This year’s selection of blog posts is as diverse as each of the previous eight years’ selections, featuring authors from four continents, content spanning the international and recreational game, cricket of the early twentieth century, the modern and near future. There are themes, though: the summer’s World Cup provides material for four pieces; statistical insights inform three and concerns about how the game is run are found in three. The qualification for the Select XI remains that they should be independent and unremunerated writing from the web. Bloggers featured in any of my previous annual round-ups are excluded.
Red Ball Data (@EdmundBayliss) has been one of the pleasures of 2019, providing frequent, ingenious investigations of cricket tactics and performance, with a focus on the red ball game, but in the example I’ve selected, looking at the interaction of one format (T20) with the others: On the decline of Test Batting
To counter-balance the rationalist approach, here is the romantic viewpoint: Mahesh dissects and celebrates a single shot from this year’s Test cricket:
Kusal Perera takes the smallest of strides forward, without the slightest of pretensions to get near the line of the ball, backs his hands to work at his eye’s command, and deposits the ball onto the roof of the stands over extra cover with a most pristine swing of the bat. Dean Elgar pulls down his sunglasses to see how far the ball has gone. Aleem Dar completes the formality of signaling a six but keeps staring towards extra cover as if he is trying to visualise that moment of perfection again.
From this one shot, the author builds an argument for the Six – a shot he describes as unnecessary to Test cricket – as testimony to the adventurous spirit of sports players.
Six appeared on the 81 all out site, alongside my favourite player appreciation of 2019, Yuvraj Singh and the journey from hope to possibility. Aftab Khanna describes the catalysing impact Yuvraj had on the India ODI team of the early 2000s. The core of his success with the bat was having the cleanest of swings:
There was a smooth, unbroken backswing, a stable head at contact, and a clean follow-through with a pristine extension of the arms. In the middle of the cacophony of a packed stadium, Yuvraj brought the tranquillity of the golf course to the art of swinging.
Yuvraj is joined in the Select XI by Wayne Madsen, whose milestone of reaching 10,000 runs for Derbyshire was marked in this affectionately written piece by Steve Dolman (@Peakfanblog).
2019/20 marks the start of the next four year cycle of building towards the 2023 ODI World Cup. Dan Weston (@SAAdvantage) used this as an opportunity to look backwards to the 2019 tournament cycle and forwards to address the personnel changes Pakistan and South Africa would need to make. In Managing the Overhaul, Weston mines his domestic limited overs database to pinpoint which players who could help those nations have more impact in the next World Cup. An article to read, bookmark and review in four years time.
The 2019 World Cup also features in You Couldn’t Write the Script, by Nicholas Freestone. The source of celebration is not simply England’s trip to the final, but the game’s reappearance on free-to-air TV in the UK. Freestone writes about the rise and fall of Channel 4’s cricket coverage, which ran alongside and informed his school days’ fascination with the sport. Days before the final, he concludes:
The sun will be shining on Lord’s and, no matter the result, it will be one of my greatest days as a cricket fan. It was over half my lifetime ago that Channel 4 was showing live England cricket, something that was seminal in my childhood.
Now it is back, and it will be something special – one day in which I can relive the greatest sporting coverage that I will ever see in my lifetime.
Blogging is for amateurs, aspiring professionals and for those who have already made it to the media profession. Peter Della Pena is a CricInfo correspondent, who used his own website to publish an account of watching a World Cup tie with Evan, a friend from his childhood in New Jersey. The Americans watching Afghanistan in England on the 4th of July might not earn Della Pena a paycheck but it makes for a fine, long-form blog, that weaves together a number of themes topical and timeless. Of the latter, there is the insight a cricket watching veteran can gain from accompanying a debutant:
Of all the things Evan could have come across at a cricket match to pique his interest, the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern Method would have been near the bottom of the list of things I would have ever imagined drawing him in. But it happened.
Neil Manthorpe, South African cricket broadcaster, is a dedicated blogger. In recent months he has detailed the crisis in South African cricket governance. My selection comes from the middle of this year: Manners’ reflection on that final in July, notable for its cool detachment as it considers What will the Greatest Final be remembered for?
They [the New Zealand players] held their nerve as well as they held their catches. Time and time again when the intensity of the moment demanded that somebody, or something, should crack, it was not them. They had learned the lesson from the last final, four years ago, when the occasion was too much.
But somebody did crack.
Going back 100 years, the Wisden of 1919 had little cricket to cover and featured obituaries of many players who didn’t make it to the resumption of regular play that spring. For its cricketers of the year, Wisden selected five public school boys. In Whatever happened to? John Winn traced the careers of these five promising youngsters, headed by future England captain, Percy Chapman.
Returning to cricket statistics, an increasingly fertile area for cricket blogging, Playing for Lunch and Tea charts whether batsmen really do alter their play as intervals approach. Karthik’s (@karthiks) exemplary analyses – on this topic and many others – provide eye-catching proof that this truism is statistically supported.
The Club Cricket Development Network (@ClubDevel) is about the only thing I have ever found of value on LinkedIn. It shares experience and good practice on issues that affect club cricket and has taken a representative and lobbying role with the ECB. This piece – The strange death of English cricket – skewers the innumeracy that underlies the grand strategy for the future of the UK’s national summer game and exposes the agenda that makes a particular number attractive to those in authority.
I will end this round-up, in imitation of Wisden, with my nomination of the World’s Leading Cricket Blogger of the Year – aka the blogger whose output has given me most reading pleasure in these last twelve months. Limited Overs is the work of Matt Becker who, from his home in Minnesota, bridges the personal and the global meaning of cricket, with a tender mix of emotion, humour and sincerity. Catching up on Becker’s recent posts, I came across this – characteristic of much of his writing – and apt to use in conclusion of this piece, this year, this decade;
Cricket is an old game. And with that age comes ghosts. And with those ghosts comes weight, and a sense of belonging to something great. I am not sure what that something is. Whether it is time or history or God or the universe. But when we allow ourselves to feel cricket’s ghosts, that is when the game becomes more than a game, and then we have no choice but to keep coming back, to keep that wonderful sense of doleful joy alive in everything we see.
That marks me out as naive, living in the past and detached from the realities of top-level international sport.
Here’s an irony: had Broad walked, I doubt he would have got any credit for it. Walking is the act of a batsman bringing clarity to a situation where there is ambiguity about whether the ball was hit. There wasn’t ambiguity in this case. If Broad had tucked his bat under his arm and headed to the dressing room, our thoughts would have turned to Broad’s weak back-foot dab, to the continuing magic of Agar’s debut, to England’s slender lead and not to the batsman’s magnanimity for acknowledging he was out. Ambiguity wasn’t the problem; Aleem Dar was and Broad exploited that.
This England team seems dense with characters who are divisive or unloved. I can think of only three players about whom there is a consensus of approval, who have a broad appeal: Alastair Cook, Matthew Prior, James Anderson, with Joe Root headed in the right direction. The antipathy towards Broad is based on his sulky, quarrelsome behaviour as a bowler; vanity about his appearance; his attainment of an undroppable status in the Test team, even when his performances don’t merit that certainty; and rumours that he has been active in a clique within the team, having had some involvement in the twitter account that goaded team-mate Kevin Pietersen.
In my estimation, Broad has risen high above that sour and self-obsessed reputation four times. Around each of these events, I have warmed to him and respected him.
The first occasion was after the 2007 World T20 when Yuvraj Singh struck him for 36 in an over at Durban. Broad was barely one year into his international career and had not yet made his Test debut. I thought that might sink him, or at least require some intensive therapy before he could again have the confidence to bowl at international batsmen. Not being a bowler (and as I have mentioned elsewhere three consecutive sixes did for my bowling pretensions), I admired his courage when his career continued without pause a few weeks later.
Incident number two was his eighth wicket partnership of 332 with Jonathan Trott at Lord’s in 2010. It was thrilling counter-attacking cricket that followed the dismissal of four of the previous five batsmen for ducks. And I was there.
The third highlight, and the only one with which I have no personal connection, was Broad’s performance on the tour of the UAE in the series against Pakistan. On lifeless tracks, Broad’s bowling was instrumental in England gaining positions of advantage early in the matches and then dragging themselves back into the game after the batsmen let the team down. His bowling was smart, stifling and straight. He took advantage of any movement that could be coaxed from the conditions, and ended the top wicket taker amongst the quick bowlers competing and bowled more overs than Graeme Swann.
The final event that lifted him up in my estimation was the Test Match Special interview he gave earlier this summer. Aside from cricket, my other deep interest is junior sport and the role of parents and coaches, which I explore on Touchline Dad. Broad spoke openly and very appealingly about his experiences as a young sports player. Asked about what influenced him to play cricket as a boy, his answer surprised: it wasn’t his Dad, the Test cricketer, but his Mum. He spoke warmly of their relationship and how her support – playing with him in the garden, then as he grow older, getting him to and from games, and always watching him play – helped him develop. He contrasted this quiet, constant presence with the dads who brought their boys to the nets hours before matches, drilling shots or deliveries. I appreciated his appreciation that driving home after games his mother wouldn’t grill him about how he had played, but let him talk or stay quiet depending on his mood.
So I have warmed to Broad when I’ve felt able to identify with him. And so it’s through the frame of my role as a junior coach that I have come to a conclusion about Broad’s most recent and heavily discussed misdemeanour. I have put my mind to what his exploitation of Umpire Dar’s error means for young cricketers of 10-13, playing their first seasons of hard-ball cricket.
Most of the boys and girls I coach will not have seen the incident. I see very little influence of professional cricketers on the youngsters. They play the game because their family does, or because some exposure at school has drawn them to the club. I detect widespread ignorance of the current game amongst those boys and girls. At this week’s junior nets, I was running a session on batting against slow bowling. “Who are the best spin bowlers in England and the world at the moment?” I asked. Swann and Ashwin were mentioned, but so were Bopara and Warne. Most of these kids lack the opportunity or desire to spend days soaking up cricket and its culture on television.
Some do, of course, so the question about Broad’s example is worth looking at. I have never spoken to the junior players I coach about ‘walking’. There are few fine edges and fewer close to the wicket catches in our matches. The most pressing issue of conduct and etiquette is the acceptance of umpires’ decisions. Umpires in these matches (myself included) are not trained in match adjudication. We struggle, some more successfully than others, with an instinctive bias towards the players we coach. While we stand umpiring in the middle, we worry if the field is set well, if the next batsman is padded-up or kicking a football around the field and whether those boys playing in the nets are wearing all the right protective equipment. Confounding decisions are, therefore, frequently made.
The players themselves have limited understanding of the rules and in the pressure of playing often don’t really know what’s just happened. Encouraging them to take matters into their own hands – for example, walking, if they believe they are out – is a lower priority than getting them to accept an umpire’s decision and get on with the game.
I would rather Broad had walked, but not for the influence it will have on the cricketers I coach. Michael Clarke’s angry aside to Aleem Dar at the end of the over is the behavioural example I would like to expunge.
I am of course marked out by this view as naive, old-fashioned and out-of-touch. But I do wonder what Stuart Broad’s Mum would have said to him in the car if she had driven him home from Trent Bridge on Friday.