No way Chum, six (Vale Tony Greig)

Today, 29 December 2012, cricket lost one of the most influential cricketers of the modern era.  Sadly, Tony Greig suddenly took a turn for the worse in his fight against cancer, and died, aged just 66.

Perhaps an eyebrow or two might be raised over my description of Tony Greig as being so influential.  As a player alone, he does not have the legendary status of Bradman, Warne, Botham or Gooch but if you look at the big picture, Greig was a giant in the cricketing world.  His relatively short Test career took place during exciting and turbulent times in the cricket world (the seventies) and he was a leader of change.

As an Australian, I need to sit and carefully reflect on Tony Greig.  He was the epitome of the guy you love to hate.  And I think Greig liked it that way.  He always was a stirrer and enjoyed getting under the skin of the opposition.  I have to admit that I grew up hating Tony Greig.  I was but a boy and he got under my skin, too!  Signalling your own boundaries against Dennis Lillee.  The cheek!  I am glad to say that I can now admire the fight and pluck of the man.  I am of course referring to Greig’s innings of 110 at Brisbane in 1974-75 but we will get back to that.

As we would all know, Tony Greig was born and raised in South Africa.  His first class career was gathering momentum at the time that South Africa was sent into sporting exile in 1970.  He was playing for England just two years later.  This wasn’t actually because he had jumped ship early when he realised he wasn’t going to play for South Africa.  In fact, Greig had thrown in his lot with England long before that.  Greig went to Sussex in 1966, aged just 20, with the intention of trialling for a season.  It was such a success in his own mind that he decided there and then that he wanted to play for England (this was easily possible because his father was British).

Greig found himself debuting for England against an emerging Australian team in 1972.  In a low scoring match at Manchester, he top scored in both innings (57 & 62) and took five wickets in the match, which England won.  No question, if man-of-the-match existed in those days, Anthony Greig would have been that man, on debut.

Sometimes in the haze of showmanship, controversy, advertising and pitch reports it is forgotten that Tony Greig was in fact a formidable cricketer.  He had a relatively short Test career (58 Tests over a five year span) but he had some memorable performances.  Aside from his debut test, he made important runs as England had a rare win in India.  He made runs and bowled England to victory in the West Indies, adapting his bowling to off breaks.   He took 13 wickets in the 5th Test in Sport-of-Spain.

And that brings us back to Brisbane in November 1974.  Greig scored 110 out of team total of 265.  He did indeed signal his own boundaries and that incensed Lillee and Thommo, as you would expect.  And he did quite some signalling, too.  His 17 boundaries were more than the rest of the team could muster.  The second innings saw Greig bowled by Thomson for 2.  Bowled by a searing yorker.  Tony Greig’s 1st innings success was responsible for invention of a new cricketing term: “the sandshoe crusher”.  To say that England struggled for the rest of the series would be an understatement but Greig fought hard and scored three more fifties.

Greig was a huge man (six foot six inches), was very strong both in body and mind.  He was not one to be dominated or intimidated.  He was capable of being belligerent and even obnoxious (signalling your own boundaries) and was well versed in showmanship.  You might say he was exactly what was needed against Ian Chappell’s Australians.  Greig’s leadership qualities were apparent and he became captain of England in July 1975.  He remained so until his involvement in World Series Cricket (WSC) ended his Test career in 1977.

Tony Greig featured in the 1977 Centenary Test in a way that perhaps he would rather forget.  The nation rejoiced as David Hookes hit five consecutive boundaries from one over.  The fact that AW Greig was sending them down was icing on the cake.  Greig’s final series in Test cricket was the 1977 Ashes series against Australia, which England won.  By then, the cat was out of the bag about WSC and Greig was a much maligned character in England.  Suddenly, he was a mercenary and not even an Englishman at that.

Greig was a leading player and personality in WSC.  In other words, he played an important part in revolutionising cricket in the late seventies.  He captained the “Rest of the World” team and showed great resolve under pressure.  He joined Packer at that time and never left.  One of the WSC highlights was the historic moment when Greig arrived at the crease wearing a helmet (an ordinary motor bike helmet).  There was no bullseye painted on it but there might as well have been.  Lillee duly landed a bouncer right on said helmet and Greig took it well.

It was during this time that I believe Greig took advantage of being the villain in Australia.  He seemed to enjoy stirring the Australian players and the crowds and he got great mileage out of it for WSC.  Even some of the advertisements he did were along those lines.  Remember the ad on the tee of the golf course, with Greg Chappell?  Greig tees off.  “Nice shot, Greiggy.  That’ll be four.”  To which Greig replied, “No way Chum, six.”  That summed up Greig at the time.  Rather than humbly accept a compliment from the opposition, he bored it up him.  Naturally, this was scripted but it was consistent with Greig’s real life public persona.

After retirement from cricket, Greig joined the Channel 9 commentary team, and forged a reputation sparring with Bill Lawry, in particular.  This relationship was immortalised by the impersonations of comedian, The 12th Man.  The same goes for Tony’s pitch reports and the weather wall.  Tony Greig, pitches and car keys are synonymous.  How much we miss in today’s high tech world!

It is said that Tony Greig was a larger than life character with a big heart.  This was evidenced by his behaviour and achievements on the cricket field.  I would also draw attention to his life off the field.  He uprooted himself and made a life in a new country, not once, but twice.  He moved to England as a young man and then to Australia later on.  I admire anyone who has the courage and resolve to do this at all, let alone twice.  And Tony Greig did it successfully.  He was successful on the field and off the field as a businessman and professional.

Tony Greig should be remembered as the man Australians loved to hate.  I believe that it is the way “Greiggy” would want it.  But I think it is important that this should be kept in the context of a game.  Overall, Greig was a giant in cricket.  A flamboyant leader with great personality, who could deliver on the field under times of pressure.  Rest in peace, Tony Greig.

RIP Greiggy

RIP Greiggy

Sit on that and Rotate

With Australia’s rolling stock of pace bowlers rolling the poor old Sri Lankans, perhaps the selectors are feeling vindicated by the recently concluded Test.  It’s too early for that but the rotation policy is causing quite a stir.

Rotating players, fast bowlers in particular, is not that new.  It’s been done in One Day cricket, at various times, for some time now.  But it is new to Test cricket.  And Test cricket is something more important than ODIs and that, I believe, is the reason for the emotion.

There can be no denying that modern fast bowlers are plagued with injury.  I am more aware of Australia’s woes than of other countries. Perhaps they are in fact worse.  I’m not sure.  But the list of top line bowlers who have been sidelined because of injury is impressive: Harris, Pattinson, Cummins, Hilfenhaus, Siddle and Johnson just to name a few.  It makes sense that Cricket Australia and the selectors want to improve the situation.  The problem I see is that nobody is really sure what the solution is.

What bothers me is that the rotation policy may just be clutching at straws, or at best a band aid.  The types of injury that these bowlers are nothing new to fast bowlers.  The great Dennis Lillee suffered stress fractures of the back early in his career.  One wonders what sort of a record Bruce Reid could have had if he could only stay on the park.  And Craig McDermott suffered a string of injuries towards the end of his career, but admittedly, some of them were less conventional.  And that is to name but a few.

The thing that galls with the selection policy is that it goes against the natural grain of sporting law and order.  Take the case of Mitchell Starc.  He had a breakthrough Test, essentially winning the match for Australia with five second innings wickets and gets dropped for his efforts.  I know it’s not officially dropped but that it what it must feel like.

What happened to “never change a winning team”?  If we are to believe reports, Starc has been promised a match in Sydney and so Johnson, who was man-of-the-match in the Test just concluded, or Jackson Bird, an exciting prospect, who did nothing wrong on debut, must be dropped.  Um, I mean rotated.  I expect the last in, first out approach with see Bird on the bench.

Perhaps the selectors will say it is a nice headache to have – four or five fast bowlers in form to choose from but it doesn’t feel right.  But maybe I am just opposing change.  My manager at work has had us read books like “Who moved my cheese” and “My Iceberg is Melting” which basically are about realising that times are changing and accepting it.  It is sometimes said that pioneers are afflicted with moonstruck madness and perhaps the selectors are being harshly judged and will be proven correct in the long run.  I hope not.  I feel that the best team should be fielded in every Test.

It’s interesting to see the range of opinions on rotation.  Many of the veterans are exponents of the “more work” theory.  Lillee, O’Keefe and Lawson all suggest that the bowlers need to be doing more work (but the right work).  They see practices such as limiting bowlers to 30 balls in the nets as counter productive.  Similarly, the policy of limiting bowlers in junior cricket to a certain number of overs per day (I think it is about 16) is not helping.  I think Lillee is worth listening to because he had the injuries and he conquered them.

But are the lessons learned by Lillee valid today?  Are the loads on bowlers greater?  They certainly play more cricket.  But even in Lillee’s day, there were times of weeks or months of intense playing.  I would suggest that the professional nature of cricket and the requirements of the modern game, T20 in particular, is seeing a different type of preparation.  For a start, players don’t need a day job, so they have time on their hands.  They probably see it as conscientious to go the gym.   Additionally, the explosive nature of T20 may be leading to “power training”.

I’m no sports scientists but I have watched a lot of TV.  I have heard experts explaining the difference in training for sports that require shorts bursts of power, compared to sports that require endurance.  Running provides an obvious example.  Compare the physic of a 100 metre sprinter to a marathon runner.  T20 has been described as high octane and it is true.  Pace bowlers only need to bowl four overs and they are flat out.  That’s not the requirement in Test cricket.  T20 is the sprint and Test cricket is the marathon.  When was the last time you heard the term “stock bowler”?  When I was a boy, a team always had to have a stock bowler or “work horse”.  They don’t seem too much in fashion these days.  They certainly don’t earn millions in IPL.

Brett Lee commented in the SMH recently that Cummins had never been to a gym in his life so they sent him to the gym and he bulked up five kilos.  Lee questioned whether that actually helped Cummins and did the extra weight put more pressure on his frame.  I recall a couple of years ago when Watson finally overcame his injury problems (temporarily, it seems) and he believed it was because he started doing less time in the gym and took up Pilates.  Less muscle mass and more flexibility was working for him.  As I said, I’m not a sports scientist but that seems commonsense.  Cummins himself has said that he might need to give T20 a miss.  I think that would be wise if he wants to be a Test cricketer.  This would allow him to focus his training on endurance.  DK Lillee recently said on air that the main part of his training was running.

Finally, we have the sport scientist camp.  The cynic in me says that perhaps these guys are trying to capture a market by proving their worth.  And perhaps they do help some of these players.  I heard an opinion that sports science is the only thing keeping some bowlers in the game.  The suggestion was that Cummins for one, would be discarded by now (due to injuries) without the aid of science.  But I don’t know.  Sometimes, it seems like a case of too much intervention and a tendency to complicate things.  I think there would be benefit to having a look back at what has worked in the past.  And that does not include a rotation policy.  Perhaps I am wrong but I will conclude with the words of Arthur Fonzarelli: “Sit on it.”

Six Balls to Glory

In a recent Big Bash match, Nathan Coulter-Nile was awarded the man-of-the-match award following an innings of just six balls.  Hardly an epic.  I guess T20 is the game for Gen Y.

In a rain shortened match, Perth Scorchers needed 51 runs from 5 overs to defeat Brisbane Heat.  This was easily achieved because Coulter-Nile hit 23 runs from just six balls.  And as I said, he was awarded MOTM for that quick piece of work.  He did in fact bowl in the Heat innings and conceded 13 runs an over with figures of 0/39 which if anything, should have counted against his claims to MOTM.  Not that I’m disputing that he should have been match.  I couldn’t care less.  I might dispute that it is even worth having a MOTM for every T20.

I’m just making the point that these matches, while popular and commercially successful are meaningless.  Contrast Coulter-Nile’s 6 ball effort with Faf du Plessis in Adelaide.  If you are after an epic, look no further.  In his maiden Test match, he saved his team and made 110 not out from 376 balls.  He faced just over one and half entire T20 matches in a single innings.  Now that’s what I’m talking about.

While making the point that T20 matches are so much fluff, I have to wonder how useful the BBL is to the Test campaign.  The Big Bash league is running concurrently with the Test series.  When someone gets injured (say, Hilfenhaus or Clarke), reserves are called in and they have to make an immediate transition from T20 to Test cricket.  We learned this morning that all Test players have been withdrawn from the BBL.  I’m not convinced this is a good move but I  can see that little is to be gained from playing BBL while an injury is always possible.  I wonder if Shield matches were due to start on 19 or 20 December, if the same players would have been withdrawn.

The Taylors and Split Captaincy Don’t Mix

It was 15 years ago that Mark Taylor played his last One Day International.  At that time, Australia embarked upon a new era – split captaincy.  Something that is common these days. Due to the increased specialisation of the short forms of the game, and the differences in the traditional form, we often find different men captaining those respective teams.   Now a different Taylor is involved in a split captaincy controversy.

In 1997, Taylor was in the middle of a form slump that threatened his career in all forms of the game.  Australia had lost the recent World Cup and had one game remaining of the three match lead up to the Ashes.  Taylor was left out of the side for that match and Steve Waugh, as vice captain took over.  Taylor famously righted his own ship in the Tests, his team one the Ashes and he may have expected business as usual next summer.

That did not eventuate.  In a decision that shocked the Australian cricket community, Taylor was dumped from the One Day team for good.  He was welcome to continue as Test opener and Test captain and he did.  Waugh and Taylor managed this situation with maturity and dignity and it was a success.  But Taylor has always been clear that he didn’t like the situation.  That is understandable but time has shown that the Australian selectors actually got that one right.

Now a remarkable situation has developed with New Zealand cricket with another captain Taylor.  Ross Taylor.  I’m not close to New Zealand cricket but I do try and follow all cricket to some degree and this intrigues me.  Ross Taylor has been captain of the Black Caps since late last year and the ODI team for a bit longer, when Daniel Vettori retired from ODI cricket in June 2011.

If you follow New Zealand cricket at all, you would know that 2012 has been a lean year.  One of the ideas to turn things around is to have a split captaincy.  I don’t understand the rationale of this decision.  It was determined that Brendan McCullum would be offered the captaincy for T20 and ODI cricket while Taylor would remain Test captain.  The odd thing about this is that Taylor has not been dropped from the ODI team.  It seems to me, an outsider, to be an arbitrary decision.  Back in 1997, it was obvious that Mark Taylor could not be captain of an ODI team that he was not in. But what is this about?

Like Tubby Taylor before him, Ross Taylor is not happy about the situation and has stood down from Test captaincy.  Further, New Zealand’s premier batsman has opted out of the up-coming tour to South Africa.  I don’t know the actual aim of this move but I still think it is safe to say that it has misfired.

The really unfortunate thing is that the Black Caps most recent act was to handsomely win a Test match in Sri Lanka and square the Test series 1-1.  This was largely made possible by a fine innings of 142 by the captain, which set the match up for them and resulted in him being made man-of-the-match.  Perhaps this was a “flash in the pan” from an underperforming team.  But perhaps this was a turning point and any knee jerk changes could have been shelved for a while.  It seems to me like New Zealand cricket may have actually shot themselves in the foot.