Cricket images – two confounding conventions

Cricket images – convention no.1

Try this yourself.

Type the name of your favourite current bowler, followed by the word ‘bowler’ into the google image search panel. Or, select a recent Test match on cricinfo, click the ‘photos’ tab and check the images of bowlers.

The result, more often than not, is that the majority of the ‘action’ images are of the bowler celebrating a wicket or making an appeal. Arms high, delight written across the face; or dishing out high-fives to converging team mates; or screaming at the umpire for a favourable decision. They are emotional shots. But they are not cricket action.

One of the most individually distinctive sights and a feature of the sport is the bowler’s action. The bound, the wind-up and release are phases of the delivery, which even if shown in silhouette would disclose the subject to a keen follower. Even the run-up allows the bowler no anonymity.

Why are these essentials of bowling not the bulk of the images published? I don’t believe it is because still photography cannot convey movement. On the contrary, it can do so. I suspect the answer is context. A photo of, say Jimmy Anderson in isolation bowling in an England shirt, is much the same match after match. His face, even in close-up, won’t have registered a reaction, but be the same whether he is releasing a ball to clip the off-bail, take an edge through the slips or get crashed to the boundary. The appeal and celebration can however be attached to a significant incident of the day, however distinct from the dismissal, drop or denied appeal the image is.

Pictures that capture both the bowler and the act of dismissal occur, but are rare. This may simply be the technical difficulty of maintaining a sharply focused image of two objects almost 20 metres apart.

These are sensible reasons for the public record of the game comprising image after image of bowlers celebrating. But those pictures’ distance from the real action of cricket feels to me analogous to written cricket coverage that majors on what was said about the game in the interview room, not what actually went on.

Now a quibble with the moving, not static, image of the game.

Cricket images – convention no.2

Television coverage marks milestones in the game by showing highlights of the progress towards the mark being celebrated – an individual half-century; a hundred partnership, etc. There’s an aspect of the condensing of the action that is unsatisfactory for me. I have found I cannot really enjoy the strokes a batsman plays unless I see the ball all the way from bat to boundary.

A montage of cuts, drives, glances and pulls sells me short unless I see the ball bounding, speeding, soaring or spinning past the fielder and to the rope. The batsman’s footwork, balance and swing of the bat are the physical and aesthetic demonstration of batsmanship. That is what makes me coo and sigh. But I also need to see the impact and the outcome of the shot. The stroke without its conclusion, even when a boundary is strongly implied, leaves me an unfulfilled viewer.

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About chrisps

TouchlineDad to three sporty kids; cricket blogger and coach; and the alpha male in our pride.

12 responses to “Cricket images – two confounding conventions”

  1. andy powell says :

    One of the great peasures in watching the game live is to see the line and trajectory of the ball after leaving the bat. My favorite is the well hit cover drive which arcs off the bat with the spin imparted in the stoke. Often the fastest bowling produces the greatest arc as the pace of the ball means it rolls fof the face of the bat a little more. I still remember the first time as a school cricketer I saw this phenomenon. Of course this is one of the pleasures of sitting square on to play rather than behind the bowler’s arm. The cameras sqaure on could be used to give us a “a view from the crowd” highlights package (the importance of context once again).

    • chrisps says :

      Andy, thanks for turning my complaint into something positive. Your cover drive description resonates. I agree, too, that the side-on view is under-used as a secondary angle in TV coverage.

    • Dave says :

      And how grim it is to see that Sky coverage in particular spends more time focused on the crowd’s reaction to the shot (and in particular spectators’ reaction to seeing themselves on the big screen) than it does on the players’ response. There is so much to be read into the bowler’s body language as he processes the realisation that he has bowled a decent enough ball and it has been thrashed through extra cover on the up. It has happened to all of us …

  2. awbraae says :

    A very good point, and one I’ve often noticed when trying to internet steal images for my own blog. I had a similar difficulty recently when I was unable to find a single photo of an English batsman playing a defensive shot from the Dunedin test, even though they clearly played a lot of them in going for the draw. I had to resort to using a photo of WG Grace blocking a ball.

    CS: see Alex’s post (and WG’s straight bat) here:

  3. Maithri Jayasuriya says :

    Suppose in terms of pictures, if a website wants to convey the story of a match, images of bowlers celebrating or appealing makes more sense than them running up to bowl.
    And they’d fit it with a caption like “Bowler X appeals successfully for the wicket of Batsman Y”.

  4. Maithri Jayasuriya says :

    Thing is though, like you I do enjoy seeing the technique of a bowler or batsman, but I’m not sure how much of that can be conveyed via picture. It is more satisfying if it is done via television coverage.

  5. Philip says :

    Interesting piece and as you suggest a photo of a bowler letting go of the ball match after match would be very dull if published that often. Some bowling actions are far more photogenic than others. At the precise moment the ball is released for example James Anderson or Simon Jones do NOT in my opinion make acceptable images as you cannot see their face.

    Your paragraph –

    “Pictures that capture both the bowler and the act of dismissal occur, but are rare. This may simply be the technical difficulty of maintaining a sharply focused image of two objects almost 20 metres apart.”
    It is not possible to capture a bowler and batsman in the same frame both in focus unless you are using a very short lens which is simply unsuitable, or are on the field near the stumps or are using an aperture that will have a huge depth of field and also have a sharp background which will look awful. It is for these reasons as a result of the action being 40 – 90 metres away that cricket photos are different.

    • chrisps says :

      Philip, thank you for bringing your expertise to bear on this post. I have really enjoyed viewing the photos on your website. So many dynamic shots that would enhance a match report more than the celebrating bowler image.

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