These are my columns published in The Cricket Paper in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons. You can find my book "The effing c-word" at www.thewhitewords.com, my cricket club at www.damerhamcc.com, and you can join me on twitter @siwhite0. Comments welcome.
Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 128, Friday July 31, 2015. [Full text below] (Not all that delighted with how I was subbed this week. Suggest you read the original text, below the pic.)
myself into another ‘walking debate’ on twitter again the other day.
(not a cricket specialist; a political commentator writing about cricket)
expressed the opinion that Jos Buttler walking in the second Ashes Test at
Lord’s was refreshing, and caused him to reflect once more on what a shame it
is that cricket is no longer on free-to-air telly, as that’s exactly the sort
of honourable conduct he thought impressionable youngsters should witness from
dewy-eyed perhaps, but fundamentally I agree. (Somewhat surprisingly, as I
disagree with most of what he says.)
writer expressed derision for this bleeding heart sentiment. I enquired after
the nature of the contempt. Another writer joined in. Here, in essence, is
not a thing, said one. It doesn’t matter if you do it or not, we shouldn’t
focus on it. All it does is fuel the ‘spirit of cricket’ pomposity which
blights the game. Exactly, said the other. The spirit of cricket is baloney.
[I’m paraphrasing.] In fact, I’ll go further: it does matter, walking is
selfish, no professional cricketer should ever walk as it’s never in their
team’s best interests.
understand this attitude, especially in the professional game with professional
umpires. But I disagree with it. Which is fine, of course. Other opinions are
view, the issue is whether the umpire thinks you hit it. In mine, the issue is
whether you think you hit it.
You hit it,
they catch it, you’re out. That’s cricket. I don’t mean that’s ‘the spirit of
cricket’, I mean that’s cricket. That’s the game.
version seems to be “don’t-get-caught-getting-caught”. Which, as well as less
fair, to me also seems a lot less interesting than cricket.
was the last of our league derbies, against Hyde. We know them well, share nets
and players for friendlies, midweek and indoor leagues. This always lends
Saturday derbies spice.
I turn my head to see the ball hit
the keeper’s gloves and the slips go up. I didn’t hit it. I’m sure I didn’t hit
it. If I thought I had, I’d be walking.
The cordon’s clearly convinced, but
only one opinion matters. I turn back to see it delivered via an unequivocally
raised index finger as the appeals turn to celebrations. I feel that momentary
flash of indignation at being given out, usually reserved for LBWs. That’s
life. No one said it was fair. Head down, I turn for the pavilion.
even halfway there when a second, rather larger indignation creeps over me.
This one is much more complicated and subtle. These people I play cricket with,
teammates on other days, are going to assume I did that on purpose. They’ll
think I hit it and deliberately stood my ground. That’s what it’ll look like:
like I’m playing “don’t-get-caught-getting-caught” instead of cricket.
Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 127, Friday July 24, 2015. [Full text below]
club cricketer harbours daydreams of playing a full, first-class-style-two-innings
match. If I’ve had this conversation once, I’ve had it a dozen times. “11am
start. Lunch and tea. No bowling restrictions, no over restrictions, just bat
till you’re out. Twice. Amazing – we should so do that!”
usually happen at either end of the season, these conversations, when
enthusiasm is high, or the prospect of the long cricketless months is looming
large again. Or in the depths of January, when the winter tours are in full
swing and we’re up into the early hours watching England toil in equatorial
conversations invariably conclude with the doubtless accurate assertion that it
would either result in a very long game with very low scores, or it’d be all
over inside a day. These are village cricketers we’re talking about, after all.
Besides, 22 blokes off work and domestic duty for three extra cricket days? The organisation alone is surely beyond us.
It’ll never happen.
like to delude myself that my batting lends itself to a longer game. You know
the sort of thing: patience, defend the good balls, leave anything off-line,
punish the bad balls. Brigadier Block. The Wall. I indulge this delusion,
despite a convincing pile of evidence to the contrary.
latest neatly provided by England’s attempts to staunchly bat out the draw for
a day and a half at Lord’s, crushed in 37 overs. TMS had a telling stat:
batting five sessions to save a Test has only ever happened five times.
that doesn’t stop us weekend warriors wanting a crack at it.
other factor is fitness. If I bat for 30 overs, I know about it all week. If I
bowl 10 overs of gentle leggies, my shoulder aches for days. Bat all day? Bowl
25 overs? Three days on the trot? Not sure I’d make it.
the fixtures this winter, a next-best-thing opportunity presented itself. Old
Wimbledonians, a big London club, were touring the New Forest and had one
fixture left to fill – did we fancy a game on the Monday?
a league game on Saturday, and a friendly scheduled for the Sunday, this could
be the closest I ever get to the full game. Not one three day game, admittedly,
but three consecutive days. To top it off, I’d be at Lord’s for the Test on
Friday. I’ve been looking forward to it all year. Would I survive this four day
answer, somewhat predictably, was deeply disappointing. Saturday we got almost
as soundly thrashed as England at Lord’s. I was one of several ducks, clean bowled
through the Delusional Brigadier Block Wall. I’ve had more tiring bowel
movements. Sunday the opposition couldn’t raise a side so I spent the day being
dad-taxi, and Monday I was out for 8 in two overs and took 1 for 8 in two
overs, comprehensively cancelling myself out.
day endurance test turned out to be basically a weekend off.
Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 126, Friday July 17, 2015. [Full text below]
old friend of mine, who’s also a psychologist, a statistician and a game-theory
geek, almost convinced me once that there is no such thing as luck.
Tom says, yes of course. But one’s propensity to succeed in matters of chance
is merely an illusion of our own devising. “A quantifiable parameter of a
statistical distribution”, luck is a convenient way to talk about how chance is
apportioned, nothing more.
makes sense. Though it’s hard to buy it completely.
is lucky? Lucky socks or similar are clearly a ludicrous construct, worthy of
the snorts of derision usually reserved for astrology. But it remains hard to
resist the notion that there’s some element of luck in the toss of a coin. And
the toss is the only aspect in all forms of cricket that is entirely down to
famously said that he’d rather have lucky generals than good ones. Our captain
Henry is a fine all round cricketer, but frankly a useless tosser. If you see
what I mean.
the ten Saturday tosses this season, he’s lost eight. That’s actually quite
unlikely in itself. Each in isolation is a 50/50 chance, and of course the coin
cares nothing for history. But if you take them as a sequence of 50% chances,
it’s tempting to see the likelihood of repeating the result halving each time. So
in a five Test series like the Ashes for example, if Cook won the first four,
he’d have a 96.875% probability of losing the last one. (At the Oval. Now, is
nonsense, of course. If you toss a coin 10,000 times, you’ll get roughly 5,000
heads and 5,000 tails. Five is too small a sample to be statistically relevant.
And each time it happens it’s still a 50/50 chance.
more important question might be: do you want to win the toss?
always much discussion about it on Saturdays, but the truth is, in good
weather, it comes down to whether you as a team prefer setting or chasing a
target. Test cricket is different. Ask Nasser Hussain about Brisbane 2002, or
Ricky Ponting about Edgbaston 2005 – Michael Vaughan has gone so far as to say
that Ponting’s decision to bowl first that game cost him the Ashes.
this year, we are more likely to win when we bat first (five out of seven) but
only when we’re put in. Of H’s two successful tosses, he batted once and bowled
once. We lost both.
has led him to pose an interesting question: if you win the toss, can you still
defer the decision to your opponent?
laws don’t help answer this question. Law 12.4 states: “The captains shall toss
for the choice of innings…” but it doesn’t say that the winner must decide. So
how about: “My decision is: you decide”?
he could just keep doing what he’s doing. Stay lucky mate: lose the toss.
Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 125, Friday July 10, 2015. [Full text below]
is a first-year uni student, back for the summer seemingly twice the size and
twice the player. Under a high one at deep square leg last week, he was
composed enough to take his eye off the ball and note that his heels were just
inside the rope – any step back would mean six. As it happened, he pouched it cleanly
think it was probably Adam Voges, Australia’s late blooming Test batsman, (who
may or may not have made his Ashes debut by the time you read this,) [he did] who
raised the bar for the boundary catch, as recently as 2009.
aspect of cricket has changed at a dizzying rate these last few years.
you were to draw a graph for the pace of change in human history, it would be a
more-or-less horizontal line for tens of thousands of years, curve sharply from
the start of the industrial revolution, and in the latter part of the twentieth
century, go more-or-less straight up.
compressed version of this graph has happened in cricket in the last few short
years, with the IPL standing in for the industrial revolution.
reverse-slog-sweep six off Murali ushered in the ‘switch hit’ paradigm shift. A
few years later Voges was, I think, the first to pull off the type of
spectacular solo relay catch that has yet to be satisfactorily christened.
caught the ball right on the line, realised he was going to overbalance, tossed
it up before he did so, then scrambled back inside the rope to complete the
dismissal, in the process redefining the boundaries of the phrase ‘good catch’.
this kind of audacious athleticism has become commonplace.
Boult and Southee combined with slick precision in a full pelt duet version at the
Oval last month, it only just made the highlights package.
evening we were away at a picturesque little club in the grounds of a private
estate. The boundary was an indistinct fluffy strip where the cut grass merged
into meadow. Under one at long on, mindful of Ben’s check, I set myself inside
the last definitely mown bit, knowing that any backward step would probably
mean conceding the benefit of the doubt to the batsman.
ball was going over me, so my only option was to blindly stick one arm out
behind me and hope.
reckon I could try it 100 times, and the next 99 the ball would land with a
disappointing thud in the long grass. This time though, that fizzing
angry-hornet sound a well-struck cricket ball makes stopped abruptly behind my
head in my outstretched hand, making me look like the nonchalant catching
genius I’m definitely not.
the exuberant high-fives, Ben declared it to be the best catch he’d ever seen. Hardly.
But 2009 is an aeon ago to a teenager, so coming from Ben, I’ll take it.
Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 124, Friday July 3, 2015. [Full text below]
Part of cricket’s unusual dynamic is that you can have a bad
game personally and win, and a brilliant game personally and lose.
In the spirit of anticipation, here’s two Ashes examples.
Adelaide 2006, England threw away a virtually certain draw,
destroyed almost singlehandedly by the relentless will of Warne. The
indomitable Paul Collingwood made a double century in the first innings and
carried his bat in the second. A personal career high point, in a game no
England fan wants to remember.
Edgbaston 2005, a game every England fan remembers: The
Greatest Test; one of our most famous victories over the old foe. Ian Bell
scored 6 and 21. In one of the all time great games, our greatest stylist just
never got in.
Getting in is everything. Batting gets easier as your
innings goes on. The more you’re there, the more you get used to the pitch, the
light, the weather, the bowlers – swing, seam, turn. You become attuned to this
particular task, not just batting in general: batting here, today, now. You
pick the right shots. Your timing is crisp.
Different players take more or less time to get in.
Old-school Test openers in bowling-friendly conditions may not allow themselves
an aggressive shot until well into the afternoon session. 40/50 overs – a whole
game’s worth getting your eye in.
Chris Gayle, for all his ferocious hitting, invariably plays
himself in, even in t20. He doesn’t take long about it, but he has a look. His
jaw-dropping 151 off 62 balls for Somerset a month ago (in a losing cause,
incidentally) included 10 fours and 15 sixes. It also included at least one dot
ball from every Kent bowler: their first to him. Even in full bludgeon mode,
Gayle allows himself time. Imagine if he was in a hurry.
It may happen sooner, but for most of us less gifted mortals,
half a dozen overs is usually enough to get yourself in.
Saturday I batted for half our innings and didn’t get in at
all. Instead of getting easier, it seemed to get harder as it went on. I’ve no
idea why. The pitch was a bit sticky, but it’s not like we’re not used to that.
I didn’t time a single ball off the front foot, only the odd pull finding the
general vicinity of the middle. It was a desperate, scratchy knock. I tried
everything: batting two yards outside the crease, hanging right back, charging
down. Nothing really worked. Just one of those days. The 39 runs look fine in
the book, but I’ve had ducks that felt better. It was ghastly.
And yet we won comfortably. A maximum 24-pointer, finally
sealed by their tenth wicket with just three balls to spare. An excellent all
round team performance, in which I was personally horrible.
Still, better that way round. In this area at least, it’s
better to do an Ian Bell than a Paul Collingwood.