Thursday, 28 August 2014

QUICK SINGLES: ABDUL RAZZAQ


One thing I've learned since trying to write about cricket for cash is always to be on the lookout for an earner. So, when I pootled along to watch Moddershall play Hem Heath in the Staffs Cup quarter-finals, I thought I might as well ask their overseas player, Abdul Razzaq (46 Tests, 265 ODIs, 32 T20Is), for an interview. He was obliging ... up to a point. He studiously rebuffed any frivolous questions I had, instead seeming upon taking every opportunity to get stuck in to the Pakistan Cricket Board - not all of which made the final piece for ESPNcricinfo. He wasn't chuffed with them, old Abdur Prozac.

I also learned that, when he played for Middlesex, the team used to watch porn films in the dressing room to help the players relax. Interesting theory. Not sure walking out to bat with the desire to crack one off is all that relaxing, myself...

Quick Singles: Abdul Razzaq 



Wednesday, 30 July 2014

THE GEOMETRY OF CAPTAINCY




Cricket captaincy – it’s all about the angles.

A piece for ESPNcricinfo (recycled from an old Barnfields Buzz column, the Moddershall CC newsletter) called The Geometry of Captaincy, that touched on some of Alastair Cook’s recent struggles. 



JIMMY ADAMS: GLEANINGS




If the interview process is in some way akin to a bowler probing a batsman for a weakness, then my prospects of getting much ‘juice’ from Jimmy Adams were slim. 

A redoubtable blocker who acquired the nickname ‘Jimmy Padams’ on an early tour to India on account of his method of dealing with the ball turning out of the rough (by this stage of his career, 12 Tests in, only Bradman had better numbers), he told me that his best innings – “maybe, maybe” – was a boundary-less 202-ball 48 nout out to win a Test match against Pakistan by a single wicket, which, I guess reveals much about the man.

It’s fair to say he squeezed the most out of his talent. Maybe, maybe.


He was also a very intelligent, thoughtful cricketer – and a fiercely honest one, too, taking on the bumbling West Indies Cricket Board at a time when dissent might have meant the end of his career.


He has had one or two different positions since calling time
– WI Players Union chief, WI U19s coach and now finds himself in his third year as First Team Coach at Kent. It was during his team’s game at Derby in May that I caught up with him for a chat about his career. He was generous with his time, too, giving me over two hours either side of lunch as he kept half an eye on his team in the field. He evn asked me what my favourite knock was, vexed by such a question.

Anyway, there will be a feature on West Indies’ rivalry with Australia over the course of the 1990s, while a more general, life-and-times quotes piece ran a couple of weeks ago. It should be read with a mellifluous Jamaican accent: “So, Brian and Healy might be warring…




Thursday, 17 July 2014

"WAR IS PEACE"; OR, JIMMY, JADEJA AND THE BIG THREE




Well, well, well, well, well, well, well. Jimmy and Jadeja, eh? EH!?!

But before we get back to live commentary of ‘The Trent Bridge Push and Shove Kerfuffle’ that has brought two great nations to the brink of war, let’s get the shipping forecast: “…And finally, Viking, North Utsire, Cromarty, Teacup: there are severe storm warnings”.

Anyway, as we back politely away from the abject futility of trying to get to the bottom of what happened – mainly because any independent governing body or officials thereof have now given up any pretence of being able to arbitrate the sport – let’s just note the sensual, nay sexual effusion of all this. In a soporific Test match enlivened only by some sprightly nine-ten-jackery, Jimmy first larruped several reverse-sweeps off Jadeja, treating him like a rolling net bowler; later, Jadeja blocked for 37 balls then decided to treat Jimmy-y like a spinner, skipping down the track to plonk him over the top. It’s all a bit 5-year-old boy play-punching the girl he fancies, no?  

Nevertheless, it has all come as something of a surprise, this handbaggery, given that only a few weeks earlier the ICC rubber-stamped its own restructuring into what’s effectively a private members club lorded over by India, in the big, diamond-encrusted chair in the middle, in conjunction with England, in the large-ish gilded chair alongside, and Australia, in the slightly smaller (+17cm for cricketing success; –22cm for lack of Barmy Army to bring dollar to other nations) green-and gold chair on the other side of that. A cosy troika (and also perhaps the worst thing that has happened to cricket).

And yet Jadeja and Anderson are now embroiled in a brannigan, a brouhaha, a stoush. ‘Sgoinon?


Not even a cynic (guilty, m’lud) would suggest – regardless of whether this is a genuine spat or not – that after said Tedium at Trent Bridge was played out to pockets of empty white seats, a bit of spice cannot harm things at the ticket office. Not me. But some have. (Not me.)

The charade of war between collusive powers whose conflict is designed to distract their constituents from the hierarchical, monopolistic rule they exercise – it’s 1984 all over again. Specifically, it’s the dissident Emmanuel Goldstein’s The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, a forbidden three-part political treatise slipped into the middle of the novel.

Let’s have a read, see what we learn.


Part One: “Ignorance is strength”

The thrust of the opening segment is to outline the internal stratification of the three great global powers: Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. It is identitical in all three:

Throughout recorded time, and probably since the end of the Neolithic Age, there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle, and the Low. They have been subdivided in many ways, they have borne countless different names, and their relative numbers, as well as their attitude towards one another, have varied from age to age: but the essential structure of society has never altered. […] The aim of the High is to remain where they are. The aim of the Middle is to change places with the High. The aim of the Low, when they have an aim – for it is an abiding characteristic of the Low that they are too much crushed by drudgery to be more than intermittently conscious of anything outside their daily lives – is to abolish all distinctions and create a society in which all men shall be equal. Thus throughout history a struggle which is the same in its main outlines recurs over and over again.

In one version of our analogy, the High would be the Big Three. The Middle is the other great cricket nations: South Africa, Pakistan, West Indies, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. Finally, the Low would be the remaining pair of what are laughably (if not euphemistically and with a trace of innuendo) called “ICC full members” (Bang and Zim), as well as all the Associate and Affiliate nations. The carve-up of world cricket isn’t an exact analogy – for one, in cricket, the pretence of genuine hostility isn’t so much for the benefit of a subjugated internal populace as for the eternal hegemony of the Big 3 over other great nations – but Orwell knew that, whether it’s India, ICC, MCC or whoever, little will have changed:

[No] advance in wealth, no softening of manners, no reform or revolution has ever brought human equality a millimetre nearer. From the point of view of the Low, no historic change has ever meant much more than a change in the name of their masters.

Here’s how the recent convulsion at the top table of cricket happened, and what was novel about it:

The new movements which appeared in the middle years of the century, Ingsoc in Oceania, Neo-Bolshevism in Eurasia, Death-Worship, as it is commonly called, in Eastasia, had the conscious aim of perpetuating unfreedom and inequality. These new movements, of course, grew out of the old ones and tended to keep their names and pay lip-service to their ideology. But the purpose of all of them was to arrest progress and freeze history at a chosen moment. The familiar pendulum swing was to happen once more, and then stop. As usual, the High were to be turned out by the Middle, who would then become the High; but this time, by conscious strategy, the High would be able to maintain their position permanently.

By conscious strategy. Henceforth, the lapping waves of history would be replaced by a frozen sea.

The cyclical movement of history was now intelligible, or appeared to be so; and if it was intelligible, then it was alterable. But the principal, underlying cause was that, as early as the beginning of the twentieth century, human equality had become technically possible […] Even if it was still necessary for human beings to do different kinds of work, it was no longer necessary for them to live at different social or economic levels. Therefore, from the point of view of the new groups who were on the point of seizing power, human equality was no longer an ideal to be striven after, but a danger to be averted.


Of course, another version of our analogy would be that India, Australia and England correspond to the three powers of Eurasia, Eastasia and Oceania (the other cricketing nations would be “the disputed territories”), each of which is internally stratified as outlined (and to have two versions of the same analogy in play at the same time is exemplary doublethink. And of course, it isn’t). So, looking for cricket’s parallels to the hierarchical structure of Ingsoc, Big Brother would perhaps be English cricket as an idea (only ideas really inspire men to terror), encompassing everything from the Spirit of Cricket, Lord’s, the MCC and suchlike, to Team England (again an idea, but one including the beaming supporters invested in it all). The Inner Party would be the ECB executive, while the Outer Party would correspond to the players and the county administrators. The Proles would be cricket supporters en masse.

Anyway, the new ideology, aiming at permanent domination, demanded a new ruling class, Orwell tells us: 

The new aristocracy was made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists, and professional politicians. These people, whose origins lay in the salaried middle class and the upper grades of the working class, had been shaped and brought together by the barren world of monopoly industry and centralized government. As compared with their opposite numbers in past ages, they were less avaricious, less tempted by luxury, hungrier for pure power, and, above all, more conscious of what they were doing and more intent on crushing opposition.

Giles, Wally, N.

But what would be their plan?

The new High group, unlike all its forerunners, did not act upon instinct but knew what was needed to safeguard its position. It had long been realized that the only secure basis for oligarchy is collectivism. Wealth and privilege are most easily defended when they are possessed jointly.


Whence the ICC’s Finance and Governance ‘Position Paper’ and its rubber-stamping in Malaysia, just as with Ingsoc the Party expropriates all private property (viz. the Big Three take effective ownership of all countries’ international calendars) and permanent equality is established.

But the problems of perpetuating a hierarchical society go deeper than this. There are only four ways in which a ruling group can fall from power. Either it is conquered from without, or it governs so inefficiently that the masses are stirred to revolt, or it allows a strong and discontented Middle group to come into being, or it loses its own self-confidence and willingness to govern. These causes do not operate singly, and as a rule all four of them are present in some degree. A ruling class which could guard against all of them would remain in power permanently. Ultimately the determining factor is the mental attitude of the ruling class itself.

The first threat has been removed by hyper-armament and permanent war [see below], while the second is only “theoretical”. The existing dangers are that strong and discontented middle group – the painful long-game of the Not-So-Big Five aligning itself against the Big Three, either denying their best players the cachet of international cricket or perhaps creating their own parallel to IPL, tapping into the Indian population via online pay sites – and a lurch toward magnanimity and holistic husbandry of the game by the Big Three (and, of course, England and Australia might well be our discontented middle group).  

The problem, that is to say, is educational. It is a problem of continuously moulding the consciousness both of the directing group and of the larger executive group that lies immediately below it. The consciousness of the masses needs only to be influenced in a negative way.

And after a few passages outlining the stratifications and potential movement between the social strata…

Between the two branches of the Party there is a certain amount of interchange, but only so much as will ensure that weaklings are excluded from the Inner Party and that ambitious members of the Outer Party are made harmless by allowing them to rise. Proletarians, in practice, are not allowed to graduate into the Party. The most gifted among them, who might possibly become nuclei of discontent, are simply marked down by the Thought Police and eliminated.

…the way in which power is passed down is discussed:

A ruling group is a ruling group so long as it can nominate its successors. The Party is not concerned with perpetuating its blood but with perpetuating itself. Who wields power is not important, provided that the hierarchical structure remains always the same. All the beliefs, habits, tastes, emotions, mental attitudes that characterize our time are really designed to sustain the mystique of the Party and prevent the true nature of present-day society from being perceived.

It is part-brainwashing, part-terror. Even the ambitious cricketers in the Outer Party – which Orwell calls the “hands” to the Inner Party’s “brain” – such as KP are rigorously monitored. 


The Inner Party, too. The individuals may come and go, but the structure must be preserved at all costs. No deviations, no dissent.

A Party member lives from birth to death under the eye of the Thought Police. Even when he is alone he can never be sure that he is alone. Wherever he may be, asleep or awake, working or resting, in his bath or in bed, he can be inspected without warning and without knowing that he is being inspected. Nothing that he does is indifferent. His friendships, his relaxations, his behaviour towards his wife and children, the expression of his face when he is alone, the words he mutters in sleep, even the characteristic movements of his body, are all jealously scrutinized. Not only any actual misdemeanour, but any eccentricity, however small, any change of habits, any nervous mannerism that could possibly be the symptom of an inner struggle, is certain to be detected. He has no freedom of choice in any direction whatever. On the other hand his actions are not regulated by law or by any clearly formulated code of behaviour. […] The endless purges, arrests, tortures, imprisonments, and vaporizations are not inflicted as punishment for crimes which have actually been committed, but are merely the wiping-out of persons who might perhaps commit a crime at some time in the future. A Party member is required to have not only the right opinions, but the right instincts. Many of the beliefs and attitudes demanded of him are never plainly stated, and could not be stated without laying bare the contradictions inherent in Ingsoc.

Thus, clear-the-air meetings might take place, the results of which are used against the participants. And what about the grey functionaries shuffling papers, scanning Michael Carberry interviews, signing non-disclosure agreements, controlling official history?

A Party member is expected to have no private emotions and no respites from enthusiasm. He is supposed to live in a continuous frenzy of hatred of foreign enemies and internal traitors, triumph over victories, and self-abasement before the power and wisdom of the Party.

Crimestop, blackwhite, doublethink – everything ensures the correct postures and attitudes.

Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction.

And among those heretical lines is a yen to puncture the officially documented history and get back to the facts:

By far the more important reason for the readjustment of the past is the need to safeguard the infallibility of the Party. It is not merely that speeches, statistics, and records of every kind must be constantly brought up to date in order to show that the predictions of the Party were in all cases right. It is also that no change in doctrine or in political alignment can ever be admitted. For to change one's mind, or even one's policy, is a confession of weakness. If, for example, Eurasia or Eastasia (whichever it may be) is the enemy today, then that country must always have been the enemy. And if the facts say otherwise then the facts must be altered. Thus history is continuously rewritten. This day-to-day falsification of the past, carried out by the Ministry of Truth, is as necessary to the stability of the regime as the work of repression and espionage carried out by the Ministry of Love.

And so Test cricket is ‘saved’, at the probable cost of its permanent domination by three countries; at the cost of any expansion of the game; at the cost of any wider representativity on decision-making bodies. Protect the game by killing the game: classic doublethink.


Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of doublethink he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated. The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt. Doublethink lies at the very heart of Ingsoc, since the essential act of the Party is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Paul Downton. It is depressing, suffocating, a collective madness:

In our society, those who have the best knowledge of what is happening are also those who are furthest from seeing the world as it is. In general, the greater the understanding, the greater the delusion; the more intelligent, the less sane. One clear illustration of this is the fact that war hysteria increases in intensity as one rises in the social scale.

And what, then, of this war hysteria, and its function?


Part Two: “Freedom is Slavery”

As is well known, this part of Goldstein’s proscribed tract doesn’t make it into 1984. 


Part Three: “War is Peace”

Once the nature of the internal stratification has been explained (Part One), Part Three is designed to show how these societies relate to each other. What is the nature of the “war” between the Big Three – Ashes, Border-Gavaskar, Pataudi?

In one combination or another, these three super-states are permanently at war […] War, however, is no longer the desperate, annihilating struggle that it was in the early decades of the twentieth century. It is a warfare of limited aims between combatants who are unable to destroy one another, have no material cause for fighting and are not divided by any genuine ideological difference. This is not to say that either the conduct of war, or the prevailing attitude towards it, has become less bloodthirsty or more chivalrous. On the contrary, war hysteria is continuous and universal in all countries

So, India cannot annex England and Australia, for instance, and the fear of the BCCI withdrawing from the ICC was just scaremongering…? They may have the population, and the eyes for the advertisers, but they can’t go it alone – is that what the point is?

To understand the nature of the present war – for in spite of the regrouping which occurs every few years, it is always the same war – one must realize in the first place that it is impossible for it to be decisive. None of the three super-states could be definitively conquered, even by the other two in combination. They are too evenly matched, and their natural defenses are too formidable. […] Secondly, there is no longer, in a material sense, anything to fight about. With the establishment of self-contained economies, in which production and consumption are geared to one another, the scramble for markets which was a main cause of previous wars has come to an end, while the competition for raw materials is no longer a matter of life and death.


So, it’s war for the prolongation of a war without purpose. Now, how might that analogy work with cricket’s powers keeping the wealth of the game in their hands on the basis of historical contingency (the size of India’s population, the fact that cricket was first played between England and Australia)?

The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. […] In principle the war effort is always so planned as to eat up any surplus that might exist after meeting the bare needs of the population. In practice the needs of the population are always underestimated, with the result that there is a chronic shortage of half the necessities of life; but this is looked on as an advantage. It is deliberate policy to keep even the favoured groups somewhere near the brink of hardship, because a general state of scarcity increases the importance of small privileges and thus magnifies the distinction between one group and another. […] The social atmosphere is that of a besieged city, where the possession of a lump of horseflesh makes the difference between wealth and poverty. And at the same time the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival.

And all the rivalry – which in cricket does reach down to the ‘proles’ who watch it, with their overheated partisanship, their mood indexed to results – what is its function?

War, it will be seen, accomplishes the necessary destruction, but accomplishes it in a psychologically acceptable way. In principle it would be quite simple to waste the surplus labour of the world by building temples and pyramids, by digging holes and filling them up again, or even by producing vast quantities of goods and then setting fire to them. But this would provide only the economic and not the emotional basis for a hierarchical society. […] Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist. […] It is precisely in the Inner Party that war hysteria and hatred of the enemy are strongest. In his capacity as an administrator, it is often necessary for a member of the Inner Party to know that this or that item of war news is untruthful, and he may often be aware that the entire war is spurious and is either not happening or is being waged for purposes quite other than the declared ones: but such knowledge is easily neutralized by the technique of doublethink. Meanwhile no Inner Party member wavers for an instant in his mystical belief that the war is real, and that it is bound to end victoriously, with Oceania the undisputed master of the entire world.

Although the analogy is imprecise – the ICC, as India, England and Australia’s tool, is aiming for monetary inequality, whereas the super-states of 1984 are geared toward power for power’s sake – Orwell nevertheless adumbrates the nature of the control that the national boards (and the international mechanism of the ICC) hope to exercise over their own populations, both cricketers and spectators alike:

The war, therefore, if we judge it by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture. It is like the battles between certain ruminant animals whose horns are set at such an angle that they are incapable of hurting one another. But though it is unreal it is not meaningless. It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs. War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair. In the past, the ruling groups of all countries, although they might recognize their common interest and therefore limit the destructiveness of war, did fight against one another, and the victor always plundered the vanquished. In our own day they are not fighting against one another at all. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact.

Take heed, West Indies. Listen up, Pakistan. Hear ye, South Africa. War is peace. 



BULLFIGHTING AND THE LEAVE-ALONE

 

A short essay for ESPNcricinfo comparing the batsman's leave-alone with the bullfighter's pass. There is a longer version – comparing the structure of the bullfight with a day's play – due in The Nightwatchman next April, since that is the time when the thrilling leave, the dangerous projectile that is the ball brushing past the flanks of the batsman...  

Corrida of Uncertainty 



 

PAUL COLLINGWOOD: TALKING CRICKET


What's not to love about Paul Collingwood? The only Englishman ever to lift an ICC trophy was a real player's player, happiest in a scrap – think Cardiff 2009, or that hundred against South Africa at Edgbaston – and never asking teammates to do anything he wouldn't do himself, as when he jumped in to defend Simon Jones from a verbal assault from Matty Hayden in 2005. 

He bade farewell to England after the Sprinkler Ashes win, and has since gone on to skipper Durham to the County Championship. I caught up with him prior to Durham's T20 game at Trent Bridge a few weeks to chat about fielding for ESPNcricinfo. 

Colly on fielding


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

UNVITAL STATISTICS




In his autobiography, Out of My Comfort Zone, Steve Waugh said that “fielding is a true test of players sacrificing themselves for the interest of the team because it’s the only facet of the game where you don’t get statistically rewarded for your efforts”. True enough, you might reason, but for how much longer? 

In recent columns for ESPNcricinfo, both Daryll Cullinan and Rob Steen argued for a thorough overhaul and renovation of fielding statistics, with the former concluding, in almost antithetical fashion to Waugh, that “it can no longer be ignored that fielding needs a massive statistical boost. If fielding stats are brought in, cricketers will also attach far greater importance to the discipline because of the recognition rewards”. 

It is undeniable that Cullinan’s viewpoint represents the way the world is going – abstract quantitative measurement is the fundamental reality of a society geared toward profit, and managerialist performance targets have insinuated themselves into all spheres of modern life, from school grades to hospital waiting times, with systems often creeking under the strain of meeting prescriptive and externally imposed ‘efficiency’ goals – and while batting and bowling are readily given individualised statistics, is this inevitable, necessary or even desirable when it comes to fielding, the one area of the game that isn’t an isolated individual undertaking? 

Perhaps, rather than being a simple matter of right and wrong, there is an ‘ideological’ divergence here. Waugh’s position represents a sort of collectivist, socialist view, along the lines of Karl Marx’s dictum: “from each according to his capability, to each according to his needs”. Cullinan’s view might be called ‘liberal individualist’, assuming – in line with the view that ‘rational self-interest’ provides the ‘hidden hand’ bringing macro-order to a market-based society – that individual reward is the only way to incentivise the raising of standards. “Batting and bowling have individual rankings,” he muses, “why can’t fielding have the same? The game and spectator experience can only be enhanced”. Only? 

Quite apart from this being an awfully pessimistic take on human motivation, it should be pointed out that the great recent fielding innovations – the relay chase, the relay throw, the rugby-style slide-and-offload, the two-man catch – have already happened without individual incentives, through players exploring their own limits for the service of the team. It’s not only that “recognition rewards” haven’t proven necessary to raise standards; it’s that they can easily interfere with a team’s motivation – creating a conflict between team and individual goals – and thus insidiously affect good fielding. 

Although a much more holistic team undertaking than cricket, football has nonetheless recently seen an upsurge in statistical data. Companies like OPTA measure all sorts of supposedly individual contributions to the collective cause – tackles made, number of key passes, shooting accuracy – these ‘facts’ being extrapolated from their multi-sided context and endowed with dubious significance, as with a concert review that praises the crispness of the cymbal striking without reference to the overall sound. Is a high number of tackles a sign of diligence, physical flexibility, or colleagues' profligacy in possession? 

Aside from effacing the complex causes behind those facets of the game upon which it purportedly casts light, the statistical approach may, through a cockeyed focus on product (‘metric’) rather than process (‘good football’), start to create ‘feedback’. A data analyst tells the head coach, “we need to up our key passes by 23% to give us a statistically more probable chance to win their remaining games”, leading to poor decision-making on the ball. A striker starts to aim down the middle in order to increase this shooting accuracy figure, despite doing so giving him a statistically smaller chance of scoring than would aiming for the corners and missing a higher proportion of his shots. In short, means (shooting accuracy) become ends, much as Max Weber predicted of the ‘Rational-Bureaucratic Society’. 

It’s not hard to imagine a similar form of feedback affecting decision-making in cricket. Already, as a direct result of statistical measures extrapolated from context (i.e. whether they aid winning), both batting and bowling possess such conflicts of interest between team and individual goals – commonly known as ‘red-inking’ and ‘pole-hunting’. 

As for fielding, such performance metrics could easily interfere with the split-second decision-making connecting fielder and midfielder’s modus operandi. That selfless dive for the ball that you have 5% chance of stopping, yet know that the act of diving itself delays and thus prevents the run (cricket’s equivalent of football’s off-the-ball run), may increasingly – though subtly, and perhaps subconsciously (learned behaviour always eventually becomes automatic) – be seen as a risk of a ‘bad mark’ and could inhibit people taking on the improbable and unlikely. This highlights the paradoxical notion that better fielders may have worse stats because, in attempting more ambitious plays, they make more errors. It also therefore highlights the difficulty of objectively determining what constitutes errors, fumbles and suchlike.    




Steen quotes the philosophy of Mumbai Indians’ fielding coach, Jonty Rhodes: “I am not marking them on the balls that were dropped or the balls that were missed. I am watching for the balls that they haven’t made an effort for”. Yet there is also a ‘selfish’ dive, when you have zero percent chance both of stopping the ball and preventing the run (although a higher chance of injury), yet are keen to be seen to be doing the right thing, much as with a set batsman who goes for an unnecessarily aggressive option in a stuttering run-chase in order to ‘show’ how selfless he is, when in fact he’d have best served the team’s interests by toughing it out.

Of course, whether or not this transpires would depend, to a certain extent, on what’s at stake: are performance metrics are a mere TV gimmick or might they be factored into decisions about your place in the team or even your next contract? Responsibility for performance is desirable, but as soon as you start to measure individualised contributions to a collaborative undertaking – a sort of sporting version of ‘Taylorism’, the scientific management of labour – and use those measurements to evaluate players, then you are introducing intra-team competition where co-operation should prevail. 

Indeed, Taylorism used micro-level rivalry to undermine worker solidarity, and fielding metrics will no doubt breed a similar insularity: “I’ve done my bit, spreadsheet says so”. The effect is corrosive. Cullinan proposes measuring fumbles, but you’d soon have fielders angling to get themselves to flatter parts of the outfield: “Skipper, I’ll do third man. I don’t mind, honestly…” It is counter-productive. Striving for a collective exhibition is replaced by personal inhibition

Steen signs off by saying it’s “not about naming and shaming, but acclaiming”, yet the same issues arise even with an ostensibly positive skill like direct hits. There’s already a vast spectrum of difficulty here – factoring in angle to the target and the body position time affords the fielder – and great cognitive skill in that split-second, death-overs risk/reward calculation of whether a shy at the stumps is worthwhile, depending on the danger a batsman poses (either how set he is, or potential destructiveness). You don’t want players subconsciously incentivised into ponderousness and deliberation. 

Yet the fundamental problem with individualised fielding stats is that the game of cricket – all team sport – is about intangible, unquantifiable relations and human traits, chief among which is generosity. Looking out for your mates. Putting everything you have in the pot before you measure it, which is the true meaning of “from each according to his capabilities…” A team will appreciate an awkward fielder’s commitment and budget for his shortcomings, whereas proposals like those of Cullinan sketches out a pre-emptively defensive mindset: “Well, this is what I contributed. I did my bit”. 

Generosity of spirit is manifested in myriad ways: helping a bowler through a tough period with the ball; staying upbeat at 450 for 3; supporting a skipper who’s just dropped two catches; not reacting histrionically when dismissed by a ball that misbehaves out of the desire for everyone to understand that you’ve been unlucky. These are all ‘jobs’ that need doing, that are largely unseen and certainly elude quantification – “affective labour”, as it’s sometimes called, like child-rearing – but that may translate to runs, wickets and victories further down the line. Not everything valuable can be measured. 

It’s easy to see from other walks of life how, by submitting fielding to the harsh and not fully illuminating spotlight of individualised metrics (thus compounding the intrinsic loneliness of batting and bowling), the engendering of greater insularity and ‘rational self-interest’ – particularly as T20 itinerancy and freelancing erode the team cultures forged through hours of what Ed Smith calls the “small acts of kindness” – may also contribute to the growing list of cricketers afflicted by mental health problems. Stress is our modern illness – along with corruption, the predominant cricketing narrative of the age, an age of swelling backroom teams, micromanagement, and ‘soft’ surveillance – and it’s illogical to bemoan the increasing psychological strain that players find themselves at the same time as advocating having their every fielding move computed. 

All cricketers know that winning a tight game in the field together is the ultimate. It provides that fleeting communion – not illusory, despite what Steve Archibald said, even if fluctuating – and liberating ego-loss so often denied by our human condition: individual bodies, interior voice, internalised worries. The selfless, ‘swarm’ activity of fielding offers an escape from that, promising the joy of collective achievement beyond measure. Nothing would burst that bubble – fray that social fabric – faster than a fielding spreadsheet.