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Sunday, February 28, 2010

the best?

An interesting observation recently by that doyen of cricket commentators, Richie Benaud, while commentating on a guy in which New Zealander, Billy Bowden was officiating.

Some years back, the International Cricket Council determined that in future, umpires from the host nation could not officiate in Test matches. As a result, good umpires may not necessarily be seen in action on their home soil.

Benaud correctly notes that we are now in an era of referrals by both players and umpires to off-field umpires for adjudication on decisions by reference to the various forms of technology being employed. In that event, Benaud argues, we do not have that same difficulty that arguably existed prior to the introduction of this access to greater technology. Consequently, Benaud continued, there is no longer necessarily the need to have home fans denied the chance to see the best in action when it is one of their own.

There was something in what Benaud was saying - except for one prominent exception. He classed Billy Bowden as one of the best. Give me a break! The sheer number of blunders that bloke makes puts him well outside the numbers of the 'best'. Sure, he has done a heck of lot better in his umpiring career than I ever even dreamed of during my own lacklustre playing career, but still - calling him one of the 'best'?

Richie, mate - just how many glasses of chardonnay did you have that day during lunch?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Where the excitement is

When one day cricket burst onto the scene, it was seen as a breath of fresh air. Exciting hitting was the name of the game, thrilling the crowds. But then the game evolved to something more statistically-based. For example, in the lead-up to the 1987 World Cup, then-Australian coach, Bob Simpson, did his homework. His analysis revealed that the teams that consistently scored the most singles, tended to make the biggest scores and win the most games. That lead to a quite deliberate, considered approach to building an innings.

Today, one-day cricket is often almost formulaic at the top level: a solid opening followed by consolidation before final acceleration.

Twenty-twenty cricket has now assumed the role that international one-day cricket previously held in its earlier days. Excitement is the name of the game. The roar of the crowd is to the accompaniement of rock music. The batting team are seated around the boundary, akin to a Saturday afternoon club fixture, bring a greater degree of intimacy with the spectators. We see wonderful improvisation in batting with often seemingly impossibly shots scorching to the boundary.

The fast rising star of this scenario is Australian David Warner. The pint-sized dynamo is Excitement Plus. He has taken the even more abbreviated form of the game by the neck and shaken it like a Jack Russell terrier. Yet Warner has only played one first-class game for his home state of New South Wales. Just over twelve months ago he was plucked from club cricket obscurity, straight into the Australian 20:20 team.

This latest game, the second 20:20 game, Australia v West Indies, saw a conclusive, crushing victory to Australia with Warner smashing 67 off only 29 balls, the second fastest 20:20 fifty off only 19 balls. Yet the fixture was not without controversy.

Warner demonstrated his batting switch-up. A natural left-hander, he held the bat with a right-hand grip in a left-hand stance, before switching to the right-hand stance as the bowler was delivering the ball. The umpire spoke to him at the end of the over, with Warner later stating the umpire had warned him that the move was not in the spirit of the game.

The West Indian bowler of the moment, Pollard, responded by delivering his balls from further and further back to the ludicrous position of his front foot actually still on the green grass at the edge of the turf square.

Both incidents are legal, but are they really both in the spirit of the game? I suspect not. Admittedly in Warner's case, I suspect that few would have both the talent and dexterity to get away with it as well as he does.