How I Won The Ashes 4th Newsletter 18 December 2009

 

The Ashes

18 December 2009
Hello and welcome to the fourth 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!
 
Look out for occasional postings on

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You can also reply to howiwontheashes@googlemail.com

This week is an especially long edition, as I won’t be back until the New Year.

Below is what I will be covering this week:

Click meNew Zealand v Pakistan, 3rd Test at Napier

Click meA rare thrilling One Day International – India v Sri Lanka at Rajkot

Click meThoughts on Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson and the IPL

Click meEarly views on South Africa v England, 1st Test at Pretoria and thoughts on Ian Bell

Click meAustralia v West Indies, 3rd Test at Perth

Click meEleven ideas for British cricket (Nos. 9 to 11)

Click mePolitical Correctness

Click meGovernment interest in cricket and playing fields

Click me Health & Safety

Click mePersonal Responsibility

Click meMemory lane – 18th December 1976, England v India, 1st Test at Delhi

Click meHappy New Year, especially to Giles Clarke

See?New Zealand v Pakistan, 3rd Test at Napier

What a shame that the weather in Napier spoiled what was shaping up to be an intriguing final session, with New Zealand eventually needing 118 more runs to win off 23 overs, and the openers well set, when the rain came.  It had been a fascinating match, New Zealand gaining a first innings lead of 248, and Daniel Vettori thoroughly justifying his move up the order with 134, which strengthened the view that he is a genuine all rounder.  However, Pakistan came back strongly and ended up setting New Zealand 208 to win.  It echoed the pattern of the whole series and showed how absorbing test cricket can be, especially when the sides are evenly matched and the pitch offers something for both bowlers and batsmen.top

See?A rare thrilling One Day International – India v Sri Lanka at Rajkot

I suggested previously that One Day Internationals are generally unmemorable, simply because there are so many of them.  This week, however, threw up a real gem, between India and Sri Lanka at Rajkot.  Again, Virender Sehwag was to the fore, smashing 146 off only 102 balls, allowing India to set a target of 415, only the third time a side has passed 400 in a ODI between two established test playing countries.  Yet Sehwag was outdone by both Tillikeratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara, who both scored at a phenomenal rate. If they had stayed in for even 5 overs longer, Sri Lanka would have romped home. As it was, they ended up just 3 runs short in a classic finish. In the second match, just finished, it was an equally tight affair, with Sri Lanka this time successfully chasing 301 with 5 balls to spare. So perhaps I am being a bit harsh, but I stand by my original argument that there is way too much cricket played.top

See?Thoughts on Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson and the IPL

I also noticed this week that Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson publicly stated that they would turn down offers from the Indian Premier League.  Cynics would say that it was only because they had run the numbers and concluded there was not enough money on the table.  Perhaps naively, I am prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt and accept instead their argument that they would prefer to put their England careers first.  With an Ashes tour around the corner, it is most welcome, whatever their true motivation.  But it was slightly arrogant to assume that they would even receive an offer, although I think Broad has the potential to become a proper all rounder, well capable of batting at No. 7.  It’s only a matter of time before he scores a test match hundred.  Bangladesh next summer might represent his most immediate chance, if it weren’t for the likelihood that the batsmen above him will help themselves first and leave him just enough time to slog a quick fifty before a declaration. Batting is in his blood, though, with his father having had a distinguished tenure as an opening batsman for England, cut short by a combination of a suspect temperament and the emergence of Michael Atherton.top

See?Early views on South Africa v England, 1st Test at Pretoria and thoughts on Ian Bell

So to Pretoria, where South Africa have been in front for most of the match apart from the first morning and the last session of today, where a 100 run stand for the 9th wicket between James Anderson and the irrepressible Graeme Swann has allowed England to make up a little bit of lost ground, if not quite achieve parity. After losing Graeme Smith in the second over of the day and at one point being 93 for 3, Jacques Kallis (who recovered sufficiently to play, but only as a batsman) rebuilt the South African innings with a fine century, after Andrew Strauss won the toss and elected to field first. 

I’m afraid Strauss misread the pitch, though; perhaps a bit like Ricky Ponting at Edgbaston in 2005, he was suckered into thinking that all the recent rain would leave the pitch nice and juicy. Although there was some grass on the pitch, it was in fact pretty flat on days 1 and 2, so in hindsight England would have been much better off batting first.  If Strauss had had 5 frontline bowlers, it might have been a more plausible strategy to bowl first; but the missing bowler allowed South Africa to go on to score 418. 

Then, when England batted, the extra batsman, Bell, failed to deliver the goods, leaving a straight ball from Paul Harris, who has shown that he is not to be under-estimated.  I really am not convinced by Bell.  He was prematurely and ludicrously identified in his early years by several pundits as a once in a generation batsman who would follow in the footsteps of Hobbs, Hammond, Hutton, May, Cowdrey and Gower. But he is still failing to live up to this billing, even earning the nickname “sherminator” from Shane Warne for his timid presence at the crease.  Even now, Bell’s Test career could still instead go the same way as those perennial under-achievers Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash: voracious devourers of county bowling, but lacking the mental strength to cope with the pressure of Test cricket.

However, having the extra batsman may yet work for England if they are set a target of less than 300.  Anything more than that will be tough, especially if there is more variable bounce like the grubber Makhaya Ntini shot underneath Andrew Strauss’ bat; and Paul Harris was also extracting an ominous amount of turn even on day 3. England will have to bowl exceptionally well tomorrow to give themselves a chance. But a South African lead of only 62 was less than they dared hope when they were 242 for 8 not much more than an hour earlier; and removing the normally adhesive Ashwell Price just before the close today will have lifted them even further. I still think South Africa are favourites; and if they do win, it will be the second time in 3 tests that Strauss’ failure to take advantage of winning the toss has cost his team the match (he really should have fielded first at Headingly last summer).top

See?Australia v West Indies, 3rd Test at Perth

The match in Perth between Australia and the West Indies has followed a similar pattern.  Australia seized the initiative with a big first innings of 520. However, none of their batsmen seems able to reach three figures, with Watson, Katich, Hussey and Haddin dismissed for 89, 99, 82 and 82 respectively, and Ponting taking a vicious blow on the elbow forcing him to retire hurt. West Indies looked to be fighting back with a blistering century from that man Gayle; but the innings rapidly declined when he was out and Australia ended up with a lead of 208.  Australians are very wary of enforcing the follow on.  Only three matches have ever been won by sides following on and Australia have been on the receiving end each time; so Ponting duly batted again.  Like Strauss at Lords in the summer, it was clearly the right decision. More fireworks from Gayle, with some support from the other batsmen, could have left Australia facing one of those awkward targets, and throwing away the advantage afforded by winning the toss and bowling last on a pitch which is looking increasingly bowler friendly. 

Evidence for this was rapidly provided by the West Indies, who have reduced Australia to 137 for 8.  I haven’t had time to check, but it must be a long time since Australia last played a test series (albeit one of only 3 matches) where none of their batsmen has scored a century. I think, though, that they have already got enough of a lead and I take them to win, possibly as early as tomorrow.  You can never write off the West Indies completely with Gayle around, and South Africa did score over 400 to win in Perth last year; but the pitch looks a lot tougher than in that match, and I think Mitchell Johnson, in particular, will be too hot to handle.top

See?Eleven ideas for British cricket (Nos. 9 to 11)

Having 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 government enthusiasm for the game; the availability of playing fields; and the insidious effect of Health & Safety on all areas of our lives.top

See?Political Correctness

The three are all related.  I am neither a political theorist nor a sociologist, so my attempt at understanding the origins of political correctness is inevitably crude.  What is political correctness, anyway?  As I see it, it is a form of thinking that crept into our society sometime around 1990. It may have been a backlash against the in-your-face, aggressive form of capitalism created by Margaret Thatcher’s and Ronald Reagan’s reconstruction of the British and American economies in the mid 1980s.  Its effect is that you are not allowed to express an extreme view on any subject because there is a chance, however slight, that someone, somewhere, might be offended.  In other words, its purpose is to protect minority rights.

Often, this is a good thing.  Those afflicted by injury, ill health, disability or other misfortune need help. A compassionate, civilised society has a duty to provide it.  But this desire always to be compassionate and protective can and does backfire and leads to ludicrous situations.  A school football team that was 5-0 up at half time was told that the match would start again, because “it was unfair” that their opponents were losing so heavily. 

And the language that is used to justify such things can almost be Orwellian.  I once heard John Humphreys interviewing a woman who was suggesting that it was wrong for children to pretend to be soldiers in the playground, because it encouraged aggressive behaviour.  She said that “practitioners were being asked to exercise a zero tolerance policy towards such behaviour.” You what?  Humphreys was merciless, especially since, by her own admission, there was no evidence to show that children who did indulge in such behaviour were any more aggressive.  “You mean, TEACHERS should BAN children from doing this,” barked Humphreys.  “That’s what you mean, isn’t it?”  She reluctantly agreed.  Look at the language she was using.  Teachers are teachers, not “practitioners”. “Banning” someone from doing something is a subjective word with negative overtones; so they use “zero tolerance” to make it seem more justifiable.  It’s no different to 1984, where something was not “very” good; it was “double plus” good.

Ultimately, it is to do with society becoming more litigious and adopting a compensation culture.  So we are all encouraged to use language that reduces our exposure to litigation for what we say and, by extension, what we think.  Call it far-fetched, but that is not a million miles away from thought crime.top

See?Government interest in cricket and playing fields

What has this got to with cricket? At first glance, very little.  But on reflection, there is plenty of evidence to show that cricket has been singled out by socialist governments as being politically incorrect.  Through their inability and unwillingness to bid competitively for the rights to broadcast cricket, the BBC could be equally culpable. First, cricket is competitive, and competition, wanting to win, is bad; second, it has elitist overtones, having for many years been the preserve of the upper classes and, sin off sins, the Empire.  The idea that, until as recently as the 1960s, there could be a match between Gentlemen and Players, is proof of this in the mind of the socialist Empire apologist.

Of course, any cricket follower knows that this is utter rubbish.  The whole point about cricket is that anyone can play it and anyone can become good at it, if they have the desire, opportunity and exposure (which brings up the point about television coverage – a pet subject, to which I will return next year.)  Cricket transcends backgrounds and cultures. And since today’s government has openly declared class warfare, let’s look at that.  Gordon Brown recently scoffed at the playing fields of Eton as a way of making political capital.  So if the argument is that only those from privileged backgrounds get the opportunity to become top cricketers, why is it that you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Old Etonians to represent England in the last fifty years?  The same goes for Harrow and Charterhouse.  Tonbridge is slightly more successful, mainly by virtue of the Cowdrey family.  David Gower went to King’s Canterbury and the current England captain was at Radley.  There are others, too, but it would be a mistake to think that all cricketers all around the world come from privileged backgrounds.  Some do; and many don’t.  That is how it has always been, but on the field of play, all have the same opportunity to excel, both individually and for their team, in any number of ways. That is the unique beauty of cricket.

So what is the answer?  An overt recognition by the government of the importance of cricket to our culture would help. Don’t expect it, especially if Labour are re-elected in 2010.  Perhaps the Tories will help, but, to be fair, they will have many more important things to worry about. Nevertheless, a drive to preserve all forms of cricket and make the game more valuable is vital to our culture. This means ensuring that the organisation entrusted with the responsibility of running the game does so in the interests of all involved, most especially the players and the fans. They should do away with the self-serving chairmen and other hangers on, who sit in their ivory towers, tour around the world sipping their gins and tonics in their boxes, accountable to nobody.

Another priority is to do something about the steady swallowing up of open spaces where cricket can be played.  Not having ever been involved in, nor understanding the commercial or political intricacies, I am out of my depth in arguing this one; but it seems fundamentally wrong when a monstrosity such as the grey building above St. Paul’s underground station can be protected from being knocked down, yet open green spaces where cricket can be played are routinely ploughed up and built on.  If anyone can come up with a sensible explanation for this, I would love to hear it.top

See?Health & Safety

The final point is the growing influence of Health & Safety culture and how it affects all our lives.  Just as politically correct thinking and legislation was originally well intentioned, with the aim of protecting the rights of minorities, so health and safety legislation was quite rightly enacted to ensure that workers in mines, oil rigs, power stations and factories were adequately protected. Now that our economy has become predominantly service based rather than manufacturing based, the legislation is being applied in ways in which it was never intended – with disastrous consequences.  No-one is able or willing to take responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant urge to blame someone else and be compensated accordingly. No win no fee legal advice only contributes to this. It surely has no place on the sports field, yet it appears to be creeping in there, too.

A real life example from a cricket match in which I played illustrates this perfectly. I was captain of a team I assemble once a year and I was batting, shortly before lunch.  It was a glorious summer’s day at one of the prettiest cricket grounds in the heart of London.  The opposition’s opening bowler was a handy left arm seamer who had taken a few wickets in the morning session and was hard to get away.  Shortly after I came in, he bowled me a beamer.  It was so high that I was never in any danger of being hit on the head, but it was a surprise nonetheless.  The bowler apologised and it was clearly unintentional.  It was not that kind of cricket match, anyway.  A couple of balls later, he did it again.  At this point, the two umpires conferred with the captain of the opposition and formally warned the bowler that if he bowled one more ball like that, he wouldn’t be allowed to bowl again.  I found this faintly ridiculous and said so, but I was reminded that those are the rules.

In his next over, the last before lunch, he let slip a third head high full toss.  This time it was well wide of me and was never threatening to injure me. The wicket-keeper and slips were in more danger!  Nevertheless, the umpire immediately intervened and informed the bowler that he could not bowl again. 

This was a friendly game between two teams of players who had turned up because they love cricket and wanted to enjoy a fun, social occasion.  It’s played at a reasonable standard, and it’s taken seriously enough for there to be two umpires officiating.  But it’s not even close to being a first class fixture, let alone a test match.  Yet suddenly we had officialdom bearing down on us and that particular bowler’s enjoyment of the day – and that of his team mates – was ruined because of it.  There was a sour taste in the mouth. At lunch, I tackled the umpires and asked whether it was really necessary for that bowler to be taken out of the game.  Yes, they say, and this is why: if he is allowed to carry on bowling and if he happens to injure a batsman with a similar delivery and if that batsman decides to resort to litigation and seek compensation for his injury, they as umpires would be liable, on the grounds that their insurance policies would be null and void because they failed to apply the rules.

What utter nonsense, I reply.  Are you telling me that lawyers and insurance companies are now deciding how the game of cricket should be played?  Are the twenty-two players involved not capable of taking responsibility for themselves and their actions?  The umpires “hear what I say”, but they are having none of it and won’t budge from their position, even when I offer to get all the players to sign a disclaimer. Several years later, in the same fixture, I had a seventeen year old fast bowler playing for me.  He was still at school, but was fit and athletic; yet the rules now say he is not allowed to bowl more than seven overs consecutively, if he is under eighteen.  Why not?  Apparently for the same reason: if he injures himself in the eighth over or thereafter, the umpires who did not stop him could be liable to pay compensation.top

See?Personal Responsibility

The abject inability of individuals to take responsibility for their own actions, to seek to blame someone else whenever something happens to them, will cause untold damage if it is not stopped.  The same thinking means that in some places, you cannot ask for black or white coffee, it has to be with or without milk because to ask for black coffee might somehow be perceived as racially offensive and expose the speaker of those words to litigation.  Apparently, you cannot now even refer to the term “common sense” in court, presumably because it has elitist overtones.

The tragedy is that everyone you speak to agrees that all of this is wrong.  I’ve never met an individual who actually thinks it is a good thing, or speaks up for it. Yet it continues and nothing is done to stop it. The nearest we have had to a politician publicly opposing it was David Cameron, in a speech to the Conservative Party Conference two years ago.  He said he wanted to create a society where policemen could solve crimes without having to fill in endless forms; and where teachers could apply a sticking plaster to a child at school without fear of being branded a child molester.

The BBC asked ten people, randomly, to listen to Cameron’s speech .They were asked to press a + button when they heard something they liked, and a – button if they didn’t like it.  The more they liked what they heard, the longer they should keep the + button pressed, and the same for the – button.  It was a crude but effective gauge on what mattered to them most.  When Cameron said this, the needle swung violently into positive territory, which again shows how much the average person in the street hates the impact of health and safety.  So why does it continue to blight our lives? Cameron was clearly onto something.  His recent statements on attacking compensation culture are in the same vein and I think this could be a major vote winner for him. I hope he is able to follow it through. If he is successful, it might just persuade more people to start coaching more children and getting them enthused at an early age about sport in general and cricket in particular.top

See?Memory lane – 18th December 1976, England v India, 1st Test at Delhi

Last week we treated ourselves to the greatest test match ever played, the tied match between Australia and the West Indies in 1960, which ushered in a new era of entertaining cricket.  The batsmen who took Australia to within 7 runs of victory were, of course, Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson, who was run out for 80 by Joe Solomon, the same fielder who hit the single stump to effect the final run out and tie the match. Since Davidson had also taken 11 wickets in the match and scored 44 in the first innings, he had quite a game.

This week, we are going back to 18 December 1976, to Delhi, where England were playing the first of a five match series against India.  India had just soundly thrashed New Zealand, their spinners running amok on the dusty wickets of the sub-continent.  England, by contrast, had been blown away the previous summer by the batting of Richards and Greenidge and the fast bowling of Holding and Roberts.  An intriguing contest lay ahead. After an hour, England were right up against it.  Having won the toss, they found themselves 65 for 4.  However, an excellent innings of 179 by Dennis Amiss saw them to a total of 381, the recovery catalysed by a counter-attacking 75 from Alan Knott, in a way that too few English wicket keepers have been able to emulate since he retired.  The English bowlers then took the Indian batting apart, knocking them over for 122; and although India fared better when following on, the deficit was too big and they lost by an innings.  Two Englishmen made their debuts in this match, with contrasting fortunes.  One scored a duck; the other made 53 and then took 7 wickets in India’s first innings and a further 3 in the second.  Who were they?top

See?Happy New Year, especially to Giles Clarke

I won’t be posting another of these until 8 January 2010, because family obligations will take priority. By then, we will be through the test matches at Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town.  Having lost at Newlands on their last three tours, it would be nice if England could get that particular monkey off their back, as they managed at Lords this summer against Australia.  It’s certainly shaping up to be a tight series and I don’t think it will be decided until the final match in Johannesburg. Meanwhile, Australia will be up against Pakistan in Melbourne and Sydney.  Pakistan showed both steel and flair against New Zealand and I think they could cause Australia problems, especially if Ponting’s elbow rules him out. Umar Akmal, in particular, looks a natural in test cricket; I think there is some variety in their attack; and Australia, with the exception of Ponting and possibly Haddin, do not look world class.

By the way, I saw this headline on the back page of Wednesday’s Evening Standard.  If you read the attached PDF, you can see it in its full glory.  For those of you on Blackberry or something similar, it was a big fat headline that read CLARKE ADMITS: IT’S ALL MY FAULT.

Giles Clarke admitting he's wrong - I don't think so!

It was, in fact, West Ham’s Steve Clarke standing up for his buddy Gianfranco Zola.  I knew the moment I saw it that it couldn’t possibly be our esteemed ECB Chairman showing humility.  After all, Giles Clarke is the man who happily invited Allen Stanford to land his helicopter at the Nursery End at Lords and then accepted his $20 million in a suitcase, which was bad enough; and then, when Stanford was arrested on charges of fraud, Clarke was happy to insist that he’d done nothing wrong. 

This was the headline that should have been written at the time of Stanford. Instead, Clarke stuck to his “Edith Pfiaf, old boy.  Je ne regrete rien.”  And he still managed to persuade a majority of county chairmen, poodles that they are, to re-elect him as Chairman of the ECB.  The MCC, disgracefully in my view, followed suit, even though they know he is a nightmare, according to one friend of mine on the MCC committee. They were furious with him for allowing the Lords Test Match against the West Indies last summer to start on a Wednesday, knowing there was a chance the game would be all over in 3 days, which would mean writing a large cheque to everyone who had bought tickets for the Saturday – which is exactly what happened.  Yet the MCC still voted for him.  Why?  I think there’s more chance of the BBC outbidding Sky in an auction for the rights to televise cricket than Giles Clarke ever admitting that he’s wrong. Neither will ever happen.

Delenda est ECB.

I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and New Year.top

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