How I Won The Ashes, 3rd Newsletter 11 December 2009

The Ashes

11 December 2009

Hello and welcome to the third edition of How I Won the Ashes.

How I actually won the Ashes will be told at some point in the future, but I hope you are curious, because it’s quite a bold claim!
 
Every Friday, I will give all you hard working souls some light relief as you wend your way home and settle down to a nice quiet evening with the weekend ahead of you. Even if your evening is not quiet, it may provide some talking points in pubs and bars.
 
As the name suggests, the subject matter will be cricket.  There aren’t many weeks of the year when something is not happening in the world of cricket and I will be offering some thoughts on current topics and events. In time, I hope you will feed in some of your own views. Naturally I also hope you will forward this to anyone whom you think will enjoy it and encourage them to respond, so they can receive future editions and join in the fun.

Look out for occasional postings on

 http://twitter.com/HowIwontheAshes

You can also reply to howiwontheashes@googlemail.com

Forgive me if this week’s offering is slightly longer.  I said I would come up with a plan for British cricket and that is not possible in a few words.  I hope, though, that you will indulge me.

Below is what I will be covering this week:

• Click meNew Zealand v Pakistan, 2nd and 3rd Tests at Wellington and Napier

• Click meAustralia v West Indies, 2nd Test at Adelaide

• Click meThoughts on Chris Gayle, Brad Haddin and Australian wicket-keepers

• Click meEleven ideas for British cricket (Nos. 1 to 8 )

• Click mePreview of South Africa v England, 1st Test at Pretoria

• Click meMemory Lane – 11th December 1960, Australia v West Indies, 1st Test at Brisbane

See?New Zealand v Pakistan, 2nd and 3rd Tests at Wellington and Napier

First, a little bit of humble pie to be eaten.  I correctly predicted last week that Pakistan would win the 2nd Test against New Zealand in Wellington, which was a pretty easy call.  It looked like a bowler’s pitch and once Pakistan bowled out New Zealand for 99 in the first innings and secured a big first innings lead, there was only one winner.  But I do think low scoring games can be just as absorbing as high scoring ones.  You only have to think of the matches at Edgbaston in 2005 and 1981, when no batsmen on either side passed 100 (indeed, in 1981 no batsman made 50), and yet both matches are permanently stamped on the history of the game as real thrillers. The deciding test in Napier looks like it will go the same way, with Daniel Vettori elevating himself to No. 6 in the batting order to allow him to pick four seamers.  After day 1, he may have called it right.  The seamers bowled Pakistan out for 223, although the opener Imran Farhat has played exceptionally well to carry his bat for 117.  New Zealand are already 47 for no loss, so look to be in a fairly strong position, except that the Pakistan bowlers are well capable of engineering a collapse.  All to play for and another thriller is potentially developing.

I also correctly predicted that India, having piled up 726 in their first innings, would take advantage of a weary Sri Lanka and win the final match at Mumbai.  Only a fighting century by Kumar Sangakkara took the game into the 5th day. It may well be that the great Muralitharan has played his last test.  He was comprehensively neutralised throughout the entire series, taking 9 wickets in 3 matches, in which India only needed to bat 4 times and scored over 2,000 runs.top

See?Australia v West Indies, 2nd Test at Adelaide

Where I got it wrong, and for the second week running I owe an apology to the West Indies, was their performance in Adelaide.  They held the whip hand for most of the match and in a slightly less dramatic way, it was highly absorbing stuff. At the end of day 2, West Indies had done well to post 451 in their first innings, but the increasingly durable opening partnership of Shane Watson and Simon Katich put on 174 without loss. The obvious prognosis was that Australia, with their established middle order to come, would pile on the runs on the 3rd day and then squeeze the West Indies on days 4 and 5. 

It turned out very differently.  Watson tried to pull the second ball of the 3rd day for a boundary that would have given him his maiden Test century, but was bowled; Katich was out soon afterwards; and the Australians ended up falling 12 runs short of the West Indies’ total.  Chris Gayle then played a brilliant innings, carrying his bat for 165 and setting Australia 330 to win.  At one point.  Australia were 139 for 5 with more than 20 overs to go; but that was as good as it got for the West Indies, with Clarke and Haddin easily shutting up shop.top

See?Thoughts on Chris Gayle, Brad Haddin and Australian wicket-keepers

First Chris Gayle: a supremely gifted batsman, yet seemingly indifferent to Test cricket.  When you see him bat like he did in Adelaide, he is right up there with the great batsmen of his generation, and you wonder at his lack of enthusiasm.  He could reasonably be compared to Virender Sehwag, although the similarities are not immediately obvious. One is tall, left-handed and Caribbean; the other is short, right-handed and Indian.  Both, though,  are openers, have an innate disrespect for bowlers, attack the ball from the start, and once they get going, are hard to stop.  Both have carried their bat in Test innings; both have scored triple centuries; and both are more than handy off-spinners.  Indeed, Gayle once came within 15 runs of the unique achievement of taking 5 wickets and scoring a hundred in a single day of test cricket, against England at Edgbaston in 2004.

Yet when you saw him standing at slip in last summer’s test series, utterly bored, you really wondered if he cared about the long form of the game, and was more of a mercenary.  I once heard a story which, if true, sums him up.  He was at a dinner in the Long Room at Lords, sitting with sunglasses on (it was dark), saying nothing, staring ahead, perhaps thinking of his native Jamaica.  Some old buffer was trying to engage him, asking about this innings or that, and probably being deeply irritating, when he finally replied, as languidly as he might flick a ball over mid wicket into the crowd: “So, man. D’you get much pussy?” Complete indifference and then a flash of immense style.

The final match of the series is in Perth next week.  Gayle has never played a test match there before, so it could be interesting and it will certainly suit his game.  Australia are slightly vulnerable right now, Perth is usually a result pitch, and Australia have lost their last two test matches there.  If West Indies, led by Gayle, get a good start or at least a 1st innings lead, they might be on for a surprise.  It would really shake up the world order, which could only be good for cricket generally.  It’s always been said that a strong West Indies is a strong game, and it’s hard to disagree. The fly in the ointment is that the Australian batting has to fire sometime.  Let’s see. I know I was down on the West Indies only two weeks ago, but they have proved me wrong and I would be delighted if they continued to do so.

The other player to deserve attention is Brad Haddin.  Unspectacularly, but with a cool head, he stayed with Michael Clarke and snuffed out the faint scent of victory in West Indies’ nostrils in the last session at Adelaide.  England players and supporters are sick of great Australian wicket-keeper batsmen, who invariably seem to come in at No. 7 or 8.  Either they rescue an innings when Australia are 5 down for not many, or they pile on the agony when they are 5 down for a lot. Having endured Ian Healy getting under their skins with the bat and chirping away behind the stumps for the best part of twelve years, England thought they’d found relief when the unproven Adam Gilchrist took over.  How wrong they were.  In his first three Ashes innings, Gilchrist showed he was even more dangerous than Healy, smashing in successive innings 152, 90 and 54, which played a major part in Australia winning the first three matches of that series. 

So when Gilchrist retired and a new keeper in the form of Haddin took his place, we all thought that life might get a bit easier.  Wrong again.  In his first Ashes test, Haddin, true to form, scored 121 and set up a position which, had it not been for the Cardiff rain, Monty Panesar and James Anderson, would surely have resulted in a win for Australia. The whole summer of 2009 might then have been different.  He followed Cardiff up with a long partnership with Clarke in the second innings at Lords which, for a session, briefly had us worried that Australia might do the impossible and score over 500 in the fourth innings to win a test. He is arguably more technically solid than his predecessors.  What he lacks in Healy’s grittiness and Gilchrist’s explosiveness, he makes up for in that he is more correct and could easily bat higher up the order.  He may way well do so in future, once Ponting and Hussey retire.  It’s not a coincidence that in the two matches England won against Australia in 2009, at Lords and the Oval, Haddin failed in both first innings.top

See?Eleven ideas for British cricket (Nos. 1 to 8 )

The other big news of the week was that the ICC has stated it would consider allowing different cricket boards to negotiate their own schedules.  Given the incompetence and greed of a number of those boards, led by the ECB, don’t necessarily expect much.  But there is a glimmer of hope. There was a lot of excited debate on the Cricinfo bulletin board, much of it well reasoned and setting out grand and detailed plans of how test cricket might be shaped in the next few years.

Personally, I think everyone is worrying about the detail too soon. And it’s clear from many of the comments that they are thinking only of their own country, rather than the greater good of the global game. That’s understandable, and I myself have a few basic suggestions for cricket in the UK, outlined below. The moves to change the scheduling, though, are a step in the right direction, because they recognise at last that there is too much cricket played. This is a significant breakthrough. Let’s be happy with that and then move to the next stage, without getting too preoccupied with the detail too soon. That next stage should be to focus on reducing – massively – the number of ODIs. Three obvious benefits would immediately accrue. First, each ODI would in itself become more valuable and more iconic, through its rarity; second, players would have more time off; and third, there would be more time to fit in sensible schedules of tests that allowed everyone to compete against each other, without cramming in matches and necessitating back-to-back tests, which do nothing to ease the pressure on players’ minds and bodies.

So here’s my basic blueprint for British cricket. Appropriately enough, there are 11 points:

1. Abolish the existing ECB in its entirety (delenda est ECB). This would mean summarily firing every single officer, starting with the Chairman, Chief Executive and Communications Director, whose spin constantly makes Alistair Campbell seem like a novice.  He would be a ready recruit for the Labour party, and boy, do they need him right now. Since those officers are not paid a salary, no compensation would need to be paid.

2. Create a new National Cricket Board, answerable not the counties but to the government.  The current system is nothing short of a good old-fashioned gerrymander.  The ECB squeezes as much money as it can from the game, with no regard for its long term future. Not only does it deny hundreds of thousands of fans and would-be stars of the future access to the game through its mishandling of the broadcast rights; it also places ridiculous stress on the bodies and minds of the players , without whom the game would not exist. Far too much of that money is passed shamelessly to the counties, who become bloated and complacent and forget the disciplines of running a tight ship.  And who ensures that the so-called stewards of the game remain in office, even when they commit a crime as heinous as the Stanford business?  Why, the counties, of course.  As I said, gerrymander.

3. Elect a Chairman who has been a respected captain of industry with real experience of running big business, perhaps even a major FTSE 100 company or its equivalent. Naturally that person has to have a fundamental love for the game.  And he (or she) has to be paid a proper salary. A bit of charm and humility would also help. What we don’t need is a dilettante entrepreneur, with fingers in lots of pies and a few non-executive directorships, whose style is combative and who never believes he is wrong.

4. Find a full time Chief Executive.  Qualifications: British; lengthy experience of the game at the highest level, in all parts of the world; bright; broad-minded; articulate; hard; and prepared to take tough decisions.  The obvious candidate would be Mike Atherton, who ticks each of those boxes.  Could he be persuaded to give up his media interests? Probably not, unless he were offered enough money.  The money is available, of course, but it means the counties having to rely on less hand outs from the game’s governing body, which is how it should be and which is the next point.

5. Reduce, hugely, the amount of money that is handed to the counties from the top.  Let them instead apply innovation and imagination to find additional sources of finance.  For too long they have relied on subsidies to keep them afloat.  That has to stop.  If they can’t manage, tough shit.  They could start by slashing their staff.  Far too many players, who have not the slightest chance of playing for England, draw a salary from the game.  If their budgets were tightened, they’d soon work out who were worth paying and who was dead wood. It’s not as if there is a shortage of talent at the levels below the counties.  League cricket thrives all around the country. It would be up to each county to ensure that it was properly scouted and tapped.  Young , aspiring players could be paid on a per-game basis, if they were good enough.  In other words, make the first class game more competitive.

6. The big argument against point 5, of course, is that it can deny fans the opportunity to watch great talent from overseas and players the opportunity to learn from it.  I agree that there is room for overseas players in the county game; think of the pleasure given to Somerset fans by Richards and Garner; to Hampshire fans by the other Richards, Greenidge, Marshall and Warne; and countless others. But, at present, it has got out of hand.  Players, with little loyalty, come over to the UK for half a season or less, to suit their own agendas. Kolpak is a disaster.  So here is a solution, which was suggested by none other than Gary Neville, the Manchester United full back.  No mean cricketer in his youth, he came out with an inspired idea when he was recently interviewed by Michael Vaughan.

Neville envisaged the creation of a global league, which would see regional or state teams from other countries touring to play three or four day games against the English counties, and vice versa.  It’s difficult to see a reason why this would not work. Overseas cricketers could still play in Britain, only they would now be playing against their current employers. More real British players, in turn, would get a chance to experience conditions overseas. The standard would be higher.   Attendances and viewing figures would surely increase at the prospect of seeing Durham playing New South Wales, Surrey against Western Province or Yorkshire against Railways.  If it can work in the one day game, why can’t it work in the longer format? Especially if the next piece of the plan is adopted.

7. As argued previously, massively reduce the number of games played.  Rarity is a wonderful thing.  Diamonds and gold are valuable precisely because they are rare.  Why can this not be true of cricket matches?  It works in American Football.  Each team plays only one game per week in the regular season for 16 weeks, followed by the play offs and culminating in Superbowl.  The season lasts from the end of September until the end of January.  Players are given over half the year to relax and recuperate.  Standards are consistently high and each game is a valuable and treasured commodity.

8. Bring back uncovered pitches, at all levels.  At least do something to even the contest between bat and ball. In the back streets or parks of Leeds, London, Lahore, Kingston, Colombo, Cape Town, Delhi, Dacca, Auckland or Sydney, young kids and teenagers play cricket on grass, dust, gravel and concrete with tennis balls, bits of wood and anything else they can get their hands on.  One Australian friend of mine described how he and his son play with each other in their back yard with cellotape wrapped around one side of a tennis ball.  “Mate, you wouldn’t believe how much it swings.”  (A further example, by the way, of how sophisticated is the Australian approach to cricket.) If aspiring batsmen can adapt and learn skills against balls swinging and spitting at them from all directions, why can those skills not be applied at higher levels, even the very highest.  As I said earlier, low scoring games are gripping.  Cricket on a sticky wicket is a wondrous thing to watch.  Imaginative declarations and reversed batting orders could even return.

My nos. 9, 10 and 11 will have to come next week, as I have used up too much time and you are probably now close to your dinner or destination.  In summary, they revolve around the issues of political correctness and government enthusiasm for the game; the availability of playing fields; and the insidious effect of Health & Safety on all areas of our lives.

Fantasy? Perhaps, but it need not be, if someone with some guts and determination took all this on board and acted on it.  I would love to do so, but I can’t on my own, and besides, I have a daytime job and a family to look after.  But if you like the ideas, feel free to pass them on to those whose opinions carry more weight than mine do.top

See?Preview of South Africa v England, 1st Test at Pretoria

By this time next week, we will be into the third day of the First Test at Pretoria between England and South Africa. Both sides could be missing key players.  South Africa will definitely be without Jacques Kallis, who would almost certainly get in to an all time World XI.  Only the greatest batsmen score over 10,000 runs and average more than 50 over their entire careers.  None, except Kallis, have also taken 256 wickets, at an average of just over 30, as well as holding 147 catches. England may well have to leave out James Anderson, at present their most potent fast bowler.  I suspect South Africa will miss Kallis more than England will miss Anderson (who might yet play) and I therefore think England could upset the odds and win this one; but it is a shame that key players will be missing and, yet again, it is a product of too much meaningless cricket being played.top

See?Memory Lane – 11th December 1960, Australia v West Indies, 1st Test at Brisbane

Time for memory lane.  Last week, we went back 30 years to the Delhi test match of 1979 between India and Pakistan.  The bowling hero who skittled India in their first innings with 8 for 69 was not Imran Khan, who in fact broke down and bowled only 8 overs in the match.  It was the lesser known Sikander Bakht.  The centurion in India’s second innings was Dilip Vengsarkar.  Although he finished unbeaten on 146, he only scored 17 runs in the morning session of the final day and it was probably this defensiveness which ultimately cost his team victory.

This time 48 years ago, Australia and West Indies were taking a rest day in a test match at Brisbane which will probably be remembered as one of the greatest of all time, perhaps the greatest. It was, of course, the first test match ever to be tied.  When Australia scored 505 in reply to West Indies’ 453, no-one could have predicted the drama that was about to unfold in the final two days. At the end of the 4th day, West Indies were 259 for 9 in their second innings and ended up setting Australia 233 to win.  Australia were reduced to 92 for 6 making the West Indies firm favourites; but not for the first time, and certainly not the last, Australian grit and competiveness came to the fore. A seventh wicket partnership of 134 took them to within 7 runs of their target, with 10 balls left and four wickets in hand.  However, those four wickets then fell in 9 balls, three of which were  run-outs. This included the final wicket off the penultimate ball when the last Australian pair of Meckiff and Kline were going for a single that would have won them the match. The fielder at square leg had only one stump at which to aim, but hit it to produce the first ever tied match. The trivia for you: who were the Australian batsmen who put on that partnership of 134 that took Australia to the brink?  And who was the West Indies fielder who ran out Ian Meckiff?

Delenda est ECB.

Have a great weekend.top

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2 Responses to “How I Won The Ashes, 3rd Newsletter 11 December 2009”

  1. How I Won The Ashes 4th Newsletter 18 December 2009 « How I Won The Ashes Blog Says:

    […] outlined eight of my eleven point plan for British cricket (How I Won The Ashes 3rd Newsletter 11th December 2009), I ran out of time and space and saved for this week the issues of political correctness and […]

  2. How I Won The Ashes 5th Newsletter 10 January 2010 « How I Won The Ashes Blog Says:

    […] If more people took this seriously and did something about it (see previous editions, especially How I Won The Ashes 11 December 2009), players such as Trott and Pietersen would find it harder to get selected for our national […]

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