Tuesday, 28 February 2012


Sadly, it appears that the Pakistan Cricket Board are set on dispensing with the certificate-lacking coaching and man-managerial talents of dear, avuncular Mohsin Khan, a man who, with the phlegmatic support of Misbah-ul-Haq, has restored a sheen of sanity, order and hope to one of the game’s great cricketing cultures as it emerged from perhaps its darkest hour. Given that success, the only sensible thing to do was bring in Dav Whatmore tout de suiteIt is therefore a fitting moment to select an All-Time XI of Khans (to play an imaginary game against The Smiths, maybe...no, not that Smiths) to celebrate Mohsin’s all-too-brief tenure. 

Unfortunately, a few of the more obvious names failed to make the cut. Firstly, Imran Khan, widely regarded as the greatest Pakistani cricketer of them all and certainly its leader nonpareil, fails to get in. Ask Ijaz Butt, our Chairman of Selectors, why that might be. 

Zaheer Khan also doesn’t make it. As gladdened as the heart is that the religious homogeneity of the sport’s team of a pious nation is rendered impure (as indeed was Pakistan’s, with the pre-conversion Christian, Yousuf Yohanna, and the Hindu, Danish Kaneria, who possibly venerated the goddess Vishnu, judging by the number of pies in which he had fingers), there is no place for Zed.

Talking of Danish, Jutland’s second greatest seamer (after the mighty ‘Blood-Axe’, Ole Mortensen), sometime England new-ball sprayer Amjad, also fails to make the grade. As do Moin, Younus, Majid and Bazid, Junaid, Sohail, and the quickly discarded, now forgotten Zakir, Arshad, Kabir, Azam, Rashid, Azhar, and Anwar. And there’s no place either for Imraan Khan, from the country of the aardvark and aardwolf. None of these Khans make it.

In the end, we went for an eclectic mix of talents. You be the judge.   

(1) Jahangir Khan
When it comes to Pakistan and rackets, it’s often forgotten that the country has a strong tradition in both badminton and squash. Jahangir, whose name derives from the Persian for ‘Conqueror of the World (with Backhand)’, was unbeaten for five years, a streak of dominance not seen before or since. Such endurance and focus are perfect attributes for an opener.  

(2) Amir Khan
Cousin of the wild and whippy Fabio Coentrão lookalike, Saj Mahmood, the pugnacious Amir’s speed on his feet and ability to duck and dive make him the ideal opening partner for JK.

(3) Simon Khan
I was once told that cricketers should never play golf on account of the different swings of the tool (pipe down, Carry On fans) sending confusing messages to the hands. Alas, I turned out a mediocre batsman. If my pitch ’n’ put is any indication, I could have been a genius golfer. Life’s Garden of Forking Paths: decisions made, futures never lived…

(4) Shere Khan
When Imran Khan gave his famous, nation-inspiring “fight like cornered tigers” speech midway through the 1992 World Cup, prompting a streak of victories that took them from the brink of ignominious exit to an evisceration of a decent England side in the final at the MCG, he probably had this deviously villainous big cat in mind. Anyway, since Kipling’s creatures can obviously meet the twin imposters, Triumph and Disaster, just the same, he’s ideal to bat at four, just as well equipped to deal with 2 for 2 as 200 for 2

(5) Chaka Khan
When Chaka Khan burst into the national conscious – sorry, let me re-phrase that (I’ve just been trying to pitch ghastly, insincere, and largely pointless cultural zeitgeist pieces and have thus been writing overblown sentences about fluff for buzzvibezzz magazine): When Chaka Khan (…Let me rock ya / Let me rock ya, Chaka Khan / Let me rock ya / that’s all I wanna do) had a couple of pop-hits on that radio in the 1980s, tunes that would have drilled their way into the cranial lobes of anyone sat in a van or a factory aurally forcefed the depressing soundtrack of Radio 1, she sounded to my imagination like an elfin, svelte goddess. Not so. Despite, ahem, large lungs lending the stock quality of the stock bowler, she’s probably more suited to giving it some Humpty in the middle order – although she’s also pretty adaptable, too [make up gag based on ‘I’m Every Woman’], just in case Shere Khan nicks off and the ship needs steadying.

(6) Genghis Khan [c]
Despite the regal bearing and unifying charisma of Imran Khan, the obvious choice for captain is Temujin, aka Genghis Khan, himself unifier of the Mongol tribes, pre-requisite of his imperial drive. Gengho is chosen not only for the outstanding ability to array elements in an open space (the very touchstone of cricket tactics, of course, and a trait common to all nomads of the steppe), but also his pitiless stance on indiscipline. Since the speed and range he showed in conquest lend themselves to bowling and middle-order hitting respectively, he is clearly an all-rounder of rare gifts, so slots in at six. Or wherever the fuck he fancies, to be honest.

(7) Oliver Kahn [wk]
With his Planet of the Apes chic, and displaying all the restraint under pressure and humility that one expects from German goalkeepers (cf. Lehmann, Jens), Kahn is a natural ‘keeper, an ideal gloveman. Could probably jibber-jabber and schieß-sprache at the batsman all day, too.

(8) Kublai Khan
Gets in on account of (a) funding the ground and pavilion out in Xanadu, and (b) being the grandson of the captain. Bowls decent leggies, too – albeit perhaps not as good as ol’ Gengho reckons.

(9) Shahrukh Khan
Bollywood actor. Owner of Kolkata Knight Riders. From what I can glean, is very, very good at having his picture taken and waving at the camera. Just about manages to suppress the ‘I cannot believe my fucking luck’ smile from his visage, too, so gets in as master of spin: off breaks, to be precise.  

(10) Khan Noonien Singh
Genetically engineered superhuman tyrant familiar to Trekkies the world over. The Christian symbolism of Star Trek is well known (Captain Kirk), so that would make Khan a devil figure, cast out and seeking vengeance – essentially the mentality one is after in a new ball bowler.

(11) James Caan [vc]
Not the supremely capable of plastering a charming smile on his face to hide his moneylust entrepreneur from Dragon’s Den who helps the country of his birth (where he was given a name, Nazim Khan, that he felt was perhaps just a bit too Urdu for business) by offering to buy babies from folk stricken by the floods, but the star of Stephen King adaptation Misery, Rollerball, and The Godfather, where he memorably portrayed the volatile and violent Sonny Corleone. This hot-headedness and familiarity with the psychology of highly dangerous hard-ball games make him primo new conker material. 

And there you have it. Thoughts, etc?

Tuesday, 14 February 2012


This post is to announce an offshoot, a spin-off, a side project to reverse sweeper – namely, a blog devoted to my cricketing reminiscences: Dog Before Wicket (if you haven’t worked it out, my nickname used to be ‘Dog’, as in Scotty Dog.) 

I decided to start the new blog because I had been sitting on two substantial old texts that I’d written in the 1990s, texts that are probably of zero interest to anyone beyond the North Staffordshire and South Cheshire League, texts that I had revisited fairly recently with a view to including them on a Moddershall CC website that was in the pipeline (a pipeline that I was building). At the time of writing, and with circumstances having taken me away from my beloved old club, such a site has not yet emerged. So, Dog Before Wicket will be their first home. Their kennel.

In addition to these, erm, dog-eared old works, there is some new material, stuff that had been swimming about in the back of my mind, occasionally coming up for air – things that I had not so much half-written, as half-thought about writing. Chiefly, this means an account of the 2008 title victory that I’ve given the provisional title Underdogs, Under Dog.

That season contained more than a few memorable moments and matches, recollection of which gave me the idea of compiling a list of all the ‘Champagne Moments’ of my playing days – taking in Moddershall CC, Wollaton CC in the Nottinghamshire Premier League, Nottingham University, the NSSCL Representative XI – and perhaps even some memories from watching cricket on TV and live. I haven’t yet finished this list, let alone started writing about the events and episodes, but suffice to say it is not intended to be a long, self-congratulatory pat on the back for myself so much as the jumping off point for some stories that are perhaps interesting for those involved in them.

Finally, I had other material in hand, memoirs relating to some of the more controversial episodes I have been caught up in. Crikileaks, if you will. I’m sure the Official Secrets Act now permits me to publish these. I had thought about calling these Lowlights, as opposed to the Highlights mentioned above, but it’s not entirely true that I didn’t enjoy them.

So, if any of that is of any interest to you, drop in at Dog Before Wicket from time to time. And bring your friends.

Monday, 6 February 2012


Double Gloucester: Kim Barnett indicates a fourth successful trip to Lord's

Last Monday, SPIN magazine published a ten-page interview I conducted with two Stoke-on-Trent-born former professional cricketers who, despite an age difference of 13 years, both arrived from different parts of the East Midlands to play for Gloucestershire in 1999, coincidentally the start of an unparalleled run of success for the minnows. Under the innovative and remorseless leadership of Kiwi coach John Bracewell, Kim Barnett and Jeremy Snape helped the county to five trophies in two seasons, turning their Bristol ground into a fortress. All of which contrasts sharply to the recent experiences of neighbours Somerset, five-time limited-overs final losers in the last three seasons, with a last-afternoon County Championship heartache in 2010 thrown in for good measure. 

The piece therefore shares the title of this post, and aims to dissect the secrets of Gloucestershires success in such a way that might assist Somerset. Of course, with the magazine on general sale (at WH Smith, priced £3.95), I cannot reproduce the interview here, but below you can read the questions I asked:  

Interview Qs

Given that you each have vast experience skippering county sides and have both been involved on the coaching side of things, I was wondering what words you would offer this group of Somerset players, both as ex-players with many medals and, hypothetically, if you happened to be their coach or captain. 

It seems to me that the Somerset side has many good ingredients for success: plenty of all-rounders, power-hitting, variety in the attack, young and agile bodies in the field… What are they missing? 

So, what do you think are the principal qualities of a successful one-day side? Tactical, technical, psychological elements, maybe…

How much is successful limited-overs cricket about executing a well thought-out game plan (even one that changes from match to match), and how much is adapting quickly to fluctuations in the match situation? 

One of the oft-heard truisms of cricket coaching is the mantra: “know your roles”. Is there a danger that this can be a little rigid? After all, not every game goes according to plan. So, how flexible are these roles? Do the roles have to fit the players’ skills or, conversely, do the players simply have to adapt to a role, or task, dictated by the match situation’s demands?  

Other than Jack Russell and maybe Ian Harvey, who’d end up playing 73 ODIs, there were no real stars in the team. A few of you had picked up a handful of international caps, or would go on to do so, but that team seemed the quintessential case of a whole adding up to more than the sum of its parts (the Man of the Match awards were well shared out). Is that fair enough? And would you say Somerset maybe don’t yet add up to their individual parts?

Around that time both Jeremy and Mark Alleyne were picked for England ODI duties and there were whisperings in the broadsheets that, given Gloucestershire’s domestic dominance, the selectors felt compelled to pick a couple of the team. How much of a factor in your selection, Jeremy, was the team’s success?

Were you ‘ahead of the curve’ as a professional outfit? Were you doing things that other counties weren’t? Or were you maybe just doing the same things, only better? 

Over and above the psychological edge that comes with the accumulation of so many victories, what were the outstanding technical or tactical attributes of that Gloucestershire side? 

I was going to ask whether the fact that you had an experienced team (the XI listed at the end of these Qs had an average age of 30 in 2000, compared to Somerset’s 28) impacted upon the stress on fielding? Evidently not. Was physical fitness a focus for its own sake? 

Talking of belief and confidence, in August 1999 Gloucestershire beat Somerset – who else? – in the final of the NatWest, but that was your second Lord’s final that season, having already annihilated Yorkshire in the B&H by 124 runs earlier that month. Since the pair of you were newcomers at the county, did that Yorkshire performance surprise the pair of you at all? And how important was it in what followed? 

Presumably you started to get a bit of an aura around you?

In the same way that Gloucester banked more and more belief from each win, are Somerset’s current one-day woes a self-reinforcing cycle that might need some radical steps to break it? 

Kim, you’d skippered Derbyshire for 13 seasons before arriving in Bristol. How did you find John Bracewell’s methods and how quickly did you adapt? Was he an ‘acquired taste’ or did the cricketing strategist and theorist in you immediately see the merits in what he was saying? 

Jeremy, leadership is a crucial component of your conception of high-performance training – the need for the leader to challenge, support, inspire. You’ve spoken before about how you found the scientific approach of Bracewell appealing, and quite influential in the path you’ve taken. Did he stand back and allow Alleyne to be the prime mover when it came to tactics (a consultant)? Or was he very much the fountainhead of the ideas (chief executive)? Kim, feel free to answer this one, too. 

What about Somerset’s leadership? I realize it’s impossible to truly know what’s going on within a group from the outside, but sometimes little signs can be detected. Is there anything you’ve noticed from the outside about Trescothick’s leadership, or Hurry’s coaching? It must be difficult to keep sounding convincing to the troops after so many losses… 

A question about the dreaded c-word: choking. I’m not suggesting it’s something Somerset have been guilty of, but would choking, in your view, be a phenomenon that happens primarily to individuals – such that the team gets labelled “chokers” as an aggregate of individual chokes – or is it a trait of the group, an ‘atmosphere’ that infects the team and filters down to the thought-processes of individual players? 

On that note, have you seen signs that Somerset or any of their players lack big-match temperament? 

How about signs they do possess big-match temperament? 

I was wondering whether you think there has been an ‘evolutionary leap’ in limited-overs cricket as a result of T20? Do the new shots, new deliveries, new fielding techniques and the change in perception of what’s an achievable required run-rate all mean that the limited-overs game is fundamentally different to the brand of cricket played by the Gloucester ‘dynasty’? If so, do you think your Gloucestershire would have adapted to these transformations, or were your collective skill-sets more suited to a particular blueprint, which, in turn, was suited to the character of the Bristol track? 

As you say, Bristol became a fortress for you: in 18 competitive 50-over games in your four seasons there, you recorded 16 wins. All four semis in the ‘double double’ were played there. The only teams to leave victorious were Durham in 2001 and Worcestershire in 2002. Did the groundsman look to produce those types of decks to suit the team, or was that the way they inevitably came out?  

Kim, you retired the year before Twenty20 was launched. Do you think you personally would have adapted to it or was your game was better suited to the sort of anchor role you played in 50-over stuff? 

Lastly, Fantasy Cricket time. What would be the outcome if the best XI from your ‘dynasty’ played Somerset? We’ll go with: Barnett, Hancock, Windows, Alleyne, Harvey, Snape, Russell, Averis, Ball, Lewis, Smith. Are you happy with that selection? 

For Somerset, we’ll pick Trescothick, Kieswetter, Trego, Hildreth, Pollard, Buttler, Suppiah, Meschede, Thomas, Kartik, Kirby. Who’d win? Best out of three: one at Bristol, one at Taunton, a decider at Lord’s, if necessary…  


If you want their answers, well, you're going to have buy the magazine. Or wait until it's published on the SPIN website, I suppose... 

Friday, 3 February 2012


OK, it's not big, nor is it clever, but I feel there's a definite need in the cricket world (or The Commonwealth, if you prefer the old nomenclature) to draw attention to certain cricketing look-a-likes, the perhaps non-obvious resemblances that come to me in feverish reveries and through patterns...patterns that emerge from tea-leaves, animal faeces, and the cosmic energy, chi

Here's the first, featuring a current Pakistani middle-order tyro and someone destined to play nine T20 Internationals for England in the turbulent aftermath of the Andy Flower regime... 

                          Asad Shafiq
Rory Hamilton-Brown

The internet has not been very forthcoming with images. But you can see it, right?

Thursday, 2 February 2012


Strauss, raus

Yes, I know, I know. It’s old hat, long gone, water under the bridge, the day before the day before yesterday’s chip paper. What’s more, the 3rd Test is only hours away (in fact, has probably started). Therefore, having moved your attention elsewhere, you may well have reason to feel there’s no longer any point me writing (or you reading) about the whole Abu Dhabi fiasco (for what it’s worth, I feel there’s little point doing anything in a meaningless, Copernican-Darwinian universe, yet here I am, beak t’grindstone). However – and this is the best pseudo-justification I, an absolute pro, can muster – I believe it is best when analysing cricket matches to take a leaf out of Andy Flower’s book and avoid overhasty, gunpowder reactions. Do not knee-jerk, masticate. Then cogitate, speculate, and formulate.

To wit: the object of our analysis – which is not, initially, the obvious one of how to play spin, but does touch upon it – is that universal problem, the perennial perplexer: how to go about a dinky little run chase on a slowish turner (ideas that may or may not transfer to similar chases on seaming pitches)? It is undoubtedly a subject worthy of a great military treatise from a philosopher-general: a Napoleon, von der Golz, Schlieffen or John Buchanan, say. Since Carl von Clausewitz died before finishing the first draft of his On Run Chases, you'll have to make do with me, instead.

The first thing you need, I would suggest, is a liberal spray of WD40 around the sphincter region, for this is most definitely the time when bums are prone to squeak. After doing that, it would be a very good idea to speak openly and candidly as a group about the individual consequences of succumbing while committed to out-and-out attack – for, going down in flames (regardless of whether it’s a mental cop-out borne of an inability to graft and grind) potentially lays you open to the cold shoulder of teammates and to the furore of a hindsight-laden, perhaps agenda-wielding (or simply Strong Opinion-compelled) media, that diverse soup of voices with an indeterminate but not non-existent relationship with the selection process. 

Judgment from on high

At any rate, this group discussion is not touchy-feely shrink-talk or psychobabble, either. It’s about removing ambiguity. Players need to have the fug of doubt (and the instinct for self-preservation) lifted. If such extrinsic factors as the imagined consensus of an acceptable way to get out impinge on the nuts and bolts of their batting, then the chances of unearthing a solution to the technical/tactical/psychological problems they face all but vanish, sailing off beyond the shrinking purview of anxious introspection.

All good in theory, but does a 10-minute turnaround from third to fourth innings afford the possibility for an open mini-discussion of this ilk? Presumably, these eventualities are discussed at training, overnight, or in some other forum, but then the match situation races along, the equation changes, and such messages could be forgotten, if not actually redundant. And with the team members leaving the field, the dusty afternoon, and seeking out fluids or rest, and thus maybe still properly to weigh up this new configuration in the balance of power, this new state of play, off skips the skipper to open the innings. And the vice-skipper, too. Perhaps there was little time for anything other than a platitudinous play your own game, lads, and the coach, steely and implacable though he may be, is most unlikely to wish to be prescriptive in such a scenario. So [masticate] perhaps [cogitate] that’s how it all panned out in Abu Dhabi [speculate]…

Anyway, like all runaway dynamics in which one event compounds another (and there’s nothing Pakistani cricket teams like more than a frenzy), batting collapses are both fun to watch – that salty water slowly rising up one’s nostrils – and to analyse. So, never one to turn down a fatuous exercise, I’m going to give the batsmen marks out of 10 for their culpability [formulate]: a score of 10 is hypothetically punishable by execution, 9 by torture, 8 by prolonged captivity, all the way down to 3 (no pocket money for a week), 2 (standing in the corner facing the wall) and 1, which would be 100 lines. Say: I must not try and cut the ball turning into me, particularly second ball up and out of the rough…

"Page 1, Paragraph 1..."

Of course, this scoring system offers an insight into my politics (small ‘p’), a sort of quantification of my tolerance and a glimpse as to the likely punitive regime you would face should the admittedly unlikely scenario of me being installed as dictator arise. Therefore, before we get all high-handed and Willisian, the following caveat should be noted: it is all too easy to criticise players’ execution of plans – “poor shot” – but by far the bigger flaw is poor conception – “what sort of fucking shot do you call that!?!” – be that with tactics or strategy. (For what it’s worth, the openers’ attempt to bat time and try and allow the ball to go soft with as many wickets in the shed was sound.)

Anyway, grab your rotten fruit, for here’s the grisly parade:

21/1: Cook c&b Hafeez 7
To play across the line, and against the spin, would seem a heinous crime, especially on a turning pitch. Even so, it’s important to rotate the strike. Trying to drop the ball into the vacant mid-wicket area was an attempt to do just that by a man who’d made 94, first dig. Legitimate option, poor execution. 3

26/2: Bell b Ajmal 3
Quite unlucky that the ball span back between his feet, but he has had all the air of permanence of a mayfly speed-dating event. He also has wears the angrily bewildered sneer of someone who knows they’ve entered by far the most impressive butternut squash in the Village Fete, but has suddenly realized they’ve made a stupid administrative error on the entry form and are thus about to be disqualified. 4

33/3: Pietersen lbw Rehman 1
Serious technical issues: he’s not balanced, his head’s outside the line of the ball, and he’s not hitting the left-armer to extra-cover anywhere near often enough (even the middle-and-leg deliveries, inside-out, should be played this way: better to thick edge to gully than live in fear of lbw). Hard to see a way he can immediately improve. 7

37/4: Morgan b Rehman 0
Whisper it: I’m not 100% sure Morgan watches the ball right onto the bat, you know. Perhaps those gimlet eyes and golem visage mask confusion. Put his and Pietersen’s stances and triggers alongside each other and youve got a couple of vaudeville cockney coppers. Anyway, mutatis mutandis, I refer old Guten to “Page 1, Paragraph 1” of the ancient text, How to Play Off-Spinners. 9

56/5: Strauss lbw Rehman 32
A battling innings. A minor mistake. Probably right to use the review, too, but maybe shouldn’t have done so with KP, whose egotism and possible sulkiness bore too heavily on the decision, I’d suggest. 4

68/6: Trott lbw Rehman 1
Caught on the back foot trying to punch into mid-wicket: a productive shot, but old habits do die hard. Thus, gesturing to the umpire that you’ve tickled the ball and are not as salmon-and-trout as might be thought was a relic of pre-DRS era, but when skipper and Ego have spunked the reviews it’s perhaps necessary to try and get away with it (if the umpire doesnt give it, you could just bluff the opposition, too). Anyway, given that he had a dose of his family name, it’s little surprise he was caught between two stools. 2 [stool gag courtesy of @pjmcmahon83]

68/7: Broad b Rehman 0
Don’t get me wrong, he bowled to world-class levels in the first innings, high-class (if slightly frazzled) in the second, and batted stupendously to give us a 70-run lead, but come the fourth innings he had gone. The vague sense of counter-attack (if only Clausewitz had written that book). An utter waft. Towel chucked in. One day he may well go those extra few blister-stepped paces and scale Everest. 5 (would be 9 or 10, but for mitigation)

71/8: Swann lbw Ajmal 0
Played back. Is wooden. Missed it. Out. The only shot he could have played was a Federeresque not-quite-half-volley drive-pass, hit on the up and which skims over the net. 3

72/9: Prior c Shafiq b Ajmal 18
No blame attached, but should’ve been trying to slog-sweep it for a big, fuck-off 6, not a check-drive over extra-cover. 3

72/10: Anderson c Gul b Rehman 1
Surprising lack of faith in Monty after their Cardiff heroics, but there can be zilch blame for Jimmy. 0

KP goes down 

The failure of this run chase has of course highlighted England’s woeful batting against spin – caused, it has been claimed, by everything from complacency to no longer playing on uncovered pitches (Boycs) – and critics have invariably attempted to construe it as an essential trait or property of English cricket. 

However, there is absolutely no point in looking to history for explanations. There are no precedents here that would help us analyse the specific faults that caused this collapse, for the DRS system renders the current cricketing arena a fundamentally different milieu – to use a term from evolutionary biology and ethology (the science of animal behaviour) – that the contemporary player has to negotiate (except for Indians, of course, who are creating problems for their own back should the ICC ever feel it was strong enough to stand up to the BCCI).

Put simply, the DRS is a rupture in the linear development of the game as a series of accumulated skills (or adaptive traits) for combat, an epochal shift, a new era, a line in the sand every bit as clear as Jonathan Trott’s guard.

[NOTE: Naming no names, but when ex-Test players of a conservative disposition (and often with healthy statistics and reputation) discuss various innovations being mooted – like day-night Tests, pink balls, or other such attempts to allow cricket-as-a-whole to negotiate its milieu (i.e. competing for the finite resource of public attention) – and bleat that they are “making a mockery of the records”, they are wrong in at least two important ways: (1) through technological, technical, tactical, administrative and physiological changes, the game is, always has been, and always will be subject to continuous variation in the relative value of statistics, a perpetual shift in the equilibrium point in the eternal battle of bat and ball; (2) thus, there is no transparent, univocal meaning to statistics: these have to be given context, the meaning that is gleaned from them must not be disarticulated from all the contingent elements that bore upon their original production or emergence. Every innings is irreducibly singular…. But anyway, besides all this, there’s another reason: (3) surely any threat to the imagined canonical integrity of the statistical record is of secondary concern to – and once again drawing on an evolutionary analogy – the continued survival of the Test game, regardless of any diminution of the numerically-derived status of these self-important old reactionaries.] 

Man got a beef

Anyway, the DRS… What its introduction means is that batsmen can no longer risk being hit on the front pad, no matter how big their stride. Lo and behold, we have learned that too many balls are hitting the stumps! It is an incontrovertible fact that this absolutely alters the nature of the contest (see how crucial to England’s first innings total in Abu Dhabi was the hasty and injudicious waste of reviews by Pakistan), as Michael Atherton more than anyone else has both expressed and, just as importantly, not forgotten when analysing the incidents – many have said it, but then relapse into explanations that parenthesise it or fail to bear it on mind at all. Once upon a time, a combination of buttering up the umpires and a decent stride might have been enough to save you. Middle-and-leg please, Ken. Having shed its autocratic system of justice, cricket now has its court of appeal (which means less appeals, as it were). Modernity beckons.

So, how do you combat the spinning ball in this new milieu?

Forward press? The bedrock of Fletcher’s England’s conquest of South Asia in 2000-01 is, if not obsolete, then fraught with lbw-related risk. Sweeping? Only possible when one could be sure of getting the front pad outside the line (i.e.: left-handers to Rehman bowling over the wicket; not so much right-handers to Ajmal, either over or round. And in any case, the low bounce also makes this risky). In this light, the back-foot shots were to some extent forced. Or were they?

Using your feet could in fact be the best option (when chasing a small total, at least), irrespective of whether you’re picking Ajmal’s variations. The doosra doesn’t go miles, after all (although his ability to add 10kph from his delivery means you might get caught between the first and second stride). However, we Anglos seem to think that stumped is somehow a more shameful mode of dismissal than the others. It seems to carry more stigma, and invite more opprobrium, than blocking your way into a black hole bereft of ideas then chipping one in the air. The point is surely that batting is not about right and wrong methods, but always – and perhaps especially so against spin – about risk and reward, cat and mouse: you are putting pressure on the captain to move fielders, introducing a problem for the bowler… 

out is out

But, again, sitting on your shoulder is The Little Man, asking you the ever-present question of how your innings (and your mode of dismissal) will be received: by teammates, management, selectors, ‘the media’.

[NOTE: It is all too easy to homogenize ‘the media’, or to imagine it as a single subject, when it is in fact a heterogeneous entity comprised of thousands of singular acts unguided by any overarching voice. I know you know this. Even so, some writers in the media use a rhetorical sleight of hand, drawing on metaphors that imply a unified, concerted agency to the media-as-entity, an attitude from which they then seek to distance themselves; thus, what they think they are merely describing from the outside (a mood or attitude of ‘the media’) they are in fact creating from the inside.]

Just when you think you’re facing a purely cricketing problem, the outside seeps in. Lines of pressure, Beyond a Boundary. Therefore, the 10-minute turnaround and the (possibly non-existent) group discussion is not solely or primarily about shoring up the clarity of one’s own cricketing gameplan, one’s tactics; it also concerns the clarity that exists in the communication between players and among the group. It is micropolitics. And it is crucial, because, for all the perceived strength of the bonds forged in victory (of this England team, not least), cricket, as we know, harbours a tendential instinct for self-preservation that often  though not always  interferes with the selflessness demanded of team play, the latter ceaselessly invoked, the former often dishonestly suppressed (and disingenuously so when statistics afford such a shorthand, if reductive, quantification of one’s apparent contribution, and thus an aid for selectorial judgement). When the noxious curlicues of self-interest waft into one’s thoughts, having someone else get out to a diabolical shot is often greeted with an inner happiness: that is where people will lay their blame…

So then, what, finally, would have been a good strategy for England to have adopted? In club cricket you might have bunged in a pinch-hitter, whose scalp was of lower value, but who could have scattered the field and grabbed early momentum. Perhaps that is a shade…well, a shade too ‘clubby’; or perhaps it is the sort of outside-the-box thinking that might have won England the game. Graeme Swann at number 3 to replace the stricken Trott? (Conversely, and in no allusion to Trott, it might have made far too loud a squeaking noise in the rectal region, a noise that could well have served to send shivers through the team.)

Which brings us back to where we started: when chasing a small total (sub-150, say) a quickfire 50+ partnership, with a couple of additional cameos, generally breaks its back. Was Eoin Morgan assured he had the backing of the management to reverse sweep, use his feet, and call on the rare skills he has shown in the ODI format, safe in the knowledge that, should he fail, the management would have headed off the encircling snipers by announcing that Player X had licence, in line with what the gameplan was at the time?

I suspect not. As it is, a good player’s career hangs in the balance, and a team’s ascendency, likewise.