Tag Archive | twenty20

The running of the (white) balls

7 July 2017 – festival in northern Spain

The annual running of the bulls in the city of Pamplona pits several dozen men and women against a dozen bulls. The latter are released into the narrow streets, where they find the bull runners between them and their destination, the municipal bullring. Nobody died on the opening day of the festival this year. Five people were hospitalised, with injuries including the goring of one man in the chest and another in the scrotum. A third man suffered serious head injuries after being lifted and tossed by a bull.

Medics line the streets in a 21st century nod to human welfare as a tradition, of hundreds of years standing, continues to attract thrill-seekers and those with a need (and audience) to prove their mettle. So refined is the medical attention that, it is boasted, a victim of a goring will be stabilised within ten minutes of the incident.

7 July 2017 – festival in south-western England

2,000 people gather at the sports ground of a 176 year old college, where they double as spectators and targets for the twenty-two cricketers. The five and a half ounce missiles, cork encased in dyed white leather, have a long heritage, although not in their current hue. Much more recent is the dual role of those who stand and sit at the perimeter of the field. For decades, cricket fans have simply appreciated the action in front of them. Now they play an active part in the drama.

The day’s first casualty finds a ball narrowing in on him as he sits on a plastic picnic chair one row back from the fence. Two people ahead of him jump out of the ball’s way. He rises from his seat parrying the ball from his chest and is knocked backwards over the back of his chair. He lands heavily on his back and is carried away, strapped to a scoop stretcher.

Minutes later a ball sails over the boundary fence, skips off an awning below which diners are recovering their appetite and smashes into the tray of empties being carried by a waitress. Shards of glass tear at her hand and wrist. The ball is dried from the dregs it landed in and tossed back onto the field.

The spectators are now alert. When the next missile heads their way, it is caught competently by a local club cricketer. His view of the ball was cleared by a large man, from the local rugby club, sidestepping its path and landing heavily on the foot of a lady in sundress and sandals. She is lifted away from the incident, visible swelling suggesting a metatarsal fracture.

New Zealand’s former captain plays a short innings. He applies his famed strength and timing to just one delivery. It travels low, hard and fast through a gap in the field, bounces once inside the boundary, clips the top of the boundary board, which diverts it upwards in a direction unanticipated by those braced for its arrival. It catches its victim below the chin, breaking his jaw an instant before his teeth clamp and sever the tip of his tongue.

A high, long hit claims the afternoon’s last casualty. It soars to the back of the temporary stand, where a beery group rise to greet it, but succeed only in deflecting it onto the forehead of their neighbour who is treated on site, before exiting for concussion tests.

This Cheltenham College bloodbath is, with the exception of the concussion case, a fiction, departing from reality at some point after the ball is described crossing the boundary. It is not a fiction that has required a lot of imagination. One of these five incidents happened. The other four very nearly did.

The injured bull-runners at Pamplona do not attract much sympathy. They have willingly entered into a dangerous activity and suffered painful, but predictable consequences.

We do feel sympathetic for anyone injured watching a cricket match. “Should’ve kept their eye on the ball,” some might quibble, flinching as they remember turning to talk to a friend, or looking down at their newspaper, as the crack of a middled slog-sweep is heard.

But with sixes hit at a rate of one per 25 deliveries in professional T20 games, haven’t we reached the point where the need to evade or gain protection from balls smote over the boundary has itself become predictable? And if a risk is predictable, where does responsibility for its mitigation, or liability for its occurrence lie?

A little internet research reveals opposing views to this question in the UK and USA. In the judicature that covers the city of Cheltenham, case law points to sports clubs having responsibility for taking steps to counter reasonably foreseeable risks to the safety of the public.

Across the Atlantic, courts have sided with sports organisations, concluding that spectators understand and accept the risks of attending baseball or ice hockey matches. To place the liability with the franchise would, it is argued, increase their insurance costs, and push the price of tickets beyond the reach of those sports’ core fans.

Gloucestershire County Cricket Club may envy the legal protection enjoyed by the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they operate under the less forgiving legal code. What then, should the county club be doing to fulfil its duty of care?

I have three proposals which relate primarily to cricket played at occasional or festival venues, such as Cheltenham College. Spectators at purpose built professional grounds are less at risk. The playing areas are larger and the rows of fixed seats facing the middle help to keep spectators’ attention on the action. The ECB, with its plan to move to an eight team T20 league in 2020 may have the ultimate solution. These proposals are for interim precautions.

Pitch location

The pitch at Cheltenham was located off-centre. The distance to the nearer square boundary probably only just exceeded the minimum distance required by ECB playing regulations: 50 metres. That short boundary, opposite the college buildings, is where the majority of spectators were sat or stood. Sixes hit over the longer square boundary were highly unlikely to cause harm as so few people were in the line of fire. I would recommend that pitches at grounds like Cheltenham are central and certainly not closer to the square boundary where most spectators are gathered.

Protect areas where spectators mill

One of the pleasures of festival cricket is the promenading, dining, or standing and chatting in sight of the action. People thus occupied are distracted from the game and so less likely to be able to evade a ball hit towards them. Preserving the traditional pleasures of festival cricket needs to be balanced with the modern artillery of limited overs cricket. Protective netting can allow the two to coexist. Occasional grounds lack stands with roofs or double tiers, which could be used as a frame for protective netting. But a temporary net could be raised between the playing area and the concentrated zones where spectators expect to have sight of the match, if not their eye permanently on the ball.

Pad hard surfaces

The really unnerving moment at Cheltenham was when McCullum’s pull shot ricocheted from the lip of the boundary boards. Its pace and sudden change of direction would have defeated anyone but the sharpest slip-fielder. Grounds should ensure that the fittings erected between the players and the spectators do not exacerbate the threat to spectators. Padding around the top of boundary boards and other hard surfaces would absorb the ball’s momentum.

Unlike Pamplona’s running of the bulls, the running of the (white) balls is unlikely to last into the next decade at grounds such as Cheltenham College. The event’s passing will happen whether or not the safety of spectators from flying balls is given a higher priority. In the meantime, do not turn those spectators into unwitting bull-runners; or the players into bulls. John Simpson of Middlesex launched the six that hit the head of the man at the top of the temporary stand. Simpson held up play and walked towards the boundary, concerned for the injured spectator. He only allowed the game to restart when he saw one of the teams’ medics run across the outfield and climb the steps of the stand. The very next ball, mind perhaps not fully returned to the game, Simpson judged a quick single poorly, and was run out.

 

Advertisements

Quick single: Family friendly cricket

IMG_1101

Just like the Birmingham Bears, I was delayed by the traffic.

“Ten minutes and we’re leaving,” I announced on returning to the family home.

“Why can’t I have a phone?” demanded the 1&only daughter.

“By tram. No. Why can’t we go in the car?” complained no. 1 son.

“Can I have a coke?” nagged no. 2 son.

Were Chopra and Brown’s team as moany and discontented as Mrs DG’s and my lot?

A sprinkling of rain fell as we got off the tram at Old Trafford.

“How much longer until they call if off?” queried no.1 son gloomily.

Finding dry seats in C stand, we heard the announcement that the game would start 30 minutes late owing to traffic delays on Daddy’s commute home (or similar).

“Now, we’ve got to sit here for 40 minutes,” muttered no.1 son, who in another Manchester sporting venue is anxious if we aren’t at our seats that length of time before kick-off.

Time well-invested back at the concourse behind the pavilion, buying treats. An ice cream to distract the 1&onlyD from the ignominy of being a year 6 pupil without a mobile phone; and another chosen in a split-second defection from coke by no. 2 son.

I try to explain to Mrs DG the prominence of Brendon McCullum in world cricket. I feel emotional as I summarise how his significance goes beyond New Zealand and can be credited with invigorating the English game this summer.

“So he’s the best T20 player in the world?” questions no.1 son, comfortable with definitive judgements, not the weighing of strengths and weaknesses, the application of context to performance and the sheer ambiguity of the game. “Is he good?” he asks as each new bowler is brought into the attack – frequently, as Lancashire bowl most of the innings in one over spells.

McCullum doesn’t live up to my encomium – although that’s been true of his whole trip to the UK as a batsman. The Bears’ captain, Chopra, and their other international captain, Porterfield, accumulate, but the innings doesn’t ignite.

As each bowler starts their mini-spell, I confirm to no.1 son that, “Yes”, they are good – as well as providing some context. The exception is Steven Croft, about whom for the sake of variety rather than a genuine assessment, I state, “No.” Despite me, Croft bowls well, as do the other spinners, Parry and Lilley, which suggests why the Birmingham innings falters. No.1 son and I comment on the variation in pace and flight of the slow bowlers, but most respect is accorded James Faulkner.

His run-up is pitched like a man trying to progress into the teeth of a gale. But what we appreciate is the accuracy of his back-of-the hand slower ball. He uses it as his default, rather than surprise, delivery and lands it on a length on off-stump repeatedly.

Before the game began, asked how many sixes we would see, I plumped for eleven. The first comes in the Bears’ twentieth over, when Gordon, who the big screen tells us has zero T20 career runs, hoists his first ball over the mid-wicket boundary. If my prediction is to come true, the Lancashire reply will be short and successful.

Mrs DG pronounces it ridiculous that a county is playing a city. I think about asking her views of a team known as ‘England’ playing another titled, ‘West Indies’.

She also detects flatulence innuendo: the Blast, which starts with a Blast-Off and the flaming jets and hot air expelled in front of C stand that signal boundary hits. I enter into the spirit with a plate of lamb rogan-josh, pint of ale and bag of Bombay mix.

We move upstairs for the Lancashire reply. The rows of seats are steeply inclined. No.2 son asks us to sit still as he is anxious about toppling off. The view of the ground, its hinterland and the setting sun is uplifting.

A couple of early sixes shorten odds on my pre-match prediction. But in back garden cricket fashion, each is followed by an out. Mostly Lancashire batsmen mistime the ball or middle it straight at boundary fielders, to no.1 son’s frustration and increasing disdain. Don’t worry, Faulkner’s coming, I reassure.

Mrs DG and the 1&onlyD are focused on the big screen. Tracking the required rate? Checking career records? Studying the umpire referrals of two run out decisions? No. Waiting to see if their selfie tweeted with #summerlive makes the cut. It doesn’t and they feel short-changed. Note to county grounds: make sure you display every photo submitted.

Faulkner does come and some of the time does strike the ball a bit more cleanly than his teammates, but keeps taking singles to bring Jordan Clark or Alex Davies to face – the latter plays a short innings comprising, almost exclusively, attempted ramps. When Faulkner does connect well the ball whistles to the upper tier of the stand at mid-wicket. The chase is on! Then off again when the expected rattle of boundaries doesn’t come and he falls to a good low catch at long-off.

Faulkner is replaced by Liam Livingstone, a cricketer in the odd situation of being more famous for an exploit at club level than in the professional game. Could he alter that tonight? 17 runs to win off the final over would do it.

A straight drive hit so hard that Brendon McCullum at long-on can’t even get close enough to essay a dive, raises hopes. Livingstone runs hard, losing and regaining the strike with byes run to the keeper. Nine needed from the final two balls and the Nantwich player swings Hannon-Dalby into the legside and just over the boundary.

It has come down to the final ball: family friendly cricket. Excitement more memorable than an ice cream and flake, a ride on a busy tram and fear of tumbling from a high stand; and at least on a par with seeing flames shot into the air in front of you. Whether it matches the thrill of seeing your photo on the big screen, we’ll have to wait for another visit to find out.

Short pitch: naming rights

Around the cricket world on 15 May 2015, Sunrisers couldn’t rise to the challenge of the Royal Challengers; Jets motored past Steelbacks; Outlaws outflanked Bears; Spitfires sank Sharks; Foxes were foxed by Lightning; Panthers preyed upon Rams; and Stallions flew past Falcons.

In my neck of the woods, Badgers confronted Squirrels, but both retreated in the face of rain. Despite badgers better cricket pedigree, the Squirrels probably had the edge when the weather drove them from the field.

I am responsible for the names of my club’s two under nine teams, who played each other in the most local of local derbies this evening. Two years ago, taking the task altogether too seriously, I had tried to find names that conveyed the energy, bordering on chaos, that characterises under nine cricket. I also wanted something original – a pair of names that aren’t used by US professional sports franchises, which seems to be the strongest influence on naming practices in UK junior sport.

I had originally submitted two teams to the league, named Chimps and Gibbons. My intention was understood and caused amusement, but I was asked to think again, in case my naming rights might inadvertantly cause offence.

I asked my wife for inspiration. She made two suggestions. The first was Bats and Pippistrelles. Her second idea, had I the courage to use it, would have made our teams the most stylish in the league: Bowlers and Trilbies. She is available, for a fee, to any organisers of new T20 tournaments looking to create and name their franchises.

You couldn’t script it

Subtitle: And we wouldn’t watch it if you did.

Renegades Stars

The Melbourne Big Bash derby goes to the final ball, needing the third umpire to scrutinise five different camera angles on a scrambled single before awarding the match to the batting team.

SB Tang captures the excitement of viewers

Further away, Backwatersman calmly muses

A day later and the broadcaster is trying to drum up interest in the upcoming three-way ODI series, asking its viewers, “What can we expect from the Aussies?” Matt Webber can imagine:

I identify with all three statements. These are the views of cricket purists, knowledgeable and protective of the game. We want matches that stretch the imagination more than any writer would dare. But we want no artificial ingredients that add non-organic spice to our sport – although many less exacting followers of the game would settle for that. And we deride formulaic play that tends to emerge when cricket is boxed in by limits on time.

Cricket, left to the forces of nature may be pure, but it isn’t necessarily of a high quality or exciting. It involves far too much uncertainty. Even in the circumscribed arena of T20, uncertainty rules. The compelling drama of the conclusion to the Melbourne derby must coexist with the game three days later (Renegades v Heat) decided in 31 overs, with the outcome hardly in doubt after the initial five overs.

Overt scripting is not an option for cricket’s administrators. Instead, searching for a format that, more often than not, will delight its audience, they concoct playing regulations that promote preferred narratives. They place constraints on action and tactics that encourage bowlers to aim for the batsman’s hitting zone and batsman to aim for boundaries. The players surge or struggle with these biases, like actors required to improvise to music.

But recognising the limits of their tweaking, that some games will fall flat, there’s a secondary tactic: distraction. Son et lumière, celebrities and hyperbolic pundits.

For a small number of people around cricket, the desire to shape the outcome of the contest remains strong, the rewards plentiful. Scripting cricket could even be a euphemism for fixing. Sticking to a script doesn’t come naturally to many players, however, so close observation has revealed instances of players taking cues from shady playwrights. We don’t know, though, if some players are very good actors and pull it off under our noses. We speculate and agonise, but for the time being, remain tragically committed.

Quite separately, there is a wholly innocent practice of scripting cricket. It is the work of individuals who are not trying to influence the outcome on the field, but create an experience in the theatre of the mind. Fiction writers theoretically have no limits to what they write about sport, but story-tellers in the realist mode are constrained. Their tales must have a solid core of the familiar to earn the audience’s trust, which is balanced with the daring, shocking or imaginative elements that make the work distinctive.

Scripted, fictional cricket is different from the real thing. Fictional cricket has a moral, a message or an agenda. A dropped catch, a bowling change aren’t just part of the accumulation of incident that goes towards a match’s unfurling, but must have significance. In my own sole and short effort at fictional cricket – The final delivery of the 2015 World Cup – I wanted to tease out the possibility of a bowler banned for an illegal action, then rehabilitated, reverting to the illegal action at the moment of greatest tension. What would happen? Does cricket have the wherewithal to cope with a transgression at such a key moment? And seeking the reader’s acceptance of the familiar, I cloaked this speculation in the format of a (pre)view of the tournament.

The post found its warmest reception amongst Pakistan fans, which suggests to me that, despite my agenda, readers found their own pleasure in the piece. I was no more successful with my fiction, than Hansie Cronje and Salman Butt with their script-writing.

There was no agenda or authorial message behind the final over of the Stars versus Renegades encounter. You couldn’t script it, but if you tried, it might appear something like this.

——————————————————-

The best end to a cricket match – EVER!

EXT: THE MELBOURNE CRICKET GROUND – EVENING (UNDER LIGHTS)

The Stars need six runs from the last over to defeat local rivals, the Renegades, skippered by FINCHY, who has expert death bowler, RIMMO at his disposal.

     FINCHY (Renegades skipper, T20 giant)
RIMMO, mate, a couple of dots here and they’ll be twitching. Good areas. The best ones.

RIMMO (Calm, expert death bowler)
Slow bouncer, FINCHY?

FINCHY:
It’d be your last, mate. Get that yorker working.

Ball 1: TRIFF on strike. Ball sliced past point. 2 runs taken.

     FINCHY:
Straighten up, mate. No room to swing his arms. Make it happen RIMMO.

RIMMO:
Slow bouncer?

FINCHY:
Yeah, and I’ll pull your beard out, hair by hair.

Ball 2: Full and at the batsman’s feet. No run.

     FINCHY:
That’s a beauty, RIMMO. Just like I said, there’s no-one better.

(To the batsman)
Twinkle, twinkle little stars. Can’t move your feet?

Ball 3: Full, straight ball, edged away for a single.

     FINCHY: (To KEATHY)
This isn’t a star, it’s a constellation. It’s Taurus, the bull.

(To RIMMO)
We’ve got three runs; three runs to play with. He’s gonna swing. Tie him down, RIMMO. You can suffocate them. I’m backing you, mate.

RIMMO:
Slow bou..

FINCHY:
Get outta here!

Ball 4: KEATHY on strike. Low full toss swung to midwicket.

     FINCHY: (to the fielder)
They’re turning STOKESIE, hammer it in

STOKESIE misses the ball. Batsmen turn for the third and winning run.

     FINCHY:
Dozy Limey-Kiwi-Limey, fruit salad!

RIMMO: (to the fielder)
Bowler’s end! Speed of light. I’ve got him!

The return is to RIMMO’s right. He collects the ball crouching and swings his arms to his left and collapses the stumps.

     RIMMO: (to the UMPIRE)
How is that!!

FINCHY:
Out! Out! You got him, RIMMO. These Stars are falling. Unbelievable. You’ve got the golden touch today, mate.

(To TRIFF)
Stars? You couldn’t even light up a Christmas tree.

Ball 5: One run to win. The ball is bowled full and straight. RIMMO falls in his delivery stride and finds the firmly driven ball in his hands. RIMMO’s up and back to the stumps to run out the non-striker.

     FINCHY:
RIMMO, it’s written in the stars. This is your moment, mate. You’re going to win this on your own. You’re taking wickets when you can’t stand up. Squeeze the life out of them.

(To TRIFF)
You lot aren’t Stars, you’re black holes.

RIMMO:
Okay, okay. I’m calm. We’re nearly there. I’m bringing us home.

Ball 6: One run to win. Another full ball to TRIFF, who stabs it to the right of the fielder, FERG, stationed close to the non-striker. FERG dives and still sprawling, back-flicks the ball at the stumps. RIMMO has fallen again after delivering the ball, but is up and smartly back to the stumps, fractionally before FERG’s throw; itself marginally before TRIFF’s dive to complete the winning run.

     FINCHY:
Golden arm, RIMMO. You’ve won it! Incredible! Defying the laws of gravity.

As the Renegades players throng to celebrate their achievement, one Renegade drifts away.

RIMMO looks at his arm, lauded by his skipper, his teammates and the fans. It’s the arm that has cost his team the game.

Champagne super over or cava carve-up?

This week’s World T20 Final, and its semi-finals, could be decided by a 12 ball sudden death play-off, known colloquially as the super over or bureaucratically as the OOPSE (One Over Per Side Eliminator). How does the one over per side decider rate as a method of separating two tied teams at the pinnacle of a global competition?

There are a number of qualities required of a sudden-death decider. The name is a clue to some of those qualities, although a fatal outcome hasn’t been fashionable in sport for several centuries. I have measured the super over up against those qualities and the tie-breakers in use in other sports.

Decisive: sport needs winners. Even cricket, the most nuanced of sports, requires a victor in a final. If the standard duration of the final can’t separate the competitors, the tie-breaker better had. Football is not a particularly strong example. Its method of resolving draws is extra-time, which has regularly failed in its basic requirement of decisiveness. It often acts merely as a prelude to an additional layer of tie-breaking, the penalty shoot-out.

The super-over has a potential score range of 0-36 (excluding no balls and wides) and a likely spread of 6-20. That provides enough outcomes for a tied tie-breaker to be unlikely. It is, then, a decisive method.

Microcosmic: the game that is being decided should have its essence captured by the tie-breaker. Looking at football again, its second order decider, the penalty shoot-out is not at all representative of the game. Hockey’s shoot-out is closer to the authentic game – players have eight seconds to make their way from the 16 yard line to score in a goal defended only by a keeper – but still some distance from it.

The super over is a fraction of the broader game of cricket, containing all of its essential features.

Active: when competitors have achieved parity, they should be given one last go to prove who can come out on top. This is a principle that track and field’s jumping sports don’t get. They operate retrospective tie-breakers – which competitor has the fewest failures before achieving the winning height in the high jump. Cricket has and still does resort to these ‘count back’ methods as higher level tie-breakers. In the 1980s, 50 over cricket matches which were tied could very occasionally be decided by which team had the higher score after 30 overs. I never saw a justification why it was better to have scored 140 on the way to 250 than to have scored 139 at the same juncture.

Cricket has got this point and now sends its players back out to vie for glory.

Non-arbitrary: no sporting contest will retain a following if the final result is a factor of something external to the players’ performance. Tennis’s tie breaker has been carefully constructed so that no player can prevail simply by winning points on their own serve, which would give an arbitrary advantage to the player serving first.

The super over has no such pitfalls and has even included the reversing of the order of innings from the main match.

Sudden: a final needs a conclusive result not only on the day, but within the normal attention span of the audience. This quality is most clearly lacking in the US Golf Open which has required players drawn at the top of the leader-board after four days and 72 holes to return for a fifth day and 18 more holes. Wimbledon also holds a position of ‘let it take the time it’s going to take’ for  matches taken to five sets. In 2010, a first round match between John Eisner and Nicolas Mahut was finally won 70-68 after 8 hours 18 minutes of play in the fifth set. As a curiosity it was compelling, but interest would wane if it became routine.

The ICC has set strict regulations for the super over – how quickly it should begin after the end of the game and how long it could take – making it satisfactorily ‘sudden’.

Dramatic: the culmination of a struggle to be champion should be full of excitement, with every move capable of winning or losing the match, not a slow-burner, or even worse an event that fizzles out. Penalty shoot-outs in football exemplify this quality.

The super over may not always go to the final ball, but the outcome could hinge on any one of those deliveries, with tension building through the twelve balls.

Consistent with the drawn match to which it is the resolution. In team sports, like hockey or football, the players taking part in the shoot-out are those who were on the pitch at the end of the match. Players substituted or dismissed cannot be brought back in and specialist penalty-takers cannot be introduced after the final whistle.

This I think is the weakness of the super over, where each team nominates any three batsmen from their line-up. Imagine defending a total against the West Indies in the World T20 final; you dismiss Chris Gayle cheaply and the game ends tied. The super over starts and there is Gayle, grinning at being given another chance to bat his team to T20 glory. The super over, like extra-time, should be an extension of the T20 match. The teams should have the benefit of both the opposition wickets they have taken and their own they preserved. Batsmen in the super over should be, if not the pair not out at the end of the innings, then drawn from those not out and yet to bat. And a team that lost all ten wickets would have a single batsmen, the one left not out at the end of the innings.

The counter-argument would be that the audience wants to see the very best in action at this point of high drama. I would take consistency and continuity over artifice, even if it meant tail-enders batting. But perhaps my concoction would not be a champagne super over but a cava carve up.

Which would you prefer? What is your view on the super over?

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.

Does English cricket need its own Boxing Day Test?

70,000 cricket fans went to the first day of last week’s Melbourne Test. Another 120,000 attended the next three days. 2.6 million viewers caught the first day’s play on television, accounting for two-thirds of the television viewing audience in Australia’s metropolitan areas on Boxing Day. The post-Christmas match-up, held in the country’s largest cricket venue, is established as the pillar of the Australian cricket season.

The English domestic season has the shape of a cushion that has been sat on by many different backsides.

There is no equivalent to the Boxing Day Test. The Lord’s test sounds so definitive, and has the sense of a homecoming. But for the last 20 years the ground has hosted two test matches and they have shuttled across May, June, July and August. The county one-day knock-out final comes late in the season, but doesn’t have a place in the neutrals’ heart and calendar. Twenty20 finals day has tried out a few locations and dates and perhaps will settle to become a focus of of the domestic season.

The nostalgia paragraph. Growing up, the overall season had a shape, as well as a weekly pattern. One-day international series at the start of the summer, alongside B&H zonal county competition… Tests underway midsummer, with England traditionally losing the series by July, around the time of the B&H final… Gillette/Natwest final following the Oval test, with the touring team announced on its back… Tests began on Thursday, finishing on Tuesday… County knockout matches on Wednesday. County championship matches beginning on Saturdays and Wednesdays… The Sunday league being faithful to its name.

For the cricket follower, the price of knowing where you were in the week and the season, appears to have been mediocrity at Test and first-class level, studded with the odd outstanding performer: Botham, Gower, Gooch in the former; Richards (x2), Zaheer, Proctor, etc in the latter.

Maybe having our own Boxing Day test would give some definition to the season: a fixed point around which to rally public interest. Test match ticket sales remain robust so it wouldn’t have to be a Test match. The late May and August Bank Holidays could be anchor points. In May, three ODIs held across the Thursday, Saturday and Monday of the long weekend. In August, the Oval Test running from the Friday or Saturday of the Bank Holiday; or the twenty20 finals day and the one day final played on the Saturday and Monday. Events like the big screen in the park parties run alongside the last Ashes series could share the experience wider than the match-day ticket-holders.

The English domestic cricket season, unsure how much to trust and invest in twenty20, feels like a work in progress. I usually run a mile from manufactured traditions. However, the Boxing Day Test, highly popular and part of the infrastructure of Australian cricket, only became an annual fixture in the 1990s. So maybe a conscious effort to big-up a weekend of cricket and stick with it, could help the process of a rational timetable cohering around it, as well as giving the sport a weekend of  prominence.

Perhaps the most critical step would be for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to place this fixture in the list of Group A sporting events that have to be made availabe to channels that broadcast for free and have coverage of 95% of the population. Then we may be getting somewhere. To return to my earlier, soft-furnishing metaphor for the season, we could find ourselves with a jewel fit to sit atop a velvet cushion.