Wednesday, August 24, 2011

TEST-ing 1,2,3

" I don't like cricket, uh, oh no, I love it"- An obscure song lyric from band 10cc? Of course, but not merely a lyric more an accurate description of my life style. But let's specify here, I don't mind Twenty20, I enjoy ODIs but I absolutely love tests. Sure there can be tests where the pitch is a road and 600/3 plays 500/4 and it is a dull draw but a good test restores faith. One where the contest between bat and ball is toughly fought, a succession of balls missing the edge is followed by a flowing drive for four, batsmen have to graft rather than come in and tonk it from ball one, where a wily spinner will enjoy a wearing pitch and seam bowlers use swing to try and hit the top of off. These kind of tests where the result is not ensured until the final day revitalises my love for cricket making me want more and more.Unfortunately the introduction of competitions like the IPL lead people with short attention spans to call for the end of test cricket but let me tell you why it should remain.

But why are tests the ultimate?

Well it isn't called a test, for the hell of it. It literally tests the skills both physical and mental of the players. Here batsmen are not restricted by a number of overs, therefore neither are bowlers allowing the best batsmen to bat all day and the best bowlers to bowl all day. No fielding restrictions means there is no early advantage and no batting powerplay. Overall, it requires the best of players.

Perhaps I'm biased though. My natural talents did not bring in insanely quick bowling, instead as a steady medium paced bowler, my objective was to bowl line and length down the corridor of uncertainty. I'm not blessed with the skills of a stroke maker instead I would generally graft innings, sure I have bashed an odd fifty but my best innings have been all day forties where I have batted all day holding the team together.  Obviously I was influenced by great players of my youth, in particular Mark Richardson struck a chord with me. I remember watching him block his way to about 80 odd against England and what I remember most was the way he was frustrating them, blocking and grafting in an irritating way. When we went out in the backyard during lunch, I recreated him, blocking solidly and grafting was when I decided I wanted to be a batsmen that pissed bowlers off, cause them to make mistakes.If ever there was a form I was suited to, it would be the longest form.

So how about other formats? As I stated earlier, I don't mind Twenty20. Quite honestly, I find it hard to respect any form where they mix letters and numbers, I think one dayers would lose my respect if they started being called 1DIs. But really I get bored of Twenty20 quite easily, I mean there is only so much wild slogging to leg you can take before the gimmick wears off. Sure it is designed for those with a short attention span but quite honestly it is too dull for me. The thing that bothers me even more is the huge amounts of money involved. The IPL has meant that players like Kieron Pollard are multi millionaires without playing the top form of the game simply by being mercenaries and playing for teams all over the world and turning down contracts with their country.

I do however enjoy, ODIs but they too have a limited effect. The standard format of the batting side going after the ball for the first 15 overs then being quiet up until around the 35th over and then hitting out has produced some great games and much enjoyment but again far too predictable.

Tests provide the unpredictability that provides such entertainment. Therefore I rate the players that play it well as the greatest. In current times when I think of test batting, I think of Rahul Dravid, Alastair Cook and Glenn Mcgrath. Mcgrath hitting the same spot ball after ball just back of a length with a touch of swing forcing the batsman into a mistake. Dravid propping forward and playing that assured front foot defense which makes it seem as if he will never depart the crease. Alastair Cook leaving so confidently balls outside the line of off stump that he need not play and then calmly clipping the ball to leg. Sadly, Cook has received much criticism for batting too 'boringly' but I disagree with this. A batsman who knows his game so thoroughly that he knows which balls to play and which to leave so precisely is an amazing sight to behold especially when the batsman has cut out his weakness which is full length balls outside off stump (yes essentially every ball that should be bowled in test cricket) and is still succeeding. Surely it is a disappointing sign of the times that he is criticised for this rather than praised. 

Upon seeing this a typical bowler's reaction is "Damn, we may be here for some time"
Instead of a long drawn out conclusion about how I hope I have convinced you to love test cricket I will leave you with the simple statement: Viva la tests.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


(Insert lame University excuse here)

Captaincy is something that I find is extremely under rated in the world of cricket. It is an extremely difficult skill to master as you have to constantly be alert while still performing to a high level.  I know this as I dabbled in captaincy for the might Avondale College Second XI rather unsuccessfully it must be said. For the first over I positioned myself at slip as I thought was customary and lost myself in thought of if the field was right, who to bowl next, would I bat myself high or low (in the end not at all) and then suddenly the ball was flying at me from the edge and I clanged it. My venture into captaincy only lasted half a season before someone far better than me replaced me but nonetheless it did make me respect a good leader.

Being a master tactician can win games and also lose them. Take for example Stephen Fleming while statistics will say he had a test average of 40.06 with nine centuries and a couple of million unconverted fifties (just kidding, I love Flem really) but what it does not say is how many wickets and games his skilful tactics won New Zealand. A prominent example that I am reminded of is Damien Martyn in New Zealand's 2001 tour of Australia. Martyn loved to cut, therefore rather simply Fleming packed the gully area causing Martyn to regularly be caught there. Seems simple enough, right? Yet if more people had used that tactic then perhaps Martyn would not have a test average of 46.37 therefore identifying the value of having a good captain.

Why bring this up? Well with the recent ending of the Cricket World Cup a new four year cycle has begun in which new leaders are often appointed therefore around world cricket there are a host of new captains: Michael Clarke, Alastair Cook, Stuart Broad, Brendan Taylor, Ross Taylor, AB De Villiers, Dilshan. This is a time that excites me as I love to see who will flourish and who will flounder in the struggle that is captaincy. Quite really I don't think a whole lot of Clarke, Cook, or Dilshan's captaincy. All excellent batsmen but do not quite have a cricketing brain that is required to succeed as a good captain. Although this is not certain as I never thought of Ricky Ponting as an excellent tactician but was just blessed by amazing players.  Ross Taylor is interesting as he has quite an astute cricket brain but I found him quite defensive and does not seem quite willing to risk unconventional positions such as Michael Vaughan's silly mid off to Matthew Hayden in the 2005 Ashes which effectively nullified his love of the drive forcing him to play uncomfortably and not score excessively. Although captaincy does seem to make Ross Taylor act more mature as his ODI average increases by around 10 runs when captain. I think AB De Villiers will make an excellent captain, well liked in the dressing room with a great cricketing brain, ready to be unconventional and lead from the front in anyway possible. Brendan Taylor is similar to De Villiers, as he is willing to be risky and when captaining in a tight knit group the job is made much easier. Stuart Broad is the one that interests me most. I love bowlers as captains as they always provide interesting tactics the only thing is how do you trust someone who turns into a petulant child when he has an appeal turned down, to lead your country? Broad is strangely a smart bowler and should bring that smart cricket brain to captaincy much as I always thought Shane Warne would have to the Australian test position had he been given a chance.

Maybe I will be wrong about all these players as captains but hopefully through reading this I brought to your attention that captaincy is hard and should not be taken for granted. Great leaders can in fact be the difference in a result so next time you see a captain get Man of the Match for his 12 off 62 don't scoff, but instead admire his great decision making.