Friday, 30 March 2012


AUTHOR’S NOTE: When I say ‘XI thoughts on Galle’, I don’t mean on the city per se, although I’m sure it’s lovely. I’m merely using Galle as a synecdoche: a large thing that stands in for a smaller thing that is the actual referent of the word or phrase, as for instance when newsreaders say “Washington” or “Moscow” when they mean the US or Russian government. OK? OK. Here are my thoughts. They are a VERDICT. Nail them to the inside of your eyelids, scum.

1. Sri Lanka used to be called Ceylon, after the tea producers. Before that, however, it was known (to Europeans, at least) as Serendip, whence comes the word ‘serendipity’: the art of chancing across beautiful things (the cornerstone of creativity and innovation according to Steven Johnson’s excellent Where Good Ideas Come From). Well, all I can say is, let’s hope that the England top order chance across the art of not throwing your wicket away through poor concentration in a manner that would shame the fucking X-Box gen– … Erm, sorry about that. I saw some lovely, fluffy clouds outside… I didn’t really, you goon; I was doing satire. Yeah, anyway, England need to stumble across the art of stumbling across a way of making enough runs for their bowlers to work with. Now-ish will do.

2. Talking of Sri Lanka and names, there’s a very important debate that needs to be had, and that debate is this: the pronunciation of which cricketer’s name best captures the sonic essence of Richie Benaud’s inimitable, though much imitated voice, and thereby the basis of his laconic commentary style as a whole? Eh? Some say it’s “Muttiah Muralidaran,” with a hard ‘d’ (as opposed to “Muralitharan” with stress on the middle syllable [for everyone in the world except Tony Greig] or the penultimate [for Tony Greig]). Some even claim it’s “Kapila Wijegunawardene,” which sounds to me like an invitation to eat. Personally, I think the name that best captures Benaud’s soft and rhythmical vowel-fondling ululations has to be “Mahendra Nagamootoo”. What you saying?

The debate could be extended to other sports, too. It took a long while for the BBC to recognize that received pronunciation did not encompass the majority of its audience, and that deploying a regional accent on its airwaves was not a hanging offence. And thus came the luscious-voiced likes of Brendan Foster, whose Rehrzer Mert-ah (Rosa Mota) is surely the name that best exemplifies his Geordie tones.  

And then there’s rugby, and the great Bill McClaren. So hydraulic was his enunciation, so many moving parts concerted, such a range of twangs and grumbles, a whole glottal gymnastics, that one could easily imagine him blowing or even vibrating the cutlery clean off your dinner table during the evocation of a particularly memorable passage of play – maybe a garryowen starting off a magnificent sweeping counter-attacking try, ball passed through the hands of all 15 players before being touched joyously down between the posts. A mention in dispatches should go to Eddie Butler for his beautiful enunciation of the French players’ names – Dussautoir, Rougerie, Poitrenaud; even those with Basque, Vietnamese or West African heritage, like Harinorduquy, Trinh-Duc, or Nyanga – hitting all the diphthongs and nasalised vowels like a master pianist. 

But McLaren’s Lagavullin-steeped Highland burr evokes perfectly the cold and windswept context in which rugby union really ought to be played, and the quintessential name to exemplify his voice – his brrr – would have to be that of ex-England flanker Peter Winterbottom. Go on, say it: Peet-turrh Wahn-turrh-boar-tumm. Now say it again, but louder. And again, faster. Go on! Go ooooon. And once more. Say it like Bill McClaren would say it... And now you’re laughing, aren’t you? Tittering inanely. Fun, isn’t it? Thanks, that’ll be £5 you owe me.

3. Talking of names, the United Nations Council for the Protection of Finite Resources has decreed that, as of 2015, Sri Lanka will have to cut down on the number of polysyllabic players in their side because of the amount of ink it’s forcing Western newspapers to get through. Thus, the likes of Paranavitana, Kaluwitharana, Kalavitagoda, Bandaratilleke, Wijegunawardene, Samarasekera, Kuruppuarachchi, and Jayaprakashdaran will all have to be sacrificed for the sake of the likes of Vaas, Silva, Dias, John (yes, look it up), Silva, Zoysa, Silva, Randiv and Silva.

Randiv: a secret lemonade drinker?

4. Talking of Randiv, old Suraj nipped in with a cheeky 4-fer in the second innings, adding three tailend wickets and KP to the couple he took in the first innings. Well bowled, I guess. But did anyone else spot the quirkiness of his run-up: it’s like someone trying to sneak up behind you by tiptoeing across a very creaky old wooden floor, the noisy parts of which he knows very well (is he a secret lemonade drinker?). Precise, jerky, awkward, angular.

5. Talking of angular, does anyone else think that Lankan paceman Suranga Lakmal bears a certain resemblance to the actress Sandra Bernhardt, who played the stalking accomplice of De Niro’s unhinged Rupert Pupkin in Scorcese’s underrated classic The King of Comedy? He does, kinda – but you need to know how to look… 

Suranga Lakmal's twin sister?

6. Talking of being unhinged, the Sri Lankan Cricket Board’s opportunistic ticket-pricing policy – effectively setting up a dual economy: one price for locals, one (exorbitant) for Brits – even extended on the fourth day to fleecing people who tried to watch the game on the cheap from the ramparts of the old Dutch fort, ostensibly because some local nabob had hired out the place for a party. You wouldn’t think they’d have the gall. It seems to me to be short-termist in the extreme to dole out punitive charges to the one nation that consistently brings a large contingent of supporters overseas. One can only hope that the profits are being used to persuade Lasith Malinga to return to Test cricket, as I have a feeling he might prove more than a bit useful on some of the flatter pitches out there.

7. Anyway, talking of having some gall, Galle is undoubtedly a beautiful setting, but is it the most impressive cricket ground in the shadow of an old fortified stronghold? Players at Bamburgh CC might beg to differ… 

8. Talking of the old Dutch fort, it is perhaps not all that widely known that the men of the Netherlands established a trading colony on the island – following 97 years after the Portuguese, of course (think of all those Fernandos) – a staging post en route to Java, no doubt, for the quasi-governmental proto-megacorporation, the Dutch East India Company. Anyway, the Dutch legacy lives on today in the tradition of the Burghers, patrilineal descendents of the Dutch (principally though not exclusively), who have a first-class cricket side named in their honour and whose latest international representative was Michael Vandort.

Anyway, I mention all this because it struck me that Holland are missing a bit of a trick as far as strengthening their national cricket team is concerned. What with their colonial past in South Africa, too – not to mention Tasmania, once known as Van Dieman’s Land, after the U2 track (is Dirk Nannes from down there?) – there are not only a whole host of not-quite-good-enough-for-the-national-team Saffers they could pick up (all due apologies to Ryan ten Doeschate), thus competing with us (all due apologies to KP and Trott), but probably a few Lankans who could trace back their ancestry to the motherland. While they’re at it, they could smuggle some Guyanese over the border into Suriname (possibly making them eligible, although this involving too many layers of immigration red tape for me to work out right now); or Trinidadians onto the Dutch Antilles. What’s the point of colonialism if you have to give up the cheap flow of important resources? 

Strauss: professional trudger, down but not RAUS

9. Anyway, talking of Teutonic interest in cricket, German tabloid Bild is in no doubt where the blame for England’s current subcontinental woes lies, yesterday running its leader beneath the (faintly anti-Semitic) headline STRAUSS RAUS. However, to people – German-speaking or otherwise – who think that a sole hundred in 48 innings is proof positive that he should be dropped, I say this is a slightly misleading stat. It is not, strictly speaking, ‘all about hundreds’ as it is about match-winning contributions and, to a lesser extent, averages. You can make lots and lots of 80s and you’ll be doing a good job. “Hundreds win Tests,” you reply. Again, not necessarily. I would bet that there have been more hundreds scored in draws than wins – certainly, up to about 1995 (I’d wager). And then there’s the unquantifiable value of captaincy, of leadership, to a team. Is Strauss slipping back into the Misbah and Sammy realms of being picked for his captaincy? Maybe. But he’s earned some breathing space.  So back the fuck up. 

10. Anyway, talking of headlines, it’s a shame Charlie Shreck wasn’t selected for this game – instead of James Anderson, say, or Monty  not because that would have given Notts four of the attack (yes, yes, I know he’s signed for Kent) but because it would have allowed someone to use the headline CHARLES DE GALLE. As it is, new West Indies opener Johnson Charles better sort his shit out so that his career is prolonged to the point where the headline can eventually be used. Money on that not happening, from the evidence so far. 

De Galle: leadership (albeit
high-handed and autocratic)

11. Anyway, talking of a Notts-based bowling attack, I have a prediction: should Samit Patel’s England career extend beyond the current tour, to environments other than those in which the need for a fifth (or fourth-and-a-half) bowling option is best served with a spinner slow bowler – for instance, with England now having shown themselves happy to have Prior at six, Bresnan could, in most conditions, come in at seven as a third seamer (or fourth, if they want to ditch Monty…which could also be true if they want to revert to a four-man attack) – then reverse sweeper forecasts that the England team will see a reprisal of the tradition of Notts players going absolutely radge at each other, last seen in around 2008 with Ryan Sidebottom busting blood vessels at Monty’s shambolic fielding.

Young Samit [not really - legal team]
My logic is this: Patel is a Notts lad – and, it’s fair to say, of not entirely solid character (before your scurrilous minds start speculating unduly, I’m merely thinking of the lack of discipline of his mouth bouncers: “Sorry, cake. You’re not coming in. Not tonight.”) – while Swann has been with the county since the start of the 2005 season, when Patel was a mere slip of just out of his teenage years. They know each other reasonably well, Id guess. Therefore, Swann’ll probably already have seen one or two indiscretions and, Id hazard, several instances of all and sundry pulling out their hair. Furthermore, Mr Swann may well be the Fastest Wit in the West (Bridgford area), but he’s also quite narky on the field, at times. Witness the expression on his face when Samit failed dismally to be 6' 6" tall so that he could catch Prasanna Jaywardene in the Sri Lankan second innings, just as they were extending their lead from ‘Maybe, on a very, very good day, and if Herath breaks a finger attempting to snaffle a drilled return catch, we might knock these off, oooh, I dunno...1 in 4 times, max’ to ‘We’re absolutely fucked’. 

Bearing all this in mind, there’s no doubt he’s going to go mental at Samit soon. Probably in Colombo (according to Columbo).

Monday, 26 March 2012


Wood, Hutton, Kelsall [photo: Carla Munday]

At the back end of last month it was my great pleasure to interview three bright-eyed young cricketers in their first year as full-time professionals, having successfully graduated from the Notts Academy at the end of last season, the only three to do so. The trio also represented England Under 19s in a series against South Africa in late summer and in Bangladesh January just gone. They are now out in Australia, playing a quadrangular tournament against the hosts, India and New Zealand as preparation for the World Cup there in August this year.

Over the course of an hour-and-a-half in the Larwood and Voce, I asked Sam Wood, Brett Hutton (both of Farnsfield CC, near Mansfield) and Sam Kelsall (who played under my captaincy at Moddershall in 2008) about their journey as players so far; about what the young cricketer hopes to take from the game in 2012, a historically unprecedented era dominated by the financial and technical implications of Twenty20; and what their specific, individual targets and aspirations were – for this summer, for the duration of their contracts, for 5 years’ time, 10 years’ time, and for the end of their careers. 

The full-length interview can be found in the next issue of SPIN magazine, out this week (and on sale at WH Smith),* but I also tacked on another mini-interview for LeftLion, the Nottingham magazine and website of which I’m Sports Editor – frivolous questions about their new colleagues in the senior squad and the city they now call home – which can be found on the LeftLion website.

It’s all too easy for the modern cricketer to be media trained into blandness and/or defensiveness, but I was given lots of interesting and considered responses. I wish the three of them well for the summer.

* SPIN can also be ordered from Kim Jones: countycricketkj[at]gmail[dot]com 

Saturday, 24 March 2012


True Grit

The gimlet eyes adjusted to the unremitting glare of the Australian sunlight (and the global spotlight); crow’s feet, the visible bodily inscription of many hours of unyielding concentration; the metronomic mastication, pausing only when a foe is to be faced down; a hint of stubble, on which perhaps to scuff a ball ready to swing Irish. Didn’t give much away, ‘Tugga’ Waugh.

Game face. Although primarily associated with the ice-veined players of high-stakes poker, the importance of a ‘game face’ is a commonplace of all professional sports, perhaps all competitive environments. Indeed, there are some strains of Cultural Studies that claim that in all our everyday social interactions we are in some sense performing (not for nothing does persona derive from the Latin for ‘mask’). Of course, such a desolate hypothesis gives the impression that us latter day homo sapiens are – from the cradle to the cricket field, nightclub to the negotiating table – all highly calculating über-pragmatists happy to pin ‘appropriate’ sentiments to our face according to context, when in fact we know full-well that our authentic, if unruly, emotions are always threatening to irrupt and overwhelm our self-containment, restraint, and decorum. Just ask Glenn McGrath. 

However, it is often assumed that once such fiercely driven sportsfolk as McGrath and Waugh exit the furnace of top-level competition, the game face is left there to burn. Suddenly, these predatory creatures are amiable, approachable, perhaps generous-spirited; where once they crackled with the energy of a seemingly bottomless ruthlessness and bristled at the slightest provocation, now they are affable, cordial, gracious even.

WAUGH: "What the fuck are you looking at?"
AMBROSE: "Don't cuss me, man"
WAUGH: "Why don't you go and get fucked"
For cricket lovers of a certain age, Steve Waugh was just about the most hard-nosed and remorseless competitor of his era: giving it, taking it, never shirking it, always meeting obstacles head on. There were those piercing, gunslinger’s eyes, which were either fixated on the source of danger or, from gully – the quintessential lone ranger’s position, off at the edge of the pack yet where the bullets fly fastest – boring into some fresh quarry. From a distance, the arch gum-chewer remained a largely taciturn presence on the field, words seemingly redundant when you are already irradiating such menace. This silence was but a fragile accord, though, and when his mouth opened it seemed to carry nuclear-level threat. At times, he seemed to be affectless, the reptilian brain of our hominid ancestors writ large, batting with lizard stillness and sporadic celerity, motionless until a sinuous snap took his body into a ball with width, either flaying cuts or dropping concrete-heavy hands on a square drive. Unfussy. Insatiable. Always happy to keep you on the wrack. Finally, there was that jaunty, ten-to-two gait and swinging shoulders that simply refused to sag, even when carrying his team through a tough day on tough pitches against the toughest of bowlers, giant bowlers who he would stare down, swear down, and more often than not wear down. The granite-hewn legend is well known.

However, Waugh is also – and always was, of course – a bright, articulate and open-minded soul, not only intensely aware of the traditions of his own culture but a pioneer in dragging the game forward, keeping it in step with (and sometimes a pace or two in front of) the changing desires of the audience. Most impressively, he used the wealth and fame that cricket has bestowed upon him to channel enormous quantities of financial and emotional assistance to the impoverished people of India (in particular, the Udayan leper colony in Kolkata). Here was a Baggy Green-revering citizen of the world; a humanist and humanitarian whose charitable impulses are blind to, and overflowed, national borders, nestling where need was greatest.

So it was that at the Trent Bridge library recently, I opened Waugh’s autobiography, Out of my Comfort Zone, expecting to see the gnarled Aussie warrior to have mellowed sufficiently to be able to express a certain amount of sympathy and suppressed admiration for English cricket, sentiments he was constitutionally unable to show while still competing against an opponent over whom his country lorded for all but the first series of a nineteen-year Test career (one that took in eight Ashes campaigns), a dominance in which he was as prominent as any of England’s other tormentors – be that Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist or whomever. 

Research took me to the Index, and there it was: the main entry for ‘English Cricket’, with a total of 14 sub-entries that, read as a list, provided an interesting…well, index of Tugga’s longstanding basic outlook on the old foe. Yes, there’s the caveat that this view is of only those sides that he faced, the calamitous, revolving-door years, and not ‘English cricket’ construed as some entity with permanent characteristics. There’s also the very real possibility that the indexing was not the work of his own hand. Even so, these 14 sub-headings are a gorgeous snapshot of an era of Aussie hegemony – perhaps contempt – from which England supporters will feel glad to have awoken, a summation in miniature of our myriad failings and the abject futility of our desperate hopes at the time that we might, might... They are a bullet-point bullet-proof indictment of why we didn’t have a prayer.

Readers of Out of my Comfort Zone wishing to investigate S.R. Waugh’s views on ‘English Cricket, 157’ could therefore have looked under the following headings, listed alphabetically:

English cricket, 157
Australian stranglehold begins, 273, 274
caught between youth and experience, 3
damned in the press, 114, 209, 609
‘dead rubber’ syndrome, 472
familiarity through county matches, 193
fear of Australia, 599
lack of self-belief, 496
lack of total commitment, 206, 207
local negativity, 609
no fun, 282, 283
poor fielding, 496
search for a captain, 609
volatile crowds, 600
weakness against spin, 497

In the same way that Waugh’s charitable works have transcended local, parochial concerns, I hoped my nationality would not overheat the passions and thus occlude the genuine tug of admiration I felt for this most cussed of cricketers, one who, from the moment he took guard – before, in fact – never, ever let his guard drop. Truly, the most formidable game face of them all. 

Monday, 19 March 2012


BCCI: revolutionary or reactionary?

The fear of change. At one time or another, it afflicts us all. Imperceptibly, the audacity of youth becomes the trepidation of middle-age, only willpower preventing our curiosity from congealing into timorous conservatism and an future spent beating psychological retreat from the ominous shadows and the unlocalizable noises, withdrawing, defensive, into creasebound shotlessness and the perverse comfort of its at-least stable apprehensions. 

Cricket and conservatism are familiar bedfellows. Notwithstanding the superficially radical trappings of Twenty20 – its off-the-peg razzmatazz a ‘meme’ replicated worldwide and thus already an establishment of sorts – cricket, at the administrative level, is a culture disinclined to change (not off its own bat, anyway). Ask cricket supporters anywhere in the world to conjure forth an image of the sport’s establishment and chances are they’ll still picture the MCC members at Lord’s, the jowly, patrician personification of fusty traditionalism. 

ruling class
While this traditional view of traditionalism is itself perhaps now something of an archaism given India’s rise, it remains important to enquire whether such conservatism is institutional – part of the territory of the game’s elite, as it were, intrinsic to the game’s decision-makers across cultures and ages – or confined to an English old guard trapped in the post-Imperial aspic, fearfully trying to control and check an environment that just won’t sit still. Are all boards averse to change, for the simple reason that genuine innovation always threatens to pull the rug from under their feet? Most pertinently, is the BCCI – de facto leader of the global game – really a bastion of trenchant conservatism? Judging by its steadfast refusal to adopt the Umpire Decision Review System (DRS), the answer would seem to be affirmative; then again, it has been in the vanguard in embracing the all-singing, all-dancing, Brave New World of Twenty20. So, which is it: revolutionary or reactionary? 

cricketing arms race
Before trying to answer these questions, it is absolutely crucial to bear a couple of things in mind regarding the concept of evolution, be that cultural or natural. First, not all innovations are necessarily advancements, nor are they inevitable – things might have always happened differently, or not at all. There is no master plan. Second, despite popular misconceptions around Darwin’s notion of the “survival of the fittest” – in which evolution was seen as a process of adaptation leading to “optimal design” – neither biological nor cultural processes are governed by linear progress on an ascending line of improvement. Both are undirected, just as liable to stand still or go backwards as improve. When looking at the events and processes that move cultures and species along, these nonlinear dynamics can be seen in such phenomena as “arms races” that lock adversaries into mutually reinforcing, tit-for-tat paths of development in which advances on one side of a relation stimulate advances on the other, creating the snowball effect of ‘positive feedback’: ever-sharper fangs create ever-harder armour; a dilscoop leads to a slower-ball bouncer… But the key point – and the one that matters in relation to T20 and DRS – is that these advances may be suboptimal in relation to other selection pressures, other components in the ‘adaptive landscape’: for instance, a bird’s bright plumage might attract mates (advantage) but it may also reduce camouflage (disadvantage). In sum, whether one is talking about skill-sets for the competitive environments of sport, society, or nature, there is no fittest design at the end-point of linear evolution, because the criteria for optimality are changing in step with the dynamics. This is abundantly clear in the accelerated ‘evolution’ of societies, with the continual obsolescence of carefully acquired skills and the constant need to re-train sectors of the workforce.

Returning to cricket, then, the BCCI’s tight embrace of the Twenty20 golden goose is merely a line of development, not ‘progress’ per se. Perhaps the MCC and Test cricket are to feudalism as the BCCI and T20 are to capitalism, for in all ages the emergence of a new ruling class comes from seeing and harnessing the cutting edges of wealth and power that will submerge the old order. Simplifying a little, capitalist power is increasingly a matter of brute quantities and the BCCI is duly erecting its dominance upon India’s gigantic population and the depth of its affection for cricket, exploiting the huge domestic revenues from the economic boom (boom) created by this made-for-TV spectacle, and in so doing submerging the old order, yet all the while stabilizing and taming the revolutionary force of these flows that achieved the dominance in the first place.

BCCI executives consider DRS

the ostrich must evolve

It is too early to tell whether the shift in cricket’s geopolitical centre of gravity will lead to the slow withering of Test cricket, but the problem in this regard has less to do with the quantity of T20 being played as it does a (perhaps connected) general depreciation of Test cricket – certainly not something the BCCI deliberately sought out, but, all the same, a side-effect of their and Lalit Modi’s (inescapably semi-blind) behaviour in cricket’s ‘adaptive landscape’. There is still widespread bewilderment that the BCCI have been so obstinately anti-modern in their stance on DRS, particularly when its introduction was provoked, in large part, by umpiring mistakes in the infamous and contentious Sydney Test of 2008 that cost India (cost in the old currency of prestige, not the new one of currency). It is even more perplexing given that neither of the two most obvious ostensible reasons really stand up to scrutiny.

Firstly, their misgivings about the accuracy of ball-tracking technology (Hawk-Eye or Virtual Eye alike) are either a simple smokescreen concealing a powerful lobby within the team, or, more likely, a sincerely held yet tenuous and barely plausible stance, one that’s causing them to play a good way down the wrong line, as it were. As with evolution, DRS, at present, need not be ‘perfect’, a fittest design. It is merely a resource. Basing your opposition to DRS on the fact that it isn’t foolproof is akin to sticking to a homeopathic potion because the $10 billion medical facility up the road doesn’t cure 100 per cent of patients. 

Anyway, despite the alarmists’ caricature, the umpires are not obliged to devolve agency wholesale to the technology. In cases in which the video evidence is drastically contradicted by the virtual reconstruction of Hawk-Eye – generally off the bowling of spinners when there is little distance between ball pitching and striking the pad (as happened with Phillip Hughes in Sri Lanka last August) – surely they can, as arbiters, choose to rely on a combination of their eyesight and the camera. And if Hawk-Eye does have a blind spot, then at the very least a TV replay helps umpires decide where the ball pitched: not perfect; an improvement. And let’s not forget that, in the context of cricket officiating, the human eye is but an imperfect ball-tracking device.

Secondly, the absolutist belief that the umpire’s verdict is final is symptomatic of what might, in a manner of speaking, be called a ‘theological attitude’. Around the time of the launch of DRS in 2009, Ian Chappell wrote that the unquestioned acceptance of the umpire’s decision was the foundation of the game (certainly, his compatriot, Simon Taufel, a five-time winner of the ICC’s Umpire of the Year award, is cutting an increasingly crestfallen figure as more of his decisions are overturned). But surely the point is the one lucidly made by the late Peter Roebuck, that “nothing is more calculated to reduce authority than allowing obviously erroneous judgement to stand”. Ultimately, Chappell’s is an absurd stance, tantamount to saying he would rather have ‘honest mistakes’ than greater justice – truly, it belongs in Lewis Carroll. What sort of judicial system deprives its accused of the right of appeal if there is further evidence to be considered? Well, one that confines authority to the will of an sacred and/or incontestable individual, like the absolutist monarchies or totalitarian dictatorships. Such a blind insistence on the sanctity of the Umpire’s thunderbolt judgement disingenuously denies a basic human obstinacy on the part of the principles of justice, the unwillingness of those less fatalistic souls simply to acquiesce in a culture of (eminently avoidable) human errors that could prove decisive, could radically alter your career, your life. Everything in our instincts protests. 

umpires and the judgement from on high
One obvious compromise, at least on the face of things, would be to allow the umpires themselves to refer upstairs any decision they wish to, which shows that Authority per se is not being undermined, only that the means for arriving at decisions is being broadened. However, the likely consequences of this move would be that umpires would tend – much as happens with line decisions – to refer all decisions in which there was even a scintilla of doubt (which, given the fallibility of humans’ perceptual apparatus, would be many). If a Darwinian perspective views behaviour as fundamentally the striving after an advantage, there is simply nothing for an official to gain, and everything to lose, by making decisions based on fallible sensory evidence alone. Umpires wrongly failing to refer decisions would soon be ‘rested’. Moreover, this approach would do little to foster a culture of self-policing and restraint – for many observe that the players being invested in the decision-making has helped engender a more cordial, less suspicious atmosphere – since players would be ‘incentivized’ to appeal for everything, duly preying on the umpire’s doubts.

DRS = advantage India?

Clearly, the successful implementation of DRS – and the assent of the game’s stakeholders thereto – requires an adequate number of cameras shooting at an adequate number of frames-per-second to ensure the ball-tracking technology functions as it should, which itself raises serious cost issues that the ICC’s general cricket manager, Dave Richardson, recently said he expected would be factored into broadcasting tenders. There are also improvements to be made to Hot Spot – Vaseline might be best avoided if we are to lubricate the wheels of justice – whilst DRS needs to be universally applied for the much trumpeted Test Championship to have any credibility. Failing this, players with the newly acquired habits and behaviours that DRS inculcates in nations that have embraced it will face deep culture shock when they visit other, sceptical lands such as India – with all the potential for incomprehension, rancour and rifts that one already gets in other walks of life when moving between traditional and modern forms of authority, or vice versa.

Leaving aside whether or not the Indian reservations are legitimate, here’s the thing that no one seems to have recognised: DRS could be precisely the mechanism that revives India’s fortunes in the Test arena. Think about it. The single biggest change it has brought about is the number of lbw decisions going to spinners (which in itself provides an excellent example of the nonlinear dynamics outlined above – for the increase was evident before DRS was formally introduced, prompted by umpires watching Hawkeye footage and seeing how many previously rejected front-foot lbw appeals were actually going on to hit the stumps, the technology bringing about a qualitative shift in perception). Reciprocally, this tendency to uphold more appeals – not least because a mistaken ‘out’ decision can be rectified by review – is already affecting batsmen (as would a predator’s behaviour its potential prey), bringing about modifications in previously well-honed and well-adapted techniques (not to mention in tactics and perhaps even selection). One such batsman, Kevin Pietersen, even ascribes this qualitative change to a precise moment: when, on debut in Nagpur in 2006, Monty Panesar snared Sachin Tendulkar lbw on the front foot. 

Monty got a Raw Deal? No. DRS is a boon for spinners
At any rate, in the recently concluded series between Pakistan and England, 43 out of 110 wickets fell to lbws, 32 of those to spinners (in part attributable to the characteristics of the pitches). And India is, of course, the land of producing spinners. Anil Kumble’s 619 wickets and Harbajhan’s 406 are not negligible hauls (although one wonders how many more victims the former, particularly, would have snared under DRS) and the national side are very rarely without top-class twirlers and tweakers – one only need mention the great quartet from the 1970s: Erapalli Prasanna, Bishan Bedi, Bhagwath Chandrasekhar and Srinivas Venkataraghavan. It should be borne in mind that it is not a simple case of bowling straight at 60mph, and that you still need to deceive the batsman in flight and off the pitch, but it would seem that India is a country well equipped to prosper from DRS. 

Not only is India the fecund (crumbling) soil from which sprout many an autochthonous twirler, it is also the land in which batsmen grow up most adept at playing spin – with the bat, not the pad. And therein lies the point: there is no need for any high-mindedness or some noble gesture ‘for the good of the game’ for India to U-turn and adopt the DRS. It can be done on the entirely pragmatic grounds of it increasing their potency and gaining them an advantage: survivalist logic, if you will. Sure, India will still have to go to South Africa, Australia and England, and will need to develop players suited for those challenges, but we shouldn’t be too hasty to draw conclusions about their current playing strength from recent travails on the road.

DRS: an opportunity in the 'space of possibilties' for India's Test fortunes

DRS, T20 and feedback in a competitive milieu

As we said at the outset, cricket administration is, by and large, defensive and wary of novelty. India is not the sole country where an anti-modern outlook can be found (to anticipate a possible rebuke, please note that anti-modern is a strictly literal and value-free description). A good many celebrated Australian voices share this view of DRS, including Chappell and several other ex-players, as well as such esteemed writers as Gideon Haigh and Greg Baum, the latter even arguing recently in The Age that “DRS has come to be accepted as infallible… For players, to walk is no longer an ethical issue.” No longer! This can only be nostalgia. When survival (I mean livelihood, rather than innings) is at stake, players – people – tend to try and get away with things. The only modern player to make a virtue of walking was Adam Gilchrist and he was about as secure of his place in the team as is Table Mountain on the Cape.

Yet for every skeptical Baum asserting that cricket needs to wean itself off an almost infantile dependence, there is an Osman Samiuddin who understands the economic pressures and political kowtowing underpinning the refusal to push for the compulsory adoption of DRS: “The problem is the way [the BCCI] have bullied member boards behind the scenes – at the risk of damaging lucrative bilateral ties – into making DRS implementation non-mandatory. And in that, the bullied are as culpable for allowing it to happen. It is not up to that much-imagined but non-existent, independent decision-making supra-ICC body to enforce DRS. It is up to individual member boards.” 

Dave Richardson has seen the future
Now, it is perhaps naïve, or romantic even, to suppose that the primary goal of an individual national board – much less the profit-monitoring businessfolk that own IPL franchises – would be the holistic husbandry of the game for the benefit of all its stakeholders. That would be the ICC’s role. Even so, while India’s reasons for embracing T20 are transparent enough from an evolutionary standpoint, but the logic for eschewing DRS remains opaque indeed, and seems to be swimming against the tide of history. In the prophetic words of Richardson: “technology ishere to stay. If the broadcasters are going to continue to use it, we have touse it”. The ostrich’s head must eventually come out from the sand.

Whatever their motivations for rejecting DRS and yet simultaneously backing the T20 form (particularly its ‘domestic’ competition), together it amounts to a double abandonment of the common sphere of Test cricket and a blow, moreover, for the notion of the collective health of the game. It is difficult to shake off the feeling that the BCCI and the IPL is now – perhaps semi-consciously – leading a sea change, an evolutionary line that will eventuate in the oft-predicted slow diminishment of the Test format in the eyes of players increasingly drawn to the bright lights of T20. And it is here that the parallelism between natural and cultural evolution – the same abstract dynamics, albeit on a vastly different time scale – is instructive. Given that, in the shared ‘adaptive landscape’ of players and other national boards alike, the BCCI’s economic power is both a resource and a constraint, we can see the modern cricketer’s rationale increasingly taking shape along the lines of: it’s a short career – therefore, short game, big money, no brainer. (And the likes of Keiron Pollard have shown that large T20 contracts do not depend on status carried over from the Test arena.) If that is the case – and that remains a big if – then Test cricket, sustained on prestige alone, becomes increasingly archaic and prey to extinction. 

Pollard (L) and Gayle: Twenty20 freelancers
Fear often prevents us from peering into the hurly-burly of a historical moment and taking the adaptive steps that must be taken. But the open present and its ‘space of possibility’ is as much a question of opportunity as risk. DRS presents the chance, in a thoroughly competitive milieu (although, in cricket the stakes are low compared to, say, football with its threat of relegation; but cricket-as-a-whole’s environment is hugely competitive), to maximise the efficacy of their predominant cricketing cultural traits – playing spin, bowling spin – in order to gain an advantage. However, so too, in a more fundamental way, does turning their back on Test cricket and shoring up their hold over T20, while drip-feeding that format into the grass roots, cementing those traits in the techniques and imaginations of new generations of cricketers. After all, if you are the apex predator in a particularly resource-abundant and seemingly stable environment, why seek to turn back the clock and relinquish control? Why not simply push ahead, reinforce your dominance, rip the meat from the skeleton of Test cricket and hoover up your competitors’ greatest assets? Or would the cricket community and the BCCI powerbrokers be well served remembering that, no matter how dominant a predator, it still needs some prey on which to feed?

* An abridged version of this piece was published on

Friday, 9 March 2012


Captain Cook and Admiral Strauss arrive at Botany Bay, 1769

A few weeks ago now, I wrote a heartfelt valediction for the impressive and avuncular Mohsin Khan, removed from office by the PCB on account of him not holding coaching certificates – ostensibly, at least –  and replaced with the Colombo-born Australian, Dav Whatmore, thus now starting out with his third Asian nation.

My honorific team – A Broth of Khans – didn’t feature the obvious choices. There was no Younus Khan, no Majid Khan, no Amjad Khan and, most controversially, no Imran Khan (nor Imraan Khan, for that matter). Instead, I opted for the mercurial talents – and idiosyncratic orthography – of, among others, Chaka, Shere, James, Oliver, Genghis and Jahangir.

I did speculate as to who they might play, these Khans. Smiths would be the obvious choice – craftsmen against rulers – or Patels, perhaps. Then it occurred to me: Cooks.

Too Many Cooks Spoil Broth of Khans – an unimprovable headline!

Or, if the game went the other way: Khan Cook, Won’t Cook (although I’m not entirely sure that makes sense). 

The selection panel – comprising John Torode, Gregg Wallace, and Michel Roux Jr (no relation to Garth le) – have chosen two sides. Here, first, are the reserves:

Captain Cook practises aboard the Endeavour

01: Alastair Cook (c)
England and Essex opener, Woody (Toy Story) lookalike, regular scorer of Daddy hundreds and, all things being equal, well on his way to monumental Test stats that may well see him pass 50 Test hundreds – perhaps more than wee Mr T. One thing is for certain: he can definitely stand the heat, not even breaking sweat, so has no need to vacate the kitchen.

02: Jimmy Cook
Every bit as prolific as his opening partner, SJ Cook was one of the game’s lost greats, sadly marginalized by apartheid. After playing unrecognised international cricket for SA Breweries and domestically for Transvaal, he finished with 3 prolific seasons at Somerset (amassing the small matter of 7500 runs and 28 hundreds) and squeezed in 3 post-readmission Tests in India.  

03: Geoff Cook
Head coach of Durham and steady opening bat for Northants. Benefited from one of the aforementioned Rebel Tours to South Africa, playing 7 Tests across which he averaged just 15 with a couple of half-centuries. He has been hugely successful as a coach and Director of Cricket in his native Durham as they won back-to-back County Championships in 2009 and 2010.

04: Stephen Cook
Son of Jimmy and holder of the record first-class score in South African domestic cricket: a colossal innings of 390 (54 fours, 638 balls) made in October 2009 for Lions in East London against an attack containing Makhaya Ntini, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Juan Theron and Johan Botha.

05: Frederick Cook
Born in Java, died in Gallipoli in 1915 aged 45, and between times turned out in a Test match for South Africa in Port Elizabeth against England.

06: Tommy Cook
One of Cricinfo’s Cult Cricketers for Sussex, he scored 20,000 runs in his 460 games between 1922-37, with 32 hundreds and a best of 278, which wasn’t quite good enough to earn an international cap. He also played football for Brighton and Hove Albion between the World Wars and was a hero in both: in the First as a naval officer and the Second as part of the South African air force.

07: Jeff Cook
Part-Aboriginal Sydneysider Jeff Cook came to England to play club cricket for Caverswall in Staffordshire in 1992 and was subsequently picked up by Northants, a good player of pace and handy medium-pacer whose problems against spin meant he didn’t quite fulfil his potential, averaging only 29.35.

08: Fraser Cooke (wk)
Nine games for Cambridge University. Surname Cook. Keeper. Gets in.

09: Simon Cook
The 40-year-old ex-New South Wales and Victoria seamer played two Tests for Australia in 1997, taking 7 wickets at 20 apiece against New Zealand as replacement for Glenn McGrath, including 5/39 in debut in Perth, before being discarded. That he failed to bag 100 first-class wickets indicates what a rare day in the sun that was (not literally, obviously, as it’s fairly sunny in that part of the world). 

10: Simon Cook
The ex-Middlesex and currently Kent workhorse seamer from Oxfordshire (à la Jack Brooks) with 341 career wickets at 32 has the all-too-predictable nickname Chef and is famous in the blogosphere – as of right now – for looking a little bit like Praveen Kumar.

11: Nick Cook
A steady roller of a left-arm spinner who benefitted from a lack of real quality in the spin department in England in the early 1980s to play 15 Tests, starting spectacularly well with 32 wickets in 4 games at 17.3, finishing with 52 at 32. He may also have bore a vague resemblance to Henri Leconte – with no discernible ass and a penchant for physical comedy  but that could be my memory playing tricks. Now an umpire.


However, this was only the second string. We felt that more versatility is needed, so here is THE REAL COOK XI (with the match against the Khans perhaps held in the Cook Islands).

Variously known as Pizzaman, Mighty Dub Katz and Freakpower to members of the pseudo-dance music community (i.e. beats for Indie kids on the Amyl Nitrate), a former member of The Housemartins (before they became The Beautiful South) and creator of the ‘Guns of Brixton’-plagiarising Number 1 hit for Beats International, he has shown he’s prepared to stoop to anything to be at number 1, so let’s let him grab his Weapon of Choice and take strike.  

Leftie who is not comfortable with spin, so best off on the front bench, as it were. Indeed, as Foreign Secretary he was opposed to unnecessary attacks (on Iraq) and thus probably well suited to an old style opener role. Robin’s cricketing career was stalked by controversy, though, inasmuch as there were persistent, widespread, pre-DRS doubts over his demise.

Came out at ‘first drop’ in the 4 x 400m, was a winner of several bronzes, and no doubt bore other tenuous biographical facts that would support the idea of one of GB’s greatest sprinters batting at number 3.

Not the somewhat buxom blonde tit-flasher that a Google image search reveals, but the soul singer who died tragically prematurely, aged just 33 (like one or two other figures from history), shot dead in a motel. Cooke is most famous to me for his rendition of ‘Wonderful World’ for the Levi’s 501 advert of 1986, which made it to number 1. In a cricket context, 501 is of course associated with Brian Charles, making Sam a born number 4.

Alastair Cook was born on Christmas Day, the day on which, coincidentally, James Cook found, coincidentally, Christmas Island – all his Christmases coming at once – on the way to Cook Islands (and they say no man is an island). As with his successor and his 766-run Ashes, the intrepid Yorkshireman stamped his mark on the land Down Under (a journey planned in 1766, almost Lincoln/JFK spookily), while his journals were as eagerly read as those of Steve Waugh 230 years later. To rumours that he’s only picked for his leadership, I say: who else will get the best out of…

The sometime obnoxious chain-smoking interlocutor of Alan Partridge (who famously pulled out of the simulacrum of his discontinued talkshow held at the Travel Tavern) was in fact the thoroughly ‘nice’ presenter of Crimewatch. All-rounder Sue may be middle of the team, but shes not middle-of-the-road, as proven by her spicy debut novel On Dangerous Ground, based on the abandoned Jamaica Test of 1998.

07: TIM COOK (wk)
If you’re the chosen successor of Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple, it’s to be assumed you’re considered a safe pair of hands. Never on the field without iPads, Tim is a core member of the team.   

In another life, the Arctic Monkey might well have opened the bowling for Yorkshire – another life in which he liked cricket, that is. Nevertheless, the guitarist is definite new ball material. Happy taking the lead, although he will also leave the chat to the rest of the attack, his anticipation has a habit to set you up ....for music – largely of the chin variety. As a result, there’s usually a little bit of trouble with t’oppo, often resulting in a ruckus, regardless of what’s gone before. He is a particularly devastating player in day/night games, by all accounts: they say he changes when the sun goes down…

Spinner who travels well, lots of flight. Has been known to go the journey but enough experience to handle any situation. Provides insurance for batting collapse, too.

We all know that, after his playing days were over, he became a commentator, most famously on the famous Good vs Evil cricket match (which caused a psychotic episode giving rise to his Cloughian football manager alter ego, Alan Latchley). However, this very steady seamer was also a top player, and very candid about the tour on which his sharp and incisive double act with Dud was spanked, turning the episode into a frank fly-on-the-wall documentary, Derek and Clive Get the Horn. He also satirised his lack of batting prowess in ‘One Leg (Too Few)’.

The burly, in-your-face Kiwi is a courageous new ball partner for Jamie Cook. Probing relentlessly, not afraid of getting hit, difficult to knock out of his stride: this is the character you need when backs are against the wall.

The former Chelsea winger, who set up the equaliser in the infamous 1970 FA Cup Final replay, just misses out on selection because of a tendency to bowl wides – well, he puts far too many crosses in the box. Then again, he is a wide man.