Friday, 27 June 2014

Column 17, 2014 – Hat-trick

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 89, Friday June 27, 2014.
[Full text below]

With his bizarre, unnoticed three-in-three at Headingly last Friday, Stuart Broad became the first English cricketer to take two Test hat-tricks.

Hat-tricks are rare. There have been only 41 in 2126 Test matches since 1877, the first by ‘The Demon’ Fred Spoforth in 1879. Broad is the fourth to get two.

In the eighteenth century, the game was basically a mechanism for gambling, and one etymological theory is that a hat was passed around admiring punters to collect for any player who took three wickets in consecutive balls. Another is that a player’s employer or club would have a commemorative hat made for him to mark such an achievement. Whatever its origins, the term was soon purloined by football, hockey, rugby and many other sports to mean simply three in a game – so the term has become familiar for feats that, while still impressive, are rather less difficult to achieve.

Though hat-tricks are rare in all forms of cricket, hat-trick balls are actually pretty common. We’ve had four already this season. When you think about it, most (maybe half) golden ducks will be followed by a hat-trick ball. And we all know how common they are, at every level.

It’s usually an excuse to set a comically attacking ‘schoolboy field’, which almost invariably results in a poor ball that has no chance of taking a wicket. The unaccustomed pressure on a bowler who suddenly finds himself with five slips and men crowding the bat, often induces an anticlimactic wide.

I’ve only witnessed one hat-trick, when Henry blew away Boscombe one gloomy Wednesday evening, in a surreal 8-ball over of yorkers that yielded five wickets.

Broad’s seemingly went unnoticed because it was split across overs and had another wicket sandwiched in the middle, as Plunkett removed Prasad. This has only happened once before, also to an Englishman. Ryan Sidebottom’s hat-trick in Hamilton was rudely interrupted when Panessar dispatched McCullum at the other end, before the wild-haired one could return to finish off his three.

The most unusual hat-trick belongs to Australia’s favourite pantomime villain Merv Hughes, the only one achieved across three overs. The first wicket was the last ball of an over, and the first ball of his next over turned out to be the final one of the West Indies’ first innings. He then had to wait a day and a half to remove Gordon Greenidge with the first ball of their second innings.

Of the four players with two, Hugh Trumble’s and Jimmy Matthews’ were both over a century ago, and Wasim Akram has long been consigned to the commentary box. Broad has already been involved in three – he was Peter Siddle’s third victim at Brisbane in 2010 – but as it stands he is the only person on the planet who is just three balls away from a hat-trick of Test hat-tricks. Now that really would be worth a commemorative hat.

- ends 488 words -

Friday, 20 June 2014

Column 16, 2014 – Lord's vs Lounge

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 88, Friday June 20, 2014.
[Full text below]

I love Lord’s. I love the buildings, the history, the look of the grass, the uniquely joyful sound of 20,000 people engaged in polite conversation. Is there a better place to watch cricket?

Well there’s really only one other contender. Thomas Lord’s place has to battle it out with my place. The home of cricket, vs the home of me.

Like most people these days, my home has a dirty great HD TV with a 1080p picture and 5.1 Dolby digital stereo. It has a large comfy sofa, which I’m confident would be worth well under £75 on the open market, and a fridge full of beer which is not only cold, but actually tastes like beer, and cost really quite significantly less than £4.60 a pint. It also boasts a choice of toilets with dry floors and no queues.

Last Friday I had the best seats I’ve ever had at Lord’s, (though my actual seat was wet and sticky, because the first thing I did was spill Champagne all over myself, but that’s beside the point,) right under the media spaceship, behind the bowler’s arm. The best possible view.

Except when something happens.

When something happens, there is little doubt that the best seat in the house is actually in your house.

At home I have Hawkeye, Hotspot, Snicko, super slow-mo replays – all the toys. On my sofa, I will scrutinise a contentious moment with all the veracity of any third umpire.

When Silva nicked Broad to Prior, there was some debate about whether it carried. But I only know this because I have since watched the highlights. At the ground, all you got was a five minute delay while people in the crowd asked each other if they had any idea what was going on, until the big screens dotted around the place finally sprang into action with six helpful letters: NOT OUT.

Quite why those at the ground are denied what those on their sofas are privy to is beyond me. Another of the modern game’s inexplicable foibles.

But never mind all that. I went to Lord’s with two old school friends I don’t see nearly enough anymore. One flew over from Ireland for the day, the other had a stand up fight with his boss about taking the day off. Without the pull of a Lord’s Test, at least one, possibly all three of us would have found it all too easy to cry off. But Lord’s is special, and we weren’t going to miss it.

We had a fantastic day, full of beer and news and cheese and wine, which just happened to have the magnificent backdrop of Root making a double ton and England declaring for 575 on a perfectly sun-kissed afternoon.

In terms of watching cricket – really watching it – telly may have the edge. In terms of enjoying cricket – really enjoying it – there’s just no contest. Lord’s wins hands down.

- ends 487 words -

Friday, 13 June 2014

Column 15, 2014 – The Butler Incident

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 87, Friday June 13, 2014.
[Full text below]

England’s indignation at ‘The Butler Incident’ at Edgbaston last week feels a little bit like Australia’s indignation at ‘The Broad Happening’ at Trent Bridge last summer – an appeal of ‘Foul Play!’ directed at The Spirit of Cricket itself. That nebulous, indefinable arbiter of fairness which causes such consternation in the game at all levels.

The situation is muddied here by the difference between the Laws of Cricket, which govern us all from village green upwards, and the ICC playing conditions, which govern internationals.

Spot the difference: MCC Law 42.15 “The bowler is permitted, before entering his delivery stride, to attempt to run out the non-striker.” ICC playing condition 42.11 “The bowler is permitted, before releasing the ball and provided he has not completed his usual delivery swing, to attempt to run out the non-striker.”

Senanayake’s front foot had landed before he turned round and knocked the bails off. In a one day game for club or county, Butler would not have been out.

That in itself is daft. Why are they different? Anyone think of a reason? I’d love to hear it.

Despite this pointless ambiguity, the ruling on the main issue is very clear. If the non-striker is out of his ground and the bowler legally breaks the wicket, he’s out. There really isn’t a lot to argue about.

Except some people think that to enforce this rule is the depraved act of a dishonourable lowlife, a crime against the game, worthy only of contempt. There’s no shortage of this opinion among cricket’s retired professional classes. Though some might say that grizzled ex-pros who think nicking off and not walking is an inalienable right, are perhaps not best placed to pontificate on the game’s ethics.

I nearly didn’t write about this, because pretty much everyone has already pronounced their considered opinion on it, one way or the other.

But then I hit upon a new angle: the unconsidered opinion. The uncluttered perspective. The pure judgement of the unbiased witness, unclouded by prior knowledge, unencumbered by the baggage of tradition.

My wife, as I may have mentioned, does not like cricket. She views it primarily as my feeble excuse to avoid weekend family time and dog walking. Her brain, usually sharp and analytical, instantly switches off when it comes to cricket. She is stubbornly ignorant of the rules.

I showed her ‘The Butler Incident’. This was her response: “So if he goes past that white line and the bowler-man hits the sticks with the ball, he’s out, is that right? Well he’s out then. How could he not be out? Of course he is. What’s all the fuss about?”

She paused, as if thinking deeply on some overlooked subtlety, before adding: “If you’re watching the rest of this, I’m off to bed.”

So there it is. If we don’t like it, we’d better change it, because as it stands, it’s pretty cut and dried.

- ends 484 words -

Friday, 6 June 2014

Column 14, 2014 – Let me tell you a story...

Printed in The Cricket Paper issue 86, Friday June 6, 2014.
[Full text below]

A couple of summers ago I was having a beer in Salisbury with a few cricket buddies. The New Inn has an outside fire pit, sort of a cross between an open fire and a bonfire, which lends conversations around it an appealing, ‘gather round’ storyteller type vibe. Anyway we were talking cricket, inevitably, when someone from outside our little party chimed in with a cricket story of their own.

It turns out that The New Inn runs a friendly cricket team, and the story he was telling concerned the derring-do of some young Aussie kid who was over for the season. This kid was contracted to South Wilts, and was casting around for any cricket at all when he wasn’t engaged with them. So he’d turned out for the pub.

We all leaned in around the fire to hear the tall tales of houses being cleared, and the look on old whasisname’s face when he stuck one in the field beyond the river, etc. The conclusion of this story was that apparently this kid was playing the T20s for Hampshire.

What did you say his name was? Greg something? No: Glen. Glen Something.

A month or so later we were at the Rose Bowl to witness Glen Something – tall and whip-thin, looking hungover and in need of a shave and a square meal – get out cheaply and have his off-breaks tonked all over Hedge End.

Another maybe-kid found wanting at the next level up? Well, hang on. Don’t go to the bar yet. The story’s about to get good.

In February last year, he’d just got out for a golden duck and was busy kicking the furniture at the back of the changing room, when Michael Clarke broke the news to Glenn Maxwell that he’d topped the IPL auction at $1m, making him the most expensive cricketer in the world. Within the month he’d made his Test debut for Australia.

Fast forward a year and he still looks like a skinny kid who doesn’t get enough sleep.

But he also looks like world cricket’s form batsman. Inventive flips, outrageous scoops and reverse whatevers, effortless drives and monstrous cow corner smashes translate regularly into thirty-ball fifties or fifty-ball nineties. Despite the fizzle rather than bang he went out on, he was this year’s highlight of cricket’s own highlights package: the Indian Premier League. Few currently would bet against him following Warner’s career path from T20 upstart to destructive Test staple.

He still looks like he likes a beer, too, and could probably spin the tallest of tales around that storyteller’s campfire.

And now the IPL has crashed down from its manic sugar high, ‘Maxi’ is on his way back to play the T20s for Hampshire again. I might have to pop down for one or two, see if he can’t do better than last time. I reckon he just might.

- ends 480 words -