A day of hair-brained madness

Greetings all. I apologise for the delay in letting you know what I think of events at The Oval a couple of days ago. I’ve been thinking. And reading. And thinking some more. Firstly, please don’t let my headline create the impression that I am criticising one of the umpires. I just needed the usual witty caption.

My opinion is that, in terms of forfeiting the match, Pakistan got what they asked for. They refused to come out to play after tea on day four and, after some time (about 12 minutes), the umpires enquired of their intentions. When the Pakistanis still refused to come out, the umpires had little option but to end the match and award it to England. How long should the umpires, English players and spectators have waited? Indefinitely? Pakistan did not emerge for half an hour after the bails were removed.

I read that the Pakistan team manager, Bob Woolmer, said that the team wanted to make a stand. Very well. Making a standing always involves a cost, both to the aggrieved party and the aggravator. I’m not endorsing industrial action but, when it occurs, there is a cost to the employer – that’s the main point of the action. But it also costs the employees. They lose their pay and, in the past, they have lost their jobs. Throughout history the revolutionists have been hung, shot, guillotined or similar. When you make a stand you carry it through and count the cost.

For me, there are three issues here:

1.   The ending of the match by the umpires. As stated above I think that’s cut and dried.

2.   The charge of ball tampering and the five-run penalty.

3.   The refusal of the umpires to resume the match even though all other parties were in favour of proceeding.

I wonder what the reaction would have been at the end of day four if play had proceeded normally following the five-run penalty. How much furore would there have been over the five-run penalty? I would imagine quite some. And then more. The umpires would still have been grilled as ball tampering is a serious charge and a spontaneous five-run penalty is a serious matter. Perhaps the umpires could have been less confrontational in addressing the situation? The umpires could have changed the ball because it was ‘damaged’. Of course, the players would have been aggrieved but their honour could have remained intact. For better or for worse, non-confrontational practices are not Darrell Hair’s style. Taking it a step further, and I don’t know if this is within the rules, the ball tampering charge and the five-run penalty could have been dealt with at the conclusion of play.

I want to make the point that we need the umpires to be unbiased and objective. Just as the judicial system needs to function outside of political and governmental influence, it is very important that the umpires can function independently of external influences. The umpires were right to ignore the calls from the English and Pakistani cricket boards for the game to continue. Both parties stood to lose millions in lost ticket sales and far more in lost television rights. The respective cricket boards can not be trusted to act purely in the best interests of the game.

There were two umpires involved but Darrell Hair, as the senior man and also because he has a history of controversy, seems to be copping all the heat. While I acknowledge that it is unfortunate that Hair is no diplomat and that he has written and said things that he should not have, I think he has principles and is resolutely prepared to carry them out, whatever the cost. I don’t want to turn this into an opportunity to stand on the ‘chucking’ soapbox but this is relevant (I have previously stated my case on chucking). The ICC has already undermined the umpires’ integrity by removing their right to call no-balls for chucking during a match. For political reasons, they have exerted external force and interfered with the upholding of an important law. Darrell Hair had the balls to no-ball Murali. He said he would continue to do so even if it cost him his job (I wish he had added the caveat, “If I consider that Murali, or any other bowler, is chucking”). How many other umpires didn’t call Murali simply because they were scared of losing their jobs?

On page 34 (the back page) of the Sydney Morning Herald, 22 August, Phil Wilkins pens:

… the Sri Lankan [Murali] continues to sail along taking his bundles of Test wickets with his arm bending at the elbow and flopping about as if it were a jellied eel. For years, an army of umpires has stared in disbelief and then, unlike Hair and Emerson, each one has considered his international future in the game and consigned Muralitharan’s action to the too hard basket …

Well, Phil, that’s not holding back in your defence of ‘Big Dazza’. Perhaps Phil is a little emotional but he does have a point.

The umpires have been criticised for making the decision to penalise Pakistan, even though there was no video evidence of any player in the act of tampering with the ball. I think there is the odd person in prison whose crime was committed without witnesses! The art of swinging the old ball (reverse or Irish swing) was pioneered by the Pakistanis. For years, they achieved it while others could not. The trick was not in the mechanics of the bowler’s action, although it plays a part. The action of the Pakistani bowlers could be seen and copied. The key to reverse swing is in the ball preparation and the secrets of ball preparation have always been mysterious. There are those who believe that the Pakistanis have a history of ball tampering.

In an ideal world, each situation should be judged in isolation at face value – in theory, past crimes should not count as evidence for the current issue at hand. But I want the umpires to be logical and, in reality, past experience makes a significant contribution to logical thought processes made by human beings. If it looks like dung and smells like dung then it probably is dung. If the ball starts to swing suddenly after 56 overs and shows signs of abnormal wear and tear, I hope that the umpires would take some action.

There have been few walk-offs in Test cricket and this is the first forfeit. In 1970-71, in Australia, Illingworth led his players from the field when John Snow was manhandled on the boundary. Ten years later, also in Australia, Sunil Gavaskar, the Indian captain, was given out lbw when he thought he had hit the ball. When Lillee decided to show him the way back to the sheds, Gavaskar was so distressed that he ordered his opening partner off with him. Fortunately, commonsense prevailed and the not-out opener and the new batsman were sent almost immediately out to the middle. I’m not a big Sunny fan – he was too predisposed to publicly express his disappointment about events that went against him. However, to his credit, this is what Sunny said of the incident in his autobiography:

That was one of the most regrettable incidents of my life. Whatever may be the provocation and whatever the reason, there was no justification for my action and I realise now that I did not behave the way a captain and sportsman should.

Also, note that India went on to famously win that match and level the series. That match was their first victory over a full-strength Australian side on Australian soil. Australia was dismissed for 83 as a young Kapil Dev took 5-28. India, and cricket, could have been robbed of all of that if a petulant captain had been given his own way in the heat of the moment.

Pakistan, and nobody but the Pakistanis, have denied themselves a face-saving victory in the 4th Test at The Oval. Pakistan was in a position where they were very likely going to win, with or without a five-run penalty. If they chose to give up that opportunity as a matter of principle, they should not blame others. But consider this: over the years, the inconsistency of Pakistan was often viewed with some mirth. The joke went, “How will ‘Panikistan’ find a way to lose their next match?” As the match-fixing scandal unfolded, and the enquiry that brought cricket to its knees revealed that players from Pakistan contributed more to the corruption than any other nation, all such jokes ceased to be funny. I find it hard to believe that the current Pakistan captain (whom I hasten to add has never been linked with any corrupt behaviour) could not appreciate how the current actions might look. I read today that Inzi is looking at an eight-match suspension for bringing the game into disrepute and I can understand why.

A day of hair-brained madness

A day of hair-brained madness

Monty – The Great White Hope

The British have a history of hanging their hopes on men called “Monty”. The name Monty is as British as a London bus. Even the term, “The Full Monty” is British in origin and while it is used to refer to getting your gear off, in the movie of the same name, it’s literal meaning is “the whole amount”. Origins of this colloquialism are uncertain but many attribute it to certain traits of Field Marshal Montgomery. One thing that is certain, is that Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, “Monty”, of WWII glory is Britain’s most revered Monty.

Monty was, and always will be, a hero of World War II. His major triumphs include El Alamein in North Africa and the invasion of Normandy, which represented the turning of the tide in 1944. When he was most needed by his country, and the rest of the world, he delivered, along with the Americans and other allies. Monty was everything British: organised, efficient, courageous, unflappable, dogmatic and strong.

Now complete this statement: As Tim Henman is to Wimbledon, M______ is to the British (golf) Open. That’s right, the answer is Monty. Colin Montgomery, Monty, the “big hearted” Scot has carried the hopes of the Brits into many British Opens. While he seems to have the ability to win a major, he hasn’t delivered yet, though he has come close.

Which brings us to the Monty of this hour. Mudhsuden Singh Panesar, “Monty”, a Sikh of Indian descent, was born in Luton in 1982. He bowls left arm orthodox spin and is currently having a very good series against Pakistan. He is the latest Englishman to be hailed as the “real deal” by Shane Warne, and others. Panesar has played nine Tests and has 31 wickets at 30.12. In the current series against Pakistan, he leads the stats with 16 wickets at 25.75. Will he deliver in the Ashes?

We shall see, but I have some comments.

Chuckers aside, finger spinners don’t seem to cut it in Australia on a consistent basis. In Monty’s favour, he is a lefty and that helps, spinning the ball away from the right handers. I can’t think of a series dominated by any finger spinner for a very long time. Hugh Tayfield had a great series for South Africa in 1952-53. Of course, there is the odd match, where conditions suit and the likes of Underwood, Vettori, Bishen Bedi and AB have prevailed but these men are (mostly) masters of their craft. On the other hand, Monty does give the ball some flight and does spin it, which suggests he might be a favourable option to the Wheelie Bin.

Well shall see. 100 days to go.

Hot streaks

Sri Lanka has defeated South Africa 2-0 in the series just completed in South Africa. Sri Lanka clinched the series with an exciting one wicket win overnight. Sri Lanka was set a huge target of 352 and got there largely thanks to Mahela Jayawardene (more on him later). Sri Lanka looked to have the match comfortably in hand, requiring 11 runs with four wickets in hand. But in the twinkling of an eye, they still required two runs with just one wicket remaining. Over in England, the home side had given Pakistan a thumping. In a match that was competitive up until the last day, Pakistan failed by 168 runs to reach the target of 323.

There are some interesting hot streaks happening at the moment.

1. Inzi’s duck in the first innings of the 2nd Test ended a run of ten consecutive scores greater than 50 against England. His first innings demise also added to his portfolio of comical and ridiculous dismissals. He was out hit wicket as he stumbled over his stumps, removing the bails with his box, or arm. It’s hard to say.

2. Murali has for the second time, taken at least 10 wickets in a match for four matches running. He continues to bowl almost half of Sri Lanka’s overs, so it’s not that surprising.

3. Mahela Jayawardene sealed yesterdays win with a brilliant second innings 123. This follows his epic 374 in the first Test. That’s 510 runs @ 170.00 for the series. He was man of the match in both Tests but was not man of the series! Go figure. (See point 2 above.)

4. Although in the beaten side, Mohammad Yousuf has been enjoying a great batting streak. His 192 in the first innings of this Test added to his 202 in the first Test. In the five Tests prior his scores include: 97, 126, 65, 173 and 223 (also against England). He has stormed up the batting rankings to number 4, just behind countryman, Younis Khan, and should improve when the ratings are next updated.

5. Ian Bell has scored a century in each of the three Tests against Pakistan. Scores of 100*, 106* and 119 have seen average nudge over the 50 mark again. This is not a joke.

Harmison the harmless one?

I know it’s a bit cheeky but I’d like to put Steve under the spot light. Naturally, Harmison’s super impressive 1st innings performance (6-19) in the most recent Test against Pakistan, caused his stocks to rise. Certainly in the eyes of the British tabloids. The Aussie’s had better watch out after all. Well, this Aussie for one, if not quaking in his boots. I will be far more worried if Simon Jones is on the plane come October. And if the English are allowed to use their Duke balls, rather than the good old Kookaburra.

Harmison has a history of stunning bowling performances. The list isn’t that long but here are his top five innings analysis: 7-12, 6-19, 6-46, 6-61, 5-35. There are some seriously high numbers in the wickets column and equally serious low numbers in the runs column. Harmison’s 7-12 against the West Indies in 2004 was stunning. It’s the best seven wicket innings analysis ever. When he followed it up with 6-61 in the next test, the English press announced to all and sundry that Harmison had arrived. Aussies beware. While he played his part in that successful Ashes series, and the wickets were fairly evenly shared, Harmison finished well behind Jones (21.00), Flintoff (27.29) and Hoggart (29.56) with an average of 32.29.

Harmison’s Test bowling average is 27.74. That’s respectable but does not put him up with the greats. The truth is that Harmison has always been hot and cold. When his rhythm is good and the pitch is helping he can do well. When all is working in his favour, he bends his back and can, and has, achieved stunning results. Now let’s look at Harmison’s average specifics. Against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, it’s mid teens. Let’s take them out. Against all nations, except for the two minnows, the average is 30.14. Let’s take it a little further – it we are fair dinkum, we can realise that the West Indies have been an embarrassment during Harmison’s tenure, so let’s take them out too. The average is up to 33.55.

I appreciate that all bowlers get to play all of these teams, so when comparing career averages, you can’t remove certain criteria. However, averages in themselves mean something. Looking at a player’s career average versus his average against the best opposition is a very valid exercise. Harmison’s average against the four best teams: Australia, South Africa, India and Pakistan (he has never played Sri Lanka) is 36.38. And that is ordinary.

So roll on The Ashes and let’s see if Steve Harmison can improve on his average of 36.83 against the Aussies.