 that reached the semi-final. He played all four matches, took four wickets and conceded 3.7 runs per over – more economical than Lillee, Sarfraz and Lance Gibbs.

What makes him a trailblazer? McKechnie played 14 ODIs and not a single Test match. He was one of only three players from the Test playing nations at the inaugural World Cup who never played Test cricket – and the only one of the three with an international career that extended much beyond that tournament.

McKechnie was international cricket’s first limited over specialist. Intriguingly, when looked at more broadly, he was anything but a specialist: a dual international with nine caps for the All Blacks.

At least a dozen cricketers selected for the World Twenty20 are limited overs – or even T20 – specialists. Some have played Test cricket, and a few may go on to do so. But their shared characteristic is that they are not currently considered for Test selection, but come to the fore for their nations when the game involves white balls, coloured clothing and roaring crowds. Limited overs specialists (LOSers) take a number of forms.

McKechnie exemplified one of the original LOSer forms: the bits and pieces cricketer. For England, this became an obsession: the ‘find another Botham’ syndrome that affected selection for all forms of the game for two decades.

Luke Wright – batting, bowling and fielding

Eventually, it became apparent that someone who was half the bowler and half the batsman of the great all-rounder was only one-quarter the cricketer (yet, twice the commentator). However, finer specimens that prolonged its existence have been Yousuf Pathan, James Hopes, Chris Harris, Paul Collingwood and Tom Moody (long after his Test career was toast). Look out at the World T20 for bits and pieces of Albie Morkel, Keiron Pollard, Shahid Afridi and Luke Wright.

LOSer number two, dating back almost as far as the bits and pieces man, is the high-tempo batsman. Again Australia, perhaps because of its depth of talent, provides the models: Stuart Law (1 Test, 54 ODIs) and the man in most people’s all-time ODI XI: Michael Bevan (18 Tests, 232 ODIs). The high-tempo batsman has the virtues of hard-hitting, swift running and a relish of the sharp-end of a run-chase or rapid start to the innings. A vulnerability to the short ball or to the tight off-stump line in Test cricket can keep these players in the LOSer category. Imran Nazir, Richard Levi and Faf Du Plessis carry the torch for high tempo LOSers in World T20 2012.

Outside of the Asian Sub-Continent, fast and medium pace bowling had been crowding spin out of international limited overs cricket. The Warne revolution (many revs per minute) brought the top-class, cross-format spinner back to the fray. Teams lacking such an exponent, squeezed useful overs out of

Robin Pietersen

batsmen acting as part-time spinners. But a wiley twirler (sometimes nearly flightless) LOSer also found a niche. Richard Illingworth frustrated fans and batsmen in equal measure propelling darts at pads. T20 negates any such predictable tactics. The wiley twirlers in action at World T20 are matadors, flighting deliveries at 55mph towards charging, willow-wielding bulls. The wiley twirler LOSers benefit from experience and a philosophical reaction to be being belted around the park. Brad Hogg, Johan Botha and Robin Peterson fit the bill.

The most recent type of LOSer to emerge stretches my definition a little. Rather than them not being considered for Test cricket, they have removed themselves from consideration. The brittle quicks are no longer up to five days of cricket but will put their body on the line for four, even ten overs, every few days. Without the need to hold something back for the second

The slinger – fast and fragile

new ball, Shaun Tait, Brett Lee and Lasith Malinga bring extreme pace at a full length to the sport. Sadly, only Malinga of these exclusive LOSers has made it to World T20 2012.

Finally, limited overs cricket doesn’t just place unusual physical demands on players, but mental demands, too. Only rarely has that been recognised with a LOSer skipper. Adam Hollioake led England from 1997-98. George Bailey directs the Australian T20 team in 2012.

Keep an eye on the LOSers in Sri Lanka, some may turn out to be winners.

Note: this article appeared first on The Alternative Cricket Almanac, under the title ‘I’m a Loser, Baby: the Advent of the Short-Form Specialist.’

Cricket, a great summer of sport and an unlikely saviour?

It has been a great summer of British sport. The lists of achievements and highlights being drawn up and circulated do not feature cricket. That’s not just because of the 140 character limit of twitter. It is a frank assessment of the contribution of Britain’s national summer sport to this ‘once in a lifetime’ season.

Cricket was always going to find 2012 a difficult summer to command attention. A home Olympics has pulling power like nothing else. Euro 2012, although lacking the breathless and reason-less fervour for the England team of most recent tournaments, was guaranteed dedicated and comprehensive coverage on terrestrial television. Less predictable, but always a possibility, was that tennis would have a British Wimbledon finalist and at the end of the summer a Grand Slam Champion. Many fewer people would have anticipated, than the number who enjoyed, a British winner of the Tour de France.

And then there was the weather. The Met Office provides a pithy review of the summer’s weather the wettest since 1912 and second dullest on record. Players shuttled on and off the field regularly and had whole days confined to the dressing room: three days of the 3rd Test v West Indies at Edgbaston; three of 13 ODIs washed out – with two more decided on Duckworth-Lewis calculations.

External factors meant English cricket would struggle in its market this year. But what about its own contribution to its plight. Cricket, perhaps any sport, thrives as a spectacle in any of the following circumstances: when the host team is successful, the quality of play is high, there are charismatic participants, competition is tight, the contest has relevance.

The English international cricketing summer fell short of providing that mix, in avoidable ways:

  • The timing of England’s early summer series meant their opponents could not field their strongest Test team because players had contracts to play elsewhere. Those stars arrived for the short-form series and England’s marquee player stepped aside.
  • In the mid-summer, the traditional foe were flown in, out-of-season for a non-traditional contest clinging to the context of the 140 year rivalry.
  • At the end of the summer, England’s most anticipated rivals came for a three test series before moving hastily into an ODI match-up, at a time when minds were already turning to the World T20. So they rested three of their stars, a move followed by England who had already contrived to play the third test without their biggest name.

Across 23 international fixtures, including 17 limited overs matches, there wasn’t a single tight finish.

The weakness of the on-field narratives from this summer is shown in the stories that cricket obsessed with: the dropping a top player from a test match to preserve his fitness for ODI cricket; the retention, or not, of the status as number 1 ranked team, based upon a statistical construct; whether a player who has created (or been the victim of) dressing room divisions would or should be allowed to play for England again.

Despite all this, I wouldn’t be surprised if the bean-counters announce that this was the most remunerative non-Ashes season. English international cricket seems to have a very solid customer-base. More days of Test, ODI and T20 cricket could have been scheduled and have had tickets in high demand. That customer-base may be solid, but it is narrow. I estimate that the 48 days of international cricket were attended by around the same number of people that turn up for two weeks-worth of premier league football.

I went to 2.5 days of Test cricket, none of which was particularly memorable. I will be back next year and so will most of those who bought tickets this year. But what about five years time? Not many kids will be nagging their parents to take them to watch cricket because of what they saw last summer, but I bet tickets for Wimbledon and top athletics meetings have become a good deal more difficult to obtain.

Cricket lost market share in 2012. There appears to be no will to address the international schedule – the avoidable part of this summer’s problems. But here’s a thought. The UK TV rights for the Indian Premier League are only under contract until 2014. What might happen if Sky Sports were to obtain those rights from 2015? Would it want to broadcast two events that overlapped and depleted each other? Would Sky persuade the ECB to delay the start of the international season until June to prevent a clash? Would that free the best players to participate in international cricket during the English summer and resolve current and looming disputes between the ECB and England’s most sought after players?

Steven Spielberg presents… ICC World Twenty20

I have never watched a Steven Spielberg movie. Certainly, I have seen excerpts, the plastic fin in Jaws, ET advertising BT. I know Spielberg’s oeuvre is there. I’m aware when he adds to it. But I have never felt the need to immerse myself in it. I have found that any conversation about one of his movies can be very effectively halted by pointing out what I’ve just explained: my not watching his films seems to trump, conversationally, the films themselves.

For Spielberg in cricket, read T20. I have never watched a professional T20 game from start to finish – domestic or international, in the flesh or on screen (although, I did see 21 overs of an Eleven11 contest last week). Recently, however, I’ve found the self-disclosure isn’t as effective socially – people don’t care if I haven’t watched it, and navigate around my conversational ice-berg (I’ve not seen Titanic either… not that Spielberg directed it) with references to the dynamic fielding, awesome striking, etc. Moreover, the cricket I do love now seems to have some reliance upon T20 in a way that US indie films never had a financial or artistic debt to Spielberg.

I have some catching up to do. As part of my preparation for the T20 WC, I have been researching some of the features that make T20 a unique cricket format. This is what I have discovered:

The name: we all know that T20 is the creation of marketeers, but did you know that it was initiated by a firm of opticians keen to shift its reputation for providing products for bookish, sedentary types? The plan was for a multi-sport campaign, but a poor choice of pilot – boxing – led to its abandonment and the company remains mired in legal action after its hard wear frames couldn’t withstand a super flyweight’s jab. That left the coast clear for cricket.

Those rankings: Australia are placed 10th in the ICC’s T20 rankings. Rather than probe the calculations behind the rankings, I’d suggest supporters of Australia’s adversaries screen print and keep for posterity the page on the ICC website. England fans can tuck the sheet alongside the famous photo of the Munich scoreboard from the 2001 Football World Cup qualifier:

They should also remember that Germany were finalists one year later and England lost in the quarter-finals.

Music and dancing girls: this is an innovation insisted upon by cricket tradionalists. The aim is, immediately a wicket falls, to divert attention from the ugly, sub-baseball swipe that occasions a high proportion of T20 dismissals. In a charming, artistic way, it succeeds.

Slower-ball bouncers: the cricket equivalent of plastic. Invented through a combination of clumsiness and inquisitiveness, it has been lifted from the laboratory waste pipe to become an essential part of modern bowling. Some of these deliveries are so slow that the dancing girls are up and jiving before the batsman’s sucker punch dismissal is complete.

Change-up: fancy name for the medium pace stock ball delivered after serving up a meze of slow-ball bouncers, scrambled seam Yorkers and filthy full-tosses.

The scoop: a triumph of capitalism. T20 was quickly saturated with commercial messages. Advertisers looking for more ad space were forced to think outside of the box – but when that idea was shelved as too risqué for any of cricket’s traditional markets – other niche areas of the player’s kit were colonised. The under-side of the toe of the bat came under scrutiny. All that was needed was a shot that would expose it as a medium to the masses. Enter the scoop.

My slow adoption of cricket’s fastest growing format may have you label me a dinosaur – fine, just don’t make me watch Jurassic Park.

Bomb alert!

The 2005 Ashes Test at Lord’s took place in a city jittery from a recent terrorist attack. Entering the ground, after the usual bag check, each spectator stood as a scarecrow to be frisked. On the first afternoon, whispers swirled around the crowd of terrorist and anti-terrorist activity taking place elsewhere in London while we watched the game. I pondered how exposed we were. I weighed up my family commitments, this opportunity to see England compete toe-to-toe with Australia and the apparent level of risk, and stayed put.

Thirty-two years earlier and Lord’s itself had been the target of a bomb alert. At around 2.45pm on the Saturday of the Test against the West Indies the MCC Secretary announced over the public address system that a warning of a bomb planted at Lord’s had been received and the ground was to be evacuated. The players headed for the Pavilion and then onto their hotel (West Indies) and the Nursery Ground (England). The larger portion of the 28,000 crowd spilled out into the streets of St John’s Wood. The smaller, but more prominent portion headed for the playing area, where they milled about while the police completed a search of the ground before giving the all-clear. In the centre of it all, showing early his talent for self-promotion, Dickie Bird sat on the covers that protected the pitch.

The bomb threat at Lord’s had been a hoax, but taken seriously because of the very real terrorism campaign of the IRA. Elsewhere, cricketers and cricket grounds have been less fortunate. Attacks have taken place in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Cricket has endured bomb threats and bombing of its stadia. The presence of a real bomb on a cricket field is, probably, even rarer. On work business this week, I was visiting some properties with a colleague. Len has worked in the business for nearly forty years acquiring a matchless store of experience of inner city housing. As we walked around the scheme, checking the condition of the property, Len told me about the renovations that had been made over the years to prevent water damage or discourage groups of teens gathering.

As we reached a row of garages below maisonettes, Len began the tale. It started with a community consultation event where a resident asked for someone to check out some problems with his garage. Len went to assess the problems. In the rear of the garage, straining to see evidence of structural weakness, he saw an intact shell. He called the police, who came quickly and provided a surprisingly precise diagnosis: an unexploded Iranian bomb. The bomb squad was summoned.

The officers suggested that the whole scheme should be evacuated. Len, unlike the MCC, demurred: the residents were upset enough by the upheaval to their homes caused by the renovation works that any more inconvenience would be very unpopular. Why this argument convinced the policeman wasn’t explained. But then things got even crazier. While one officer went to the entrance to the scheme to await the bomb squad, Len and the second officer decided that they should take the safety of the residents into their own hands. The bomb needed to be away from homes and people, somewhere in the open where it wouldn’t harm anyone if it blew. Next to the scheme was a wide, flat field that exactly met their needs.

The two men lifted the shell, carried it out of the garage, across a road, over a fence, over a boundary rope, across the outfield and onto the square of the local cricket ground, where they lay it down. For a few seconds, all they could hear was their beating hearts, and then shouting, “You, get off there. What’s that?” The groundsman bore down on them. They answered his question. “A bomb.” “A bomb,” he replied. “There’s a match here tonight. There will be hell to pay if it goes off.”

The bomb squad came, removed the ordnance, and the groundsman’s worst fears, a postponed match and a crater on his ground, were avoided.