Add to Technorati Favorites

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Siddle improvement

Peter Siddle impressed me from his debut onwards in the Australian cricket team. He is not just fast but aggresive with it, driven by a huge heart. But what frustrated me with him was his habit of bowling just that bit short. And that can waste the ball.

This is something that Siddle has obviously been working on. So far this summer he has bowled a far better length and is getting regular wickets as a result. There is more to bowling fast than eating raw meat and getting pumped full of testosterone, and to his credit, Siddle has realised this. And he is benefitting from it. As is the entire Australian side.

Well done Sidds!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Whose game is it?

My - it has been a long time since I posted anything in this particular blog.

The two-test series between Australia and South Africa has just been completed with the series drawn.

The Second Test will be remembered for the remarkable debut of 18 year-old Australian bowler, Pat Cummins. Taking six wickets in the South African second innings before playing a crucial role with the bat late in the Australian second innings and getting to score the winning runs for Australia, this debut was definitely memorable. As one of the radio commentators remarked at the time, Cummins will probably find Test cricket not so exciting from here on in.

This series has however raised a number of questions.

Firstly, why only a two-test series? These two teams are well matched and consistently produce good and exciting cricket. This brief series was no different with Australia seeming to have the First Test safely in their hands only to have their batting collapse. Similarly after taking some crucial wickets, South Africa seemed to have the Second Test well under control only to see the Australian lower orders bring them home. So why only a piddling two-test series?

Next there is the question of the scheduling of this brief series. The Tests were scheduled in a part of Africa at a time of year - approaching the wet season - when the light disappears very early. For example in the Second Test, the first four days all ended early due to bad light. A friend of mine who lived in Africa for some years, described this scheduling as lunacy given this issue with light and remarked that they were very lucky not to have lost more time due to rain than they did. So why schedule a piddling two-test series at the wrong time of year?

Umpiring is not an easy task and I do not like to bag the umpires as a rule but there is one individual who consistently incurs my wrath - Billy Bowden. This New Zealand umpire's silly signals and antics were briefly amusing when he appeared on the scene but that amusement has long passed. If anyone is going to have a shocker of a Test, it will be Bowden. I am not aware of any particularly bad calls he made this time around, but there is an issue of his attitude towards light on the last day of the Test.

With only two Australian wickets in hand and only five runs to win but with light beginning to fade, Bowden then proceeded to waste time first calling for a light meter - how come the umpires don't carry them any longer? - then consulting it. There was potentially only minutes left in the game but Bowden risked that possibility of a result by fiddling around with the light meter. Would either side have liked to have gone off due to bad light? Not bloody likely! The South Africans were potentially two good balls away from a series win. The Australians just one or two strokes away from victory and drawing the series.

It is often remarked that you can tell a good umpire if you barely notice him being there. That is because they are quietly and efficiently doing their job, letting the game be the focus. Yet whenever Bowden is present, you can be damned sure that he will be getting plenty of mentions, whether he is doing his job properly or not. As ABC commentator, Jim Maxwell, exclaimed at the time in considerable frustration, 'when will they learn that the game is not about them!'

I cannot help but contrast this with a one-day match between England and Australia in the 1977 Ashes series. OK, that was so long ago in sporting terms as to positively be ancient history. But in the last of that one-day series, it was finished in pouring rain. Why? Because a result was on the cards and both teams wanted a result. Billy Bowden seemed prepared to risk this chance of a result in the Second Test by simply wasting time.

Given the number of times I have seen Bowden make woeful calls, miscount the number of deliveries bowled and even thoroughly confuse the scorers with his at-times indecipherable signals, why is he continually in the first-rank of international umpires?

Monday, January 3, 2011

The hat-trick that should have been

Gee people can be quick. I have already received a tweet asking about the non-hat-trick that I can't blame an umpire for.

OK, it's only a short story, so here goes.

It was a one-day match, a final, against a team that really fancied their chances against us. And to be fair, they had every reason to fancy themselves.

The skipper threw me the ball. Almost instantaeous success. A wicket. Another. The hat-trick beckoned. And just like that previous episode, in all important incoming batter was a kid.

I stood at the head of my run up. I glared at the kid, doing my best impression of Merv Hughes, provided Merv had been a short, greying, bespectacled, hopeful-off-spinner. In fact, about all Merv and I had in common was a paunchy gut. But never let facts get in the way of a good story!

The bowl rolled beautifully out of my fingers, looping up in the air, dropping right on the spot. It turned in a little and the batter lunged forward, the ball catching the shoulder of the bat to loop back in the air back towards me. Oh what a dream of a return catch. I could have probably rolled a cigarette while getting into position, it was that easy a return catch. But instead, for some strange reason, I lunged forward toward the ball, only to find myself over-shooting it. A last desperate lunge back between my legs only saw my fingertips brush the ball.

The umpire, having been greeted with the sight of my hands chasing a bowl out from beneath my fat posterior, managed to keep a straight face. Almost.

The hat-trick that never was

My last post about umpiring made me remember an incident from my own inglorious cricketing career, showing just what a poor umpire can cause.

It was a ground in a small country ground. My lot were the visitors. After only posting a mediocre total, we took the field second.

At the start of the day, the captain and I had both queried the way the stumps were placed, arguing that one was set too wide. "Nothing wrong with them," the man in the white jacket insisted. Well, OK, not so much a white jacket as a white polo shirt, but white jacket sounded more impressive.

This was before I saw the light and took up bowling donkey drops - straight-breaking off spin. Back then I was still trying to become the next Dennis Lillee. I opened the bowling but into the wind as my opening partner generally got first choice of which end to bowl from. And it was not so much bowling into the wind as it was pushing into a gale. But in no time at all, the wind swung right around. From trudging into a typhoon, I suddenly found myself bowling with the wind behind me. What a treat!

The wickets started falling with me in among them. In one memorable over, I found myself on a hat-trick. Even better, the incoming batter looked like a kid. Surely I could clean him up and achieve that elusive goal?

Pitched on a good length, the ball moved off the pitch a little, back into the right-handed batter - and straight through the gate between bat and pad. Up I went in celebration - I had bowled him! Hat-trick! The keeper had gone up with me. Yes! But wait a moment. The bails were still on.

We stood and looked at the undisturbed stumps in surprise. "I thought you bowled me," admitted the young batter.

Well, we went on to win the game and I was in the wickets. But once play was over, I grabbed the ball and walked up to the stumps, the placement of which we had disputed at the start of the afternoon. Sure enough, the ball just fitted between the off and middle stumps. Probably only a cigarette paper or two either side, but fitted through all the same.

I feel quite justified in blaming the umpire for that missed hat-trick. At least I had someone to blame for that one, unlike another memorable occasion. But that is another story for another time.

A thought on umpiring

The referral system in Test Cricket was introduced with some controversy. At the end of the day, however, the reason for its introduction was to help get past some absolute howlers of decisions being made. From my observation point, one of the worst culprits was easily Billy Bowden, who has suffered my wrath before.

What is noticeable so far this series, is the closeness of many of the decisions being referred 'upstairs' for adjudication. Even when a decision has been overturned, there has not been much in it and umpire judgement has been shown to be pretty sound. This is a good thing for umpires, helping give them back some authority and giving players confidence in an umpire's ability to properly control a game. Ricky Ponting's outburst on the field during the Fourth Test, arguing with an umpire when he was not happy with the outcome of a referral, was ridiculous and uncalled for. I think he was lucky to only have lost 40% of his match fee for that stunt.

I have been very impressed with the standard of umpiring during this series. However we are only into the second day of the Fifth Test where Bowden is, unfortunately in my opinion, standing once more. As a player I would have virtually no confidence in that umpire at all. Hopefully Billy will concentrate on actually running the game and not his stupid on-field theatrics.

Lay off Usman!

Usman Khawaja made a solid debut for Australia, slipping into the number three position in the wake of injured Ricky Ponting. He seemed in charge and quietly confident, with a sound technique that the likes of Phil Hughes should have a good look at. However he only made 37. He made a solid start but that was it, although admittedly having rain delays would not have helped the concentration. Solid – yes. But hardly worth the over-the-top media headlines. According to the press, Khwaja ‘starred’, he ‘shone like a beacon’. One commentator announced that this was clearly the start of a 100-plus Test career.

Oh give me a break. The guy did not even make 50. He has made a promising start and does admittedly look darn good, but he is hardly our ‘Saviour’ just yet. Lay off the silly hyperbole, will you? Sure, the press have not had much good news to report to Australian audiences this season, but don’t go so ridiculously over top. The scorebooks are full of names of players who made a promising start only to fall away and disappear into mediocrity. Khawaja has enough pressure on him as it is, without the press putting even greater expectations on his shoulders. Just let him develop naturally.

Take a lesson from the Poms

Any aspiring medium-pace or quick bowlers would do well to pay close attention to how the successful English bowling attack has been operating. They consistently bowl at and around off-stump before putting the ball a bit wider, drawing the batter into pushing or poking at a delivery they would have been better off to leave well alone. Those are the circumstances that result in edges going to the waiting cordon behind the stumps.

It takes a disciplined batter to resist those tactics, knowing when to drop the wrists, pulling away from the shot. The current English bowling line-up are very disciplined in this approach. And a sure way to start taking wickets is to wear batters down. It is an approach that can work in most circumstances even if it is not as exciting to watch. But to make it really work, the bowling needs to be very consistent otherwise the batters receive valuable respite from the pressure. This English attack is very consistent with this attack and they are reaping the rewards.

In contrast, the Australian bowling attack has conspicuously failed to produce any continuing pressure on the English bats in the same way.