The Past, Present and Future of Australian Cricket

I drafted this post some time ago but rapid recent developments have stolen my thunder. Several times in the past 12 months, Steve Smith has joined David Warner at the crease and each time I have said to anyone who would listen, ‘These two are the future of Australian cricket’. And while it was already obvious that Smith and Warner, along with Clarke had become the mainstays of the Australian batting, it is now official that Steve Smith is the future of Australian cricket and I applaud the selectors.

While the road ahead looks rosy for Smith and Warner, it is hard to say the same for many others in the Australian team. Australian cricket has rallied in the past twelve months, arresting a decline in stocks that had lasted for several years and hit rock bottom in early 2013. That was not very long ago. The turnaround was brought about by astute decisions about leadership and wise selections, and the unexpected (to many) resurgence of Mitchell Johnson. It is important to note that some of those selections involved the introduction, or reintroduction of veteran players to provide the experience and maturity to steady the ship. To that end, Brad Haddin and Chris Rogers have done a great job. In fact, last summer, Haddin was almost superhuman. But it must have been always expected that those players had a limited shelf life.

If you run through the list, it is obvious that the selectors will need to be proactive  and prudent in their actions. This has now been somewhat complicated by Clarke’s long term injury. I think they have handled the captaincy situation well. However, Clarke will be missed as a batsman as much as a captain. His replacement is anything but a sure bet. Shaun Marsh himself says this is his last chance and he needs to take it. I believe that the selectors will take action. This was shown by the dropping of Siddle. With two changes forced through injury it would have been tempting not to make further changes but the selectors did.

Let’s have a run through the team:

Chris Rogers:  37 years old and in scratchy form. Whether or not he scrapes out a 50 in his next Test, the selectors need to move on – Rogers’ best days are in the past. It is painful but it needs to be said: If he were still with us, Phillip Hughes would have been taking Rogers place in the team very soon. I don’t know who the alternatives are.

Shane Watson: I wouldn’t like to make any predictions about what will happen with Watson. All things being equal, I would suggest that Watson doesn’t belong in the present or the future plans. But things have never seemed equal when it comes to Shane Watson and matters of selection. I thought the emergence of Mitchell Marsh would have seen the end of Watson. For me, Watson has reached the stage where his bowling contribution is minimal and his batting average is still just 36. But he has been an automatic inclusion in the side (when fit) for more than a decade and that situation may exist until he announces his retirement.

Shaun Marsh: He said it himself: This is his last chance. I have no idea what he will do. As always, it could be a century or a duck and I wouldn’t like to guess in what order. However, the fact is that Shaun Marsh might be part of the future and his destiny is in his own hands.

Mitchell Marsh: The jury is still out. There is no question that he has potential. Perhaps he will help his brother and we will enter the ‘Marsh era’.

Brad Haddin: I am a big fan of Brad Haddin but after his incredible Ashes series, the runs have dried up somewhat (he has not made it to 25 in the six Tests since). He can’t go on forever and he knows it. I don’t know who would replace him. I would think that part of the rationale in promoting Smith to captain, effective immediately, would be uncertainty around Haddin’s place in the team, even in the short term. If Tim Payne were back and in form, he might have been joining the team this summer. For those of you who don’t know, Payne is back but has been recently dropped from the Tasmanian team on batting form.

Peter Siddle: The past. He has a big heart and has been the leader of the attack in troubled times but I suspect this omission might be permanent.

Mitchell Johnson: The present. Long may the present last. I would nominate Johnson’s form in the past 12 months as the single most important reason for Australia’s turnaround. The are other factors such as Lehmann and the key players already mentioned but I don’t think anyone, not even Shane Warne or Craig McDermott, could have banked on what Johnson has achieved and the impact it has had on Australian cricket, and for that matter, world cricket. He is now 32 years old and is in fantastic physical shape but how long can he keep it up?

Ryan Harris: Harris is the perfect foil for Johnson and the past twelve months have been a purple patch. Not because he bowled better than in the past – he has always been a very destructive bowler – but because he stayed on the park for a long string of matches. Having finally succumbed to serious injury, his comeback has lasted just one match. And while this appears not to be a serious injury, commonsense says that he is getting older and someone who has always been injury prone is not likely to get less injury prone with age. Quite the opposite.

Nathan Lyon: It seems strange to say but I would have to say that Lyon must be part of the future. He is young, the selectors are finally sticking with him and he is bowling well. I even go as far as to say that we can stop calling him ‘Gary’ and use ‘Nathan’. There are a couple of promising leg spinners around and they represent the the main threat to Lyon’s long term place in the team.

Josh Hazelwood: Who knows?  An unknown quantity but he looks the goods and is the correct age.

Mitchell Starc: I have doubts that Starc is going to cement his place in the team. He has had a few chances now and while never doing badly, has never stood out in the Test arena. And do you really need three Mitchells in a team?

Pat Cummins: He’s not in the frame but it seems essential to include him whenever possible when Australian cricket is concerned. I don’t know the plans are for him. They have him focusing on the short form of the game but I hope he has a place in the future of Australian Test cricket. It is clear that he has slipped down the list for the moment.

I have no doubt that Australia will defeat India in Australia. They may steam roll them on and pacey Brisbane pitch. But looking at the roster above, there is much uncertainty, the team is still rebuilding and don’t be surprised if Australia struggles in the 2015 Ashes.

Rest In Peace, Phillip Joel Hughes

Phillip Joel Hughes passed away on Thursday 27 November 2014. He lost consciousness on the pitch, and never regained it, after the destruction of a major artery caused massive internal bleeding. He would have been 26 years old today. That very statement makes me want to throw my head back and howl. It is too sad for words. This tragedy has caused shock and grief for the Australian cricket community, for Australia in general and extends through the cricket and sporting worlds. Our hearts and thoughts go to Phillip Hughes’ family and friends and the Australian cricket team.

I have written a few obituaries over the years but this one is by far the saddest. The expressions of grief and solidarity have been overwhelming and touching but it doesn’t seem to ease the pain. I am sure it helps and must be part of the grieving process but how do we come to terms with such shock and loss? How could one of our number have been taken at such a young age, playing a simple game, a gentleman’s game?

When I wrote to celebrate the life of David Hookes after his untimely death, much of that was an examination of Hookes’ career, his status as a cricket legend and his treatment by the selectors over the years. Hookes’ statistics are remarkably similar to those of Phillip Hughes but I will be undertaking no such discussion here for several reasons. The first is that the story had not finished for Phillip Hughes. We will never know what might have been but I would like to think that Phillip Hughes had a big part to play in Australian cricket in the next decade and that he would have played many more Tests. And, as Hughes’ career was very much incomplete and wounds are so raw, I don’t think there is any place for retrospection. When asked about his selection frustrations, I heard that Hughes held no ill feeling, did not feel sorry for himself and  would simply remark, “I have plenty of time.”

I have posted to my blog many times (more than 500) for more than a decade. Many times, I write for self therapy. This is one of those times. We grieve in many and different ways and writing and reflecting is one of those for me. I have found the communal grieving for Phillip Hughes deeply touching. I have left my bat out and I have watched many tributes on TV and social media. These have ranged from the Australian cricket captain to international and top level sporting fixtures to kiddies in their Saturday morning matches. I support the postponement and cancellation of matches. I think the small gestures including retiring Hughes’ ODI shirt number (64) and ensuring that his final innings is recorded as 63 not out (instead of retired hurt) are important and worthwhile.

I will spend some time reflecting on my own personal memories of Hughes. Although he had not enjoyed consistent success on the Test stage, we must remember that he was a prodigious talent and it surely was a matter of time before he pressed claims for greatness.

Before doing this, I want to reflect briefly on why we are so profoundly affected. In working through my own grief, I think, ‘Why does it hurt so much? Why am I so traumatised?’ It is tragic when a young person in the prime of life dies and it happens every day. And it is just as tragic each time. No life matters more than another so why does this one have such an impact? There is just one other time that I recall the nation being so collectively grief stricken at the loss of a countryman and that was Steve Irwin. I wept for him, too. The common factors I can see are the exuberance and pureness of heart of Irwin and Hughes – and that they died suddenly and shockingly doing the very thing that brought them into our lives. They died doing what they loved; what we love. And, in the case of Phillip Hughes, he died before our eyes.

The cricket world is rocked. I don’t know how long it will take for cricket to recover but I have observed that people have an incredible capacity to endure and prevail even when they think they cannot. Phillip Hughes will never be forgotten while cricket  endures and endure it will. I don’t know how long it will be before I can watch cricket and feel like I can permit myself to enjoy it but I know it will happen and I know it is what Phillip Hughes and his family would want. Bouncers will be bowled again. You cannot have Test cricket without them and, while I expect attitudes of intimidation to be toned down for some time, I would be not be surprised, when play resumes, to see a bouncer in the first over. I am sure that the psychologists will be coaching the bowlers to get back on the horse. Michael Clarke told Sean Abbott to hang in there and that he wants to be the first in the nets to face him when the time comes. It is that strength of mind and solidarity that will see healing over time.

I remember when Phillip Hughes burst onto the first class cricket scene in November 2007 just over a week before his 19th birthday. He started with a half century in his debut and, in fact, scored fifties in each of his first four matches. He topped off the season with his maiden first class century in the Shield Final (actually the last year of the ‘Pura Cup’).

The runs kept coming in the next season. I first wrote about Phillip Hughes in December 2008. New South Wales were in the doldrums but Hughes was not. The post was titled ‘The Blues have the Blues Except for Hughes’ and he was the one bright spot for NSW at the time.  Hughes had just scored 93 and 108 in a low scoring match, top scoring in each innings and accounting for 58% of the Blues runs for the match. Batting like this resulted in his Test call up in February 2009. Phillip Hughes played his first Test match for Australia, against South Africa, in South Africa, aged just over 20 years. After an inauspicious start, the tour proved to be a joyous occasion for Hughes, the Australian cricket team and Australian cricket in general. The backdrop was that South Africa has just beaten Australia in a Test series in Australia. Defeating the Aussies in the return series would see the Proteas take the number one ranking from Australia for the first time in forever. Nobody gave Australia much chance.

However, nobody told Mitchell Johnson, Phillip Hughes and the rest. A reflection of the changing times in Australian cricket was that three players debuted in the 1st Test: Phillip Hughes, Marcus North and Ben Hilfenhaus. Australia compiled an imposing first innings (466) as North scored a century on debut. The other two debutants (batting at number 1 and number 11) made ducks. Hughes was dismissed fourth ball, slashing at a short ball outside off stump. Never mind.

In the second innings, Hughes got underway in Test cricket with 75, top scoring as he held the Australian innings together. He was the only batsman in the innings to pass 50, was the sixth dismissed and ensured that Australia set a winning total. That innings was played over two days (he was 36 not out overnight) and created a very interesting side note. DRS was very young at that stage and Hughes gloved the ball down the leg side twice, was given ‘not out’ twice and South Africa reviewed neither!

Hughes had a truly triumphant 2nd Test and it is that match that I will remember him by. Phillip Hughes became the youngest batsman to score a century in each innings of a Test match. In the first innings he scored 115 as he and Katich (108) put on 184 for the first wicket. It was here that I saw Hughes in full flight for the first time and his unorthodox style made quite an impression. I had never seen him bat at length and really had not realised what an individualist he was. That never really changed although he did modify his technique over the years as he tried to correct some flaws. But, any way you look at it, he shone. Hughes displayed a lack of self doubt that can only be seen in the confidence of youth. There were no nervous nineties as he brought up his century with a six. Two sixes, in fact. He went from 93 to 105 in consecutive maximums. Hughes made 160 in the second innings and Australia won the match and the series in a landslide.

Thinking about it, Australia had already started the slide down the long, slippery slope. That series was a temporary blip on the back of super human performances by Johnson and Hughes, not a turnaround, as many had hoped. Perhaps that is one reason that Hughes was in and out so much. Selectors can tend to look for quick solutions and be less patient than they otherwise might be. I said earlier that I would not dwell on the selectors. I didn’t say I wouldn’t mention them. Incredibly, Hughes was dropped after just three more Tests – after the Lord’s Test on the 2009 Ashes tour. He had played five Tests and his average was 52.44. I won’t labour the point but it did seem harsh.

Hughes was in and out of the team over the next four years. During this time, he made his ODI debut (but not until January 2013) and scored a century on debut. He played 26 Tests and made three centuries and seven fifties. Six of those fifties were scores of 75 or more, five in the eighties. During that time, he never stopped scoring big in first class cricket but he also spent time improving and looking for answers to some of his perceived weaknesses.

Hughes scored 81 in his second last Test match as he featured in another high point for Australian cricket. We need to remember that Phillip Hughes was involved in a 163 last wicket partnership with Ashton Agar in the 1st Test of the 2013 Ashes series. That was a world record at the time and remains an Australian record. Agar stole the show with a swashbuckling 98 but Hughes showed maturity and determination as he battled hard for 81 in a partnership that was the talking point of the country at the time. Incredibly, he was dropped after just one more Test when, for the second time, he was left out after the Lord’s Test. It is unthinkable that he will never play there, or anywhere, again.

Hughes took the big step of moving to South Australia for the season of 2013-14 to start afresh and this resulted in a revival of the Hughes run machine. Earlier this year he had a prosperous ‘A Team’ series in the top end which saw him score mountains of runs and also become the only Australian to score a double century in a List A 50 over match. It seemed only a matter of time until his recall. Many, including me, would have had him back in the team already. It is almost too painful to speculate that he would have been recalled for the very Test that has been postponed on account of his tragic death.

Hughes’ last Test match in Australia was at the SCG. I saw him play in the 3rd Test against Sri Lanka. He made an excellent 87 and then 34 in the second innings. I have included a photo of him leaving the field with David Warner for lunch on Day two. It’s not a great shot but it is my own so I feel free to share it. I have also included my part in #putoutyourbats. I will participate in whatever way I can in the funeral and the memorial service at the SCG. Nothing will bring Phillip Hughes back and it will be forever sad but we must go through this together.

Phil Hughes, SCG, Jan 2013

Phil Hughes, SCG, Jan 2013

#putoutyourbats R.I.P. Phil Hughes

#putoutyourbats R.I.P. Phil Hughes

Sport can be Dangerous

Before I get to the main subject of this post, I feel that I need to make it clear that I am deeply distressed about Phillip Hughes.  I am going to discuss what happened to him and some of the reactions and fall out that may result.  But first and foremost, I hope that Phil Hughes can resume a normal life soon, preferably one that involves cricket.  I am a fan of Phil Hughes.  I had hoped he would rejoin the Test team at some point in the future.  I still do but it does seem rather secondary at the moment.

When I was told yesterday afternoon that Phil Hughes was in a critical condition after being hit in the head by a bouncer, I hoped it was hyperbole stemming from social media.  I quickly found that it was serious indeed.  The later the night wore on, the more obvious it became that this was a terrible incident and we are in for worrying times.  There is one photo on the front page of one of the papers this morning that is truly sickening.  Hughes has collapsed and his head is being cradled by Sean Abbot.  It’s the sort of photo that wins awards and it is deeply troubling.  You can see Hughes’ face and with that image, and knowing that he received CPR for 30 minutes, it’s obvious that for a while yesterday that Phil Hughes was more dead than alive.

There are many dangerous sports and cricket, as this incident reminds us, can be one of them. I hope that the strength of the reaction to Hughes’ injury does not lead to witch hunts or kneejerk reactions.  I hope that helmet makers are not blamed.  I trust that fast bowlers will not be blamed nor prevented from bowling bouncers.  I feel for Sean Abbott.  Millions of bouncers have been bowled.  Some have been hit for six or four.  Others have seen the batsmen dismissed.  And plenty have caused fear, pain and worry.  But only a handful in the history of cricket have caused such damage. The fact that Abbott’s was one of those is pure chance.  There is not the hint of a suggestion that he is at fault and I hope he sees it like that.  I really hope that mothers will not overly worry about their children and withdraw them from their Saturday morning matches.  And I hope they don’t start playing Test cricket with tennis balls.

The reason I have concerns about over reactions are that in this day and age, every tragic accident is analysed with the aim of assigning blame and with the assumption that such outcomes can be prevented in the future.  And such analysis often stems from the focus on sensational stories in both mainstream and social media.

Naturally, this story was the headline of breakfast shows this morning.  I would imagine that it is trending highly on social media even tonight.  There is overwhelming support for Hughes and his family on social media and I am glad.  I watch ABC breakfast TV and I was a little concerned when Virginia started on the helmets.  Something along the line of, “helmets will need to be redesigned.  We must prevent this from happening in the future”.  I am glad she is concerned about our cricketers but I am also pleased that others on the show had different views, as do I.

This incident with Phil Hughes is very high profile.  It has everyone talking.  I wonder if it had been another, lesser known batsman, would the reaction be exactly the same.  For example, South Australian batsman, Tom Cooper (who I imagine will be having a fairly somber birthday today), was at the other end.  I’m not suggesting that Tom Cooper is of less value than Phil Hughes.  Nor am I suggesting that the strong reaction to Hughes’ injury is wrong of out of place.  I highlight this because I think it is relevant to any fallout that might occur.

Phil Hughes has been somewhat of an enigma.  Nobody will be admitting it today but I have heard him referred to as ‘the much maligned Phil Hughes’.  I presume that this would refer to his perceived underperforming.  In other words, he has been maligned for not reaching his potential and that has disappointed people.  But any way you look at it, his fortunes and misfortunes are well known.  I have followed his career closely since he burst onto the Shield seen virtually as a child prodigy.  My first post on Phil Hughes was in December 2008. I winced at his calamitous duck on debut in 2009.  I rejoiced at his glorious pair of tons in his second Test.  And it has been up and down ever since.

I admire his raw talent and flair.  I love his unorthodoxy.  I applaud the way he has refined his technique to address some of his flaws.  I think he could have been treated more generously by the selectors, especially in England in 2013.  I say all of these things to emphasise that even though Hughes is a fringe Test player, he is high profile and there is something about him that captures the imagination.  This all adds to the impact of him being the victim yesterday of a terrible accident.  There is even the irony that at the time he was felled, he might have been in the process of building an innings that would have resulted in a recall to the Test team when Michael Clarke is duly ruled out.

So through the graphic images and the various media, we are all very aware of Phil Hughes and his situation.  And there has been an element of shock.  The cricket community simply seems in shock that such and injury could have occurred, although I am not sure why.  Bouncers have, in fact, in the past caused life threatening injuries in first class cricket.  However, they were not so publicised simply because the of the absence of the internet and social media.  And they are not so well remembered.  Google ‘Ewan Chatfield’ or ‘Phil Simmons’ today and you will find articles about Phil Hughes.  That is because both of those players nearly died after being hit by bouncers and comparisons are being made.  In 1975 (before helmets), Chatfield was hit by a bouncer, knocked unconscious, swallowed his tongue and very nearly died.  But it wasn’t the impact that nearly killed him.  The impact made him unconscious, which is why he swallowed his tongue which you will learn at any CPR course is very dangerous.  And on the West Indies tour of England in 1988, Phil Simmons had a very similar injury to Hughes.  In a tour match, he was hit in the head and had to be operated on to remove a clot from his brain.  When he walked out of hospital eight days later, doctors were surprised at his recovery.

I have even heard this injury described as unthinkable.  Why?  Cricketers wear helmets for a reason.  When batsmen are fearful of pace bowling it is for a reason.  It is widely accepted that they can get hurt.  But killed?  Surely not.  The late, great, Malcolm Marshall is said to have once asked David Boon, “David, are you going to get out now or do I have to go around the wicket and kill you?”  I am sure Marshall didn’t literally mean it, and I am sure such a comment would not be made on a cricket field in the near future but there must have been some element of possibility in Marshall’s poser to Boonie or it was meaningless.

The fact is that cricket is one of many sports that is dangerous.  All contact sports have an element of danger and injuries, sometimes serious injuries occur.  But they are not really seen as potentially life threatening.  Then of course there are extreme sports – the main point of them seems to get a rush from the very danger. It is no surprise when people are killed base jumping, extreme skiing, ice climbing or free rock climbing.  And there are a whole range of sports where danger is inherent.  It’s not the main point but deaths sometimes occur and are even expected.  Included in these are motor racing, horse racing, water skiing, snow skiing and surfing.  I don’t think many would include cricket in that list.  It is a gentleman’s game and that has what has shocked the cricket world and the world in general.

In recent times, two female jockeys have been killed in horse racing accidents.  The fatalities were tragic and highlighted just how dangerous horse racing can be.  After the 2014 Melbourne Cup, two of the horses died in different but unusual circumstances.  The next day there was discussion about what had happened and how it could be prevented from happening again.  Some changes will be made to prevent horses dying the way those ones did but who knows what else might happen.

In this day and age, I believe an attitude has crept in that we can control our own destiny, that we are smart enough to address all risks and accidents.  Risk assessments are a buzz term.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for risk assessment and mitigation and I do them in all areas of my life.  At work, we spend lots of time identifying risks and designing risk mitigation strategies.  I think it does improve how our projects run but I try not to get over confident.  Recently, at a key point in a software development project, one of the key developers announced that he had to “go to jury duty tomorrow”.  Naturally, I asked the project manager where that was in the risk registry.  The point is that we can’t foresee all risks.  And some of the risks don’t unfold in the manner that we expect.  And another point is that in some cases, risks are accepted.  Some identified risks can’t be stopped even if they are identified.  For example, if you build your house on a floodplain, some time, sooner or later, your house will flood.  You can’t stop it.  A choice is made to proceed and deal with the outcome, if and when the risk occurs or to cease the risky activity.

I think this is the case with this injury to Phil Hughes.  There was nothing different about the bouncer he received to millions of others that have been bowled.  Hughes played it badly and unluckily it somehow evaded his helmet and hit him in a tiny, exposed area of his head, one of the most vulnerable points to blows.   Batsmen today have better protective equipment than ever and I’m sure this will trigger exploration of improvements.  But ultimately, when a small, hard, heavy object is being projected at 150 kmh, no matter what is done, there is always going to be some element of risk to the players facing those projectiles.

Aside from any potential over reaction from cricket authorities, I am curious if this incident will have any impact on cricket in the short term.  It will be impossible to measure but it’s worth thinking about.  Take for example, the 1st Test between Australia and India, which starts in Brisbane on Thursday week.  Will David Warner be affected? He was right there and went with Hughes in the ambulance.  And how about the other cricketers who were playing in the match?  And what about Johnson?  The workings of the Johnson mind over the years have been somewhat hard to follow.  His game at the moment is based on pace, aggression and confidence.  Will this incident have any impact on him and wake any sleeping demons, even though he wasn’t involved?  Whether or not Michael Clarke plays in Brisbane, will it affect the approach and attitude of the Australians?  Just over a year ago, during a very hostile spell of bowling from Mitchell Johnson, Michael Clarke told Jimmy Anderson to, ‘Face up and get ready to have his f***ing arm broken.’  Now, a broken arm is unlikely to be life threatening but just the same, I don’t foresee any comments like that being made any time soon.

Whatever happens, I hope that Phil Hughes fully recovers and is able to enjoy playing cricket again.

The Game is not the Same

It has been a long time since I have had the time to put pen to paper with regard to the grand old game.  I finally find myself with some time and I am surrounded by cricket.  I am in my hotel room in East Perth and night Sheffield Shield is being played less than a drive and a fairway wood away.  Tomorrow, I think I’ll stroll down for a look.  The said hotel has been kind enough to provide pay TV and I have the Test between Pakistan and New Zealand on.  Australia has managed to win a couple of T20s and we finally have some word about our beloved Richie Benaud.  Not great news but at least we saw him and there is hope.

I’ll leave you to catch up on all of that cricket news in Cyberspace.  I’m reading a book at the moment and I will share some interesting thoughts from that book.  The book is called The Game is not the Same and it is the autobiography of Alan McGilvray, of course.  For those of you not old enough to know who McGilvray, he was the doyen of cricket commentary before Richie Benaud.  Think of Richie but 20 years older and on radio.  The journalism careers of Benaud McGilvray did have a considerable overlap in time but they were mutually exclusive in their choice of medium.  McGilvray said he tried TV but he didn’t like it.  He didn’t like the cameraman deciding what he would talk about.  The title of The Games is not the Same comes from an ABC jingle which I can recall which said just that: “The Games is not the Same without McGilvray”.

I have read this book before but not for many years.  I often read books a second time.  For a start, my memory is such that if I leave it ten years, it’s as if I have never read it.  Every page is a new revelation.  More importantly, I am often surprised at how a book can bring different and new meaning simply because of being at a different place in my own life.  I recently re-read Watership Down after about a decade. My manager asked me what it is about and without hesitation I said, “Change and leadership”.  Ten years ago I would have said, “Rabbits”.  And I believe I am correct on both counts.

There is a saying, ‘there is nothing new in the world’.  The older I get the more I subscribe to that theory.  I do admit that occasionally there are new ideas but most things that we think are new, have been thought of before.  New inventions are often evolutions of an idea that new technology has enabled.  While reading The Game is not the Same, I came across of a couple of examples of this.  I often marvel at the amount of cricket that is being recorded on the internet.  More and more ball-by-ball commentary is being recorded and published.  The cricket archives of today are incredibly rich.  Can you imagine being able to trawl through a Test match from 1930?  But ball-by-ball commentary is not new.  It is merely reborn and published in a different way.

I refer to the synthetic Test broadcasts of 1938.  Google it for the details but many would be familiar with a group of men broadcasting from the ABC studios in Sydney, making up the details, ball-by-ball of a Test match being played in England.  There was a man on the ground, who at the end of each over cabled an encoded commentary of each delivery, which allowed the match to be broadcast.  Some imagination was necessary and sound effects were added for realism (including the famous tapping of the pencil on a block of wood).  I don’t know if the original transcripts were preserved, and they would be unreadable to the punter anyway but if they do exist, they should decoded and backfilled into Cricinfo.

In reading McGilvray’s reminisces, it is clear that the dawning of the great cricket broadcasting era had many similarities with TV.  The star commentators were great ex-players.  Victor Richardson and Arthur Gilligan (both Test captains in their day) were the first big names.  They dueled on air over any subject and their partnership was legendary.  Just as the modern day sparring partners ‘Bill and Tony’ needed no last names, neither did ‘Vic and Arthur’.

New technology allows the TV commentators to communicate with the players on field.  Personally, I find the interactions irritating.  I feel sorry for the players being subjected to inane questions, often when they need to be concentrating on the match.  I’m glad it is the domain of T20.  But McGilvray explains in his book how he used to communicate with the umpires.  The umpires had a range of signals which they used for each other but they let Mac in on the secret.  For example, if a batsman was given out having gloved the ball to the ‘keeper, McGilvray could call this before the replays were examined because the umpires had a discrete hand signal for that occurence.  I know it’s only simple but it stood out to me because that sort of cooperation would simply not happen today.  For a start, the international umpire panel members don’t have the opportunity to form such relationships with journalists.  Secondly, I think umpires would tend to avoid journalists these days.

But this is my favourite observation and it is not one that would not have occurred to me last time I read the book.  McGilvray discusses umpires and how the pressure increased for them as TV replays became more and more prevalent.  McGilvray felt that this pressure really came to a head when the giant TV screens were introduced at the MCG and then the SCG which showed instant replays.  The book was published in 1985 just after these developments.  With interest, I quote from  pp 85-86 :

The sight of a dismissed batsman stopping to watch the replay on his way from the field has become commonplace.  I am told that the England batsman Alan Lamb even went so far as to suggest, jokingly we all assume, that if the replay showed the umpire had erred, he was going to go back and demand another chance.

Alan McGilvray passed away long before Alan Lamb’s joking (or not) idea became very real in a slightly modified way.  As stated earlier, the book was first published in 1985 and McGilvray left us in 1996. The third umpire was introduced in 1992 for run out and stumping decisions so he lived to see that.  Perhaps McGilvray might have been surprised at DRS.  Conversely, with the benefit of hindsight, I am surprised that it took almost 25 years for DRS to come into being.  It had obviously occurred to Lamb and I’m sure, many others.  I would point out that the batsman didn’t need to see the replay to know if he was out or not.  He was interested if the replay would provide evidence to support what he already knew.  Is that the reason we had to wait 25 years for DRS?

Did we need to wait until technology had advanced to such a state that if the batsman feels his is not out, the technology can be relied upon to provide the forensics to verify this?  At any rate, we have seen many times that technology still is not at a place to provide guarantees.  Or was the real catalyst for DRS the change in international cricket dynamics.  Is the real reason the abundance of racially based tension and acrimony?  Or is it the commercially laden environment that makes it hard for players to endure honest mistakes and rather consider them injustices?

Anyway, DRS is here and it it seems that Alan Lamb has some claims to have invented it.  I wonder if he knows?