Saturday, December 29, 2007

Book Review - Silence of the Heart by David Frith

Many commentators have said that cricket is, when you break it down to its purest essences, just a game. This definition is certainly simplistic, and perhaps even a little sacrilegious for many, but ultimately it is true. Nonetheless, cricket is a subject that arouses great passions in people all around the world, and the results of either their team or their own performances can have a decided impact upon an individual’s state of mind. Cricket has also been called a team game played between individuals. Sadly, cricket has attracted many participants who have battled themselves and their own inner daemons as much as any opposition players. David Frith’s book, Silence of the Heart (originally published as ‘By His Own Hand’), is a look at the tragedy of those cricketing heroes who were unable to cope with the demands of an existence post-cricket, and who sadly chose to end their own life.

Suicide would appear to be a very strange topic for a cricketing book, and without reading Frith’s work, it certainly appears quite macabre on face value. However, Frith has managed to look at many cricketers who have killed themselves, and produced one of the most fascinating books on the sport. Cricket has a suicide rate that exceeds the national averages for the respective cricketing nations, and it is estimated that more than one hundred and fifty professional cricketers have chosen to end their own lives. The hallmark of all Frith’s books is impeccable research, however, in Silence of the Heart he also manages to write with great poignancy and respect for the individuals concerned.

It is possible to read the book from start to finish, but the subject matter almost encourages the reader to instead take a more measured approach and dip into it over a period of time. Frith has written the book as a mini-biography of selected players, which allows the reader to take the time to examine and evaluate each individual situation without becoming overwhelmed by underlying sadness that each case invokes.

Frith’s research records the famous to the almost unknown, from legends of the past such as Shrewsbury and Stoddart through to more recent cases such as David Bairstow. However, it does not, and could not, provide the answers to why. Whilst some of the suicides described could be understood in the light of financial pressure, marital breakup or depression, others remain a complete mystery. One of the most striking aspects of the book for me personally were the pictures; you can see the face each cricketer presented to the outside world, but their inner turmoil remains hidden. Looking at the many photos of smiling and seemingly happy cricketers affected me more than I would have thought. I look back now and I know what fate is to befall the person in the photo, but they appear ignorant of their future despair. I can’t help but wonder what more could have been done to help them.

This is ultimately a very sad and moving book, but one of great value to both cricket lovers and the wider community. 4 stars.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Book Review - Rain Men by Marcus Berkmann

Marcus Berkmann is well known to many cricket lovers as both a writer for Cricinfo and Wisden, and as the author of Rain Men and the sequel Zimmer Men. His first book, Rain Men, has been acclaimed by many readers and journalists as a masterpiece of cricketing literature. I had not read it until recently, so it was with interest that I finally opened it up.

Simply put, Rain Men is a recounting of the events of a cricket team and the characters that haunted it. Berkmann tells the stories and describes the personalities in a wonderful manner, and his laid back style of writing is perfectly suited to this format of book. The anecdotes and events will be familiar to all cricketers who never quite reached the heights of international play, and have had the enjoyment of playing cricket simply for enjoyment. The staples of lower grade cricket such as umpiring, the selection process for the team, trying to even find enough players to make up numbers, and the often bizarre and psychologically twisted individuals that play are obvious fodder for Bermann, and he makes the most of them. Discussions of afternoon teas, the rocky road of captaincy and the often futile attempts to organise everyone to turn up on time are also covered in a very amusing manner that will bring back fond memories for many of us.

Rain Men is a funny book, and cleverly covers the incompetence that plagues cricket at the levels most of us dwell in. He does also manage to weave into the book some amusing references to professional players, and the peculiar devotion to statistics that many cricket lovers have. I must admit that whilst I certainly enjoyed Rain Men, however, it did not deliver the life changing experience that other people seem to have had with it. Prior to reading it, I had read Jim Young’s ‘Any Old Eleven’, which recounts the exploits and characters of a suburban Melbourne side through the 70s and 80s. I had also read Gideon Haigh’s ‘The Vincibles’, which was similarly a recount of the trials and tribulations of a weekend social cricketing team. I had also read Harry Thompson's "When Penguins Stopped Play", which is again a story about cricket at less than serious levels. Rain Men is a very funny book, and is a great read. However, for me, the novelty that other readers may experience with it had been significantly dulled by the similarly themed books I had already come across. Recommended reading for all cricket lovers, and particularly if you haven’t yet read the other titles I mentioned. 3.5 stars.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Book Review - The Summer Game by Neville Cardus

Neville Cardus was born in Manchester in 1888, the illegitimate son of a woman described as a ‘genteel prostitute’; hardly the auspicious birth for a man who became renown around the world for his wonderful skill with words. Cardus wrote a number of books and anthologies, primarily on his two loves of cricket and music. The first book of his that I read was ‘The Summer Game’, and probably cause it was my first experience with Cardus, it remains my favourite.

Cardus only went to school until the age of 13, then leaving to take up employment as a clerk. He read widely and was attracted to writing about both cricket and music from an early age. Cardus was first able to write for a living when he started work with the newspaper the Daily Citizen, however, his skills with the pen meant he moved onto bigger and better things with the Manchester Guardian.

The Summer Game was written in 1929, and like all of Cardus’ work, features wonderful prose. He obviously knew the game well, and had great knowledge of the actual players. However, it was his skill to bring the game to life that separated him from so many other writers. Cardus was a great analyst, and could dissect a day’s play, but he could also highlight the frivolous parts of the match to counterbalance too much seriousness. ‘The Summer Game’ contains a wonderful variety of stories. It touches upon the great players of Cardus’s past such as W.G. Grace and Victor Trumper, as well as more contemporary cricketers including Wilfred Rhodes, Ted McDonald and Jack Hobbes. One of my favourite parts of the book is semi-autobiographical, with Cardus examining his time working as the Assistant Cricket Coach at Shrewsbury School in Shropshire around 1912.

The great commentator, John Arlott, summed up his views on both Cardus and ‘The Summer Game’ with this quote;

"I owe almost everything to Neville," he said. "I remember reading 'The Summer Game' when I was in my teens. Suddenly, my eyes were opened to this semi-mythology of cricketers and always said to Neville that any success I had was due to the imaginative stimulus he gave me.”

Cardus wrote a number of other cricket books (such as Days in the Sun) that are justifiably remembered as classics of the genre. However, ‘The Summer Game’ remains my favourite, and is one that I re-read every now and again just to sample Cardus’ magical way with words. Perhaps one of the greatest tributes comes from Gideon Haigh, probably the best current writer on the game, who used Cardus's title for one of his own books. Highly recommended – it can be found in second hand bookshops if you search hard enough.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Is Test Cricket Being Killed?

Flicking between the two tests played this week has been pretty dreary, even for an absolute cricket junky like myself. Are games like this killing test cricket? The pitches have no pace or bounce, and rely on batsmen getting so bored they get themselves out. This isn't what test cricket is meant to be about. There is meant to be a decent contest between bat and ball, not something so biased towards batting that bowlers just give up.

This problem isn't limited to the sub-continent. Australia is serving up batting paradises that are similiarly unfair to the bowlers. No spectators are going to pay decent money to watch a yawn-fest, when tickets are so expensive. Sadly, I can see more and more people chosing to go to ODIs and 20/20s rather than Tests. Already the trends are there in India and Pakistan, with the grounds packed for meaningless ODIs, and often empty for test matches. And that is really depressing.

I hope that the ICC starts to take some action on this issue, or the test match that we love may well become economically unviable, and therefore be abandonded by the money-driven authorities that rule the game today.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Best ways to rule yourself out of a game

In tribute to the home state of the best cricket blogger out there (the mighty Uncle J), I thought I would quickly touch on some of the better reasons players have missed games.

The top of the list has to be the Victorian batsman Brad Hodge. After a season of frustration in trying to win his Australian spot back, Hodge finally got an opportunity to play for his country when Ponting showed Australia’s dedication to 20/20 by dropping out. Hodge was so excited by this chance that he somehow managed to injure his back in the dressing room prior to the game starting. Evidently, Hodge strained his back whilst putting on his trousers. His replacement, Luke Pomersbach, made his debut whilst ironically still being banned from representing his home state of Western Australia due to a few nights on the turps.

Abdul Razzaq's international career has always been a bit stop-start. However, one of the weirdest incidents occurred when he contracted a mysterious illness during the Melbourne Test against Australia a few years ago. Razzaq suffered from vomiting, dizziness and breathing difficulties on the third day of the test, and didn’t recover in time for the final game at Sydney. This illness was eventually put down to his addiction to spinach.

Ian Botham has a lot to answer for. England selectors spent many years trying to find an allrounder that was as capable of winning matches with both bat and ball. While they eventually found Andrew Flintoff, they tried a lot of duds along the way. One player who never had Beefy’s skills, but did match his general stupidity, was Chris Lewis. During a cricket tour of the West Indies, Lewis thought it was cool to shave his head. He played the next day, and promptly got sunstroke.

Shane Watson – enough said really.

Australians often think it amusing to come up with nicknames that are completely inappropriate. People with red hair are called blue, quiet people are called 'rowdy' and Shane Watson is called talented. But Greg Ritchie's nickname of Fat Cat doesn't fit that category of supposed humour. And one day, he managed to damage his knee whilst walking down the steps of the pavillion just before the game started.

Shoaib Akhtar is known for being permanently injured, but perhaps his most mysterious injury occurred just prior to the World Cup. After it was announced that he would be drug tested at the tournament he was then strangely ruled out with injury. Mysterious in the extreme.

Stuart MacGill has recently injured himself by reading too much. He has developed a form of RSI in his hands, due to reading too many novels. Spinning had nothing to do with it. Shows that intellectuals have no place on the field.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

When England needed Four Keepers

It is not commonplace for teams to use more than one wicketkeeper during the course of a match. In first class cricket for Western Australia, Tim Zoehrer used to start keeping to the quicks, before relinquishing the gloves to Mike Valetta so that Zoehrer could bowl his more than useful leg-spin. Likewise, a number of wicketkeepers have had to retire hurt whilst fielding, often suffering nasty blows to the mouth and nose while keeping to the spinners. However, in 1986 England had cause to use four different keepers during the same test.

The nominated keeper for England in the First Test against New Zealand at Lords in 1986 was Bruce French. Unfortunately, he was struck on the head by Kiwi maestro Richard Hadlee and forced to retired hurt without scoring. By the time of the commencement of the New Zealand innings, French was still not well enough to take his place behind the stumps. Accordingly, his team-mate Bill Athey took up the gloves. This was not the ideal solution, and with the sporting agreement of New Zealand captain Jeremy Coney, Bob Taylor was drafted onto the field to keep. It is worth pointing out that Taylor was not only 45 years old and had been retired from first class cricket for a number of years, but also that he had also been sitting happily in a hospitality tent watching the events unfold. Nonetheless, Taylor did an admirable job for the remainder of the day.

The next morning, again with the agreement of Coney, Bobby Parks took over from Taylor. This was a more logical replacement, as Parks was the current Hampshire keeper of the time. Parks was the wicketkeeper until French was able to return, ironically for only one ball of the New Zealand first innings. French had recovered enough to keep throughout the abbreviated New Zealand second innings of only fifteen overs, but he showed no significant effects of the blow from Hadlee. Ironically, none of the four keepers were involved in any dismissals and the match ended in a tame draw.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Best of the Best Book

For all of those people who have contacted me wanting to find out how to get a copy of "Best of the Best", there is currently one on Ebay in Australia.

I am not the seller of this item, I know nothing about the seller and I make no recommendation of this seller. Please take the usual precautions in bidding, and make your own judgement if you wish to bid. I do not know if they are willing to post overseas, but most sellers are happy to do so if you contact them prior to the auction ending.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Derivations of Cricketing Terms

I am always interested in finding out where certain words or terms have come from. There are heaps in cricket - below are a few (the correctness of them all is debatable, but anyway). It may not be as comprehensive as the A to Z of Cricketing Terms, but what the hell.

Bosie - This term was used in the early 1900s in Australia to describe the wrong-un. It was so called in deference to B.J.T. Bosanquet, who is believed to be the inventor.

Googly - The English term for a wrong-un. So called because (evidently) it caused the batsman's eyes to goggle.

Popping Crease - Under the rules of cricket in the 1700s, a batsman had to place his bat into a hole cut in the turf to score a run. The wicketkeeper/fielders had to get the ball into the hole before the bat in order to affect a run-out. This hole was called the popping hole (as in popping the bat/ball into it), but after too many fielders had their fingers broken by the batsman slamming his bat into the hole at the same time as the fielder's hand, it was decided to change the hole to a line. The name popping hole then became popping crease.

Crease - After the popping hole went out the window, a crease (or furrow in the ground) was actually cut into the turf. This continued until the mid 1860s when they started using white paint.

Umpire - The word umpire evidently stems from the French 'nompere' which means 'not equal' or 'odd man'. This is to imply that the 'odd man' is called in to make decisions between two contestents.

Slips - The term slips comes from early times, with reference to these fielders covering 'slips from the bat'.

Point - This is a shortening of the phrase 'point of the bat', a position where the fielder stands close to the end of the bat.

Gully - Refers to the gap or 'gully' that exists between the slips and point

Cover - Refers to the position that 'covers' the point and middle of the wicket

Mid off and mid on - Shortenings of the terms 'middle wicket off' and 'middle wicket on'

Silly Mid On - the mid on is self explanatory, however it is believed that the silly refers to an old definition of silly, meaning 'defenceless'.

Third Man - This is so called because it was a position brought in with the advent of over-arm bowling, and the player supplemented the pre-existing positions of slip and point, thus being the 'third man' on the off-side.

Yorker - There are various different supposed meanings behind yorker. The one that seems to have reasonable credence relates to Tom Emmett, a highly successful Yorkshire bowler in the 1800s. He was very skilled at bowling full balls at the popping crease, and they became known as 'yorkers' because that is what batsmen had to cope with when they went to Yorkshire.

Maiden Over - While most people associated 'maiden' with female, another definition is 'unproductive'. Therefore, an unproductive over (i.e. one with no runs scored) became a maiden.

Wicket - Comes from the old english definition of a wicket being a small gate. Cricket is believed to have its origins with shephards, and very probably they used the gate on pens as the target to bowl at.

Bail - was originally a french word that described the top part of the gate of a sheep pen. See above re wicket.


The past decade has seen the development of professional players’ associations, an equivalent of a union, to represent the views of the cricketers in discussions with the various bodies that administer the game. The late 1990s saw a few threats of strike action, but nothing ever eventuated. However, striking because of concerns about conditions or payment is nothing new. In 1896, a number of English professionals refused to play a test match against Australia as a result of anger regarding payments made to W.G. Grace – an amateur.

The 1896 Ashes between England and Australia was set down for three tests, and leading into the final game, the series was tied at one all. This followed on from the amazing 1894/95 series in Australia that had produced a number of close results, and amazing comebacks. The final and deciding match therefore setup to be a great game, and was to be played at The Oval in Surrey. However, five professionals who were named in the side, refused to play unless their match fees were doubled. The reasons behind this demand were more complicated than a simple pay increase.

W.G. Grace was, almost without argument, the most well known figure in England at the time. His fame and performances were already legendary throughout the cricketing world, surprising for a player who had yet to retire. He was also an amateur, and supposedly did not receive payment for playing the game. This was clearly untrue; whilst his profession was as a medical doctor, Grace gained most of his income from cricket. In 1895, Grace had an amazing summer, becoming the first player to score 100 first class centuries, and also to score 1,000 runs in the month of May. He finished the 1895 season with 2,346 runs at an astounding average of 51, which is even more remarkable as he had turned 47 years old in July. The Daily Telegraph newspaper was suitably impressed by this achievement, and organised a testimonial to celebrate the feat. It ran articles encouraging readers to donate one shilling each to the appeal. As the testimonial gained momentum, the MCC joined in, along with Grace’s home county of Gloucestershire. Grace was the eventual beneficiary of a figure of 9, 073 pounds. Translated into today’s money, it is estimated that this would equate to a payment of around a quarter of a million pounds.

Not everyone was stoked about this. It is fair to say that the professional players of the time were fairly miffed that an amateur player could take a payment of such magnitude without any qualms, whilst they were left slaving away for significantly lesser amounts. What added to the professional players’ disquiet was the fact that whilst they received a payment of ten pounds per test match, they discovered that Grace was actually paid more than that to appear. The resentment started to bubble up, but the professional players took no action until they saw an opportunity to make a statement. And this opportunity arrived in the final test of the 1896 Ashes with the series tied.

In the days leading up to the Oval test, five of the professionals in the team announced publicly that they would not pay unless their match fee was doubled to twenty pounds. In addition, they advised the newspapers of the day that the main reason for their discontent was the double standards associated with the amateur Grace receiving match payments disguised as ‘expenses’. The five professionals, Billy Gunn, George Lohmann, Tom Richardson, Tom Haywood and Bobby Abel, had their bluff called by the Surrey Cricket Club, who hosted the game at the Oval. Surrey refused to pay the additional amounts, and Haywood, Abel and Richardson then backed down on their original demands and agreed to play. However, Gunn and Lohmann both stood by their convictions and declined the invitation to represent England. England went on to win the game in spite of their absence, benefiting from a rain affected pitch that saw Australia dismissed for just 44 in their second innings.

This incident caused a significant divide between the amateur Grace and the professionals. Grace was evidently livid that he had been targeted by them, and argued that he had supported the professionals by appearing free of charge in their own testimonial games. The professionals were still unhappy that the governing bodies appeared to simply cave into Grace’s demands; his presence as the largest figure in cricket allowed him to dictate his own terms. Lohmann never again represented England. His bowling statistics remain to this day the most impressive of any player who has taken over 100 test wickets. Lohmann’s bowling average of just over 10, combined with a strike rate of 34, is astounding even by the standards of the day. The divide and lingering resentment between the professional and amateur player continued for many more decades in England, until the separation was finally abolished at the end of the 1962 season.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Book Review - Best of the Best by Charles Davis

As my university maths lecturers would attest, I am not overly gifted numerically. However, I do enjoy the statistical side of cricket, and love pouring over player performances. Statistics never divulge the full truth – but they can be used to provide some useful context for cricketers from other eras. Charles Davis, a cricket historian and statistician from Melbourne, produced one of the most fascinating books I have ever read – “Best of the Best”.

Davis has used statistics and statistical analysis in a bold attempt to standardise the performances of players across all eras of test cricket. He has come up with a methodology for both batsmen and bowlers that tries to take into account the historical variables such as uncovered pitches, the quality of opposition, and the length of career. This statistical re-balancing allowed Davis to arrive at an adjusted batting average and bowling rating. Batsmen who feasted on weak attacks in good conditions will see their average reduced, whilst batsmen who performed well against strong opposition bowlers would see a rise in their figure. This recalculation is done for all players across all test cricket, and by doing so, Davis has come up with a system that allows direct comparison between eras.

This methodology naturally has some inherent assumptions that may or may not be completely valid. However, it is undoubtedly the most comprehensive attempt to re-rank every test player in history, and the results are fascinating reading. The greatest bowler of all-time under Davis’ system is the great Sydney Barnes. Whilst his rating was affected by the fact he played in an era of lower scoring (1901-1913), Barnes still came out on top. He finished in front of another legend in Bill O’Reilly. Interestingly, Don Bradman personally rated these two individuals as the greatest bowlers of all-time. Other bowlers in the top ten include Richard Hadlee, Dennis Lillee and Malcolm Marshall. George Lohmann, who played in the 1880s and 90s, has probably the most amazing test bowling statistics of all-time. However, because of the limited opposition and bowler friendly pitches, he drops to no. 7 in Davis’ rankings.

The greatest batsman of all-time is, unsurprisingly, one Donald Bradman. However, it is interesting to see what happens to Bradman’s average after Davis’ recalculates it. Bradman’s original test average is 99.94, but after Davis takes into account the limited number of teams he played, and the batsmen friendly pitches, his average drops by nearly 15 runs back to 84.5. This figure is still in excess of 25 runs in front of his nearest competitor, Graeme Pollock (whose own adjusted average is 58.9, down from his test figure of over 60). Other great players in the top 10 include Gary Sobers, George Headley, Jack Hobbs and Clyde Walcott. Viv Richards is an interesting case, falling outside the top 20 due to the number of runs he scored against statistically weak attacks.

I have not done justice in explaining Davis’ system, but neither do I have the space to do so. He explains it all in great detail in the book, and manages to do so in a manner that is easy to understand. The recalculation of all test cricketers also facilitated Davis in exploding some interesting myths. One of these is the issue of the ‘nervous nineties’. Davis shows that players are actually 10 to 15 percent less likely to get out between 85 and 100, than they were up to 85. However, once they reach 100, they suddenly relax, and have a 10 percent greater chance of being dismissed up until 124.

Another myth that Davis examines is the issue of remaining not out and its affect on your batting average. Davis turns our thinking around, and points out that a not-out innings is actually a missed opportunity to score more runs. By missing out on runs whilst set, the batsman is actually reducing his overall career average. Davis explores this situation, and puts forward a convincing argument that if batsmen were able to play all their unbeaten innings to a conclusion, they would actually end up with a higher career batting average.

“Best of the Best” is sadly no longer available from publishers, but it can be found through Ebay and other sources. I would recommend cricket lovers who enjoy some of the more cerebral aspects of this great game trying to find a copy. A fascinating look at cricket in a different light.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Book Reviews - The Warwick Todd Trilogy by Tom Gleisner

Tom Gleisner is a well known comedian and writer in Australia, and has been an integral part of many successful television series including The D-Generation, The Late Show, The Panel and Thank God You’re Here, and films including The Castle. He is a cricket lover, and has written three satirical books based around the life and times of a mythical test player called Warwick Todd. Gleisner writes in the first person as Todd, recounting his experiences as a member of the Australian cricket team. The book are presented as tour diaries, parodying the annual Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting efforts since the mid 90s. The diaries describe actual real-life matches that were played by the national side, with Warwick Todd slotted into the lineup in a fictional capacity.

The first diary was "The Warwick Todd Diaries", which recounts the events of the Australian 1997 Ashes tour of England. Mark Taylor was going through a fairly wretched patch with the blade, and this provided Gleisner with plenty of material. After a brief retirement, Todd’s second diary “Back in the Baggy Green”, describes the Commonwealth Games of 1998, and the Australian team’s tour of the sub-continent. Cricket often plays a secondary role to the off-field hijinks described in great detail. The third, and to this point, final diary is “Going the Tonk", which covers another Ashes tour of England in 2001.

The humour is often blunt, sometimes offensive, and also surprisingly clever at time. Drinking, carousing and sexual innuendo is the basis for much of the content, however, there is also a lot of far more subtle gags. It is clear that Gleisner is a genuine cricket fan (the lucky bastard is even invited to play as Warwick Todd in charity events with real test cricketers), and has also done his research carefully. Gleisner uses the real tensions and events of the time extremely well. An example of this can be seen with the following paragraph that encapsulates the problems actually expressed by test players in relation to the perceived conflict in Bob Simpson being both a selector and the coach.

“Put yourself in the position of a player with a minor technical problem and ask yourself if you would go to the coach for advice if he was also a selector and the side was being chosen that night? This exact dilemma presented itself to me on the eve of the First Test against England in 1993 when, after a lengthy session in the nets, I discovered a footwork problem. Should I tell Simmo? Should I not? In the end I decided yes, and pointed out to him just how badly Matt Hayden was handling the leg-spin bowling. Next thing I knew – Hulkster is carrying the drinks. Not fair is it?”

Gleisner has also read similar tour diaries and the autobiographies of the players of the time. There is a great reference to not trusting chiropractors that is a direct rip-off of the Geoff Lawson book “Henry”. Unless you have read “Henry”, you would miss Gleisner’s beautiful parody of Lawson’s initial paranoia about chiropractors. Gleisner also managed to delightfully puncture the robotic and choreographed responses that our current day cricketers are taught in Media Training 101.

“Our 12th man was announced during the pre-game warm-up and Julian was something of a surprise choice, considering his excellent form thus far. That a player of BJ’s calibre could be omitted indicates just how much better than him the rest of us clearly are.”

The Warwick Todd diaries will not appeal to everyone. They can be extremely crude and rude in places, and political correctness goes completely out the window in “Back in the Baggy Green”. They are, nonetheless, exceedingly funny in parts, and I recommend them to fans of the sport. Cricket can be taken far too seriously at times – it is just a game after all, and Gleisner managed to remind us all of that.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Book Review - Bodyline Autopsy by David Frith

The 1932/33 Ashes contest in Australia was and still is seen by many commentators as the most controversial series of all time. The mere word ‘bodyline’ conjures up strong images of short pitched bowling to batsmen ducking and weaving to avoid being struck. Bodyline has been the subject of video, a fairly forgettable mini-series, and more words than can be counted. David Frith’s offering, Bodyline Autopsy, is another review of the events of this series.

Frith has a long standing reputation as one of the leading cricket writers in the world. He has written over 20 books, and has also edited and worked for many major newspapers and cricket magazines. One of Frith’s greatest strengths, and it comes through strongly in this work, is his intimate knowledge of cricket history and his personal relationships with many of the leading players from the past. Frith’s research into the Bodyline series takes the time to carefully examine not just the 1932/33 Ashes, but also both the lead-up to that point, and the ongoing ramifications from it. Precedents of intimidatory bowling from quicks such as Jack Gregory in the 1920s, as well as more current examples from the West Indian attacks of the 1980s, are used to balance the recitation of the events of that summer.

Many other books on this topic have suffered greatly from the inherent biases of the writer. Frith has managed to provide a balanced critique of the highly emotional subject, and is to be congratulated for it. He spends each summer living in Australia, before spending the next six months in England. Frith’s autobiography is called “Caught England Bowled Australia”, and this underlines his shared loyalties between the land of his birth and the new country he subsequently grew up in. It is perhaps this shared background that allows him to take a subjective view of the Bodyline issue, whereas other writers have been blinded by their own singular nationalistic tendencies. The complex events of the series are reviewed and examined, and presented to the reader in a very comprehensive, but still highly readable, manner.

Frith has known and spoken with many of the central figures of the series, and was close friends with both Bradman and Larwood amongst others. This familiarity has given Frith a wonderful insight into the thoughts of the protagonists, and his portraits of the characters are fascinating and well developed. One example of this can be seen in his presentation of the English captain Douglas Jardine. In Australia Jardine is generally thought of as a dour and ruthless bastard, whose win-at-all-costs attitude was simply too excessive. It is to Frith’s credit that he manages to both confirm this image, but also to counter it with examples of both Jardine’s sense of humour, his courage and his sportsmanship.

Prior to reading it, I must admit wondering what Bodyline Autopsy could provide that previous books hadn’t. However, Frith has managed to write the definitive analysis of the series, and it should be part of all serious cricket lovers collections. Very highly recommended, and one of my top 10 cricket books of all time.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Why do off spinners fail in Australia?

The Warne V Murali debate has reignited, and whilst I'm not going to buy into that here, I thought I would look again at the issue of pitches, and what bowlers are suited where. Why do Indians play Warne so easily, and why does Murali get carted by Australia?

Australia has never produced great off-spinners (well, not since 1900 anyway). The pitches simply don't suit them, and the change to covered pitches has reduced their effectiveness in England as well. There is little spin to be had for off-spinners on hard pitches that don't break up excessively. If you try to come up with a list of good Australian offies, it is pretty hard. Ashley Mallett was pretty handy, but the cupboard is pretty bare after that. Tim May did OK, but was hardly a world beater. Australian left arm orthodox is even less impressive. Anyone remember Murray Bennett, Ray Bright (most over-rated test cricketer ever) or Tom Hogan?

Offies will always have a role in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as their pitches tend to have a softer crust, and to crumble. This suits an offie, as they get bite with their flatter trajectory from the front of the hand. A 'loopy' leggie (like Warne and MacGill) will not have the same effect as they bowl the ball over the wrist (which naturally throws the ball out slower, but on a higher trajectory).
India has produced very few loopy legspinners (with the notable exception of the great Gupte), instead having bowlers like Chandra and Kumble who spear the ball through at a faster pace. A loopy leggie will get extra bounce from hard pitches, and therefore do well in Australia, but the lack of bounce in India etc will enable batsmen to sit back and cover the spin easily.

We saw this with the last Australian tour of India, when Michael Clarke was the most effective Australian bowler as he darted them in. Hauritz gave it too much air, and didn't get the best out of the unstable pitch. Australia needs to look at what bowlers are going to perform well in certain conditions. Hogg looks a far better bet than MacGill for games in India and Pakistan, as his style is better suited to those pitches.Greg Matthews and Ray Bright both have taken bags of wickets in India, and yet look like absolute no-hopers in Australia. The selectors may well gamble on the best young offie (or Cameron White if he starts bowling again) in Australia as backup for Hogg on the next tour, as history would indicate this strategy is more likely to achieve success than a loopy leggie like MacGill.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Book Reviews - Some Christmas Recommendations

Turn, Turn, Turn … Please by Kerry O’Keeffe

If you have read O’Keeffe’s previous book, “According to Skull”, you will know what to expect from this effort. It is a series of short and sweet pieces describing various events throughout his life, with a very light hearted spin. O’Keeffe has built up a cult following for his commentary on ABC radio, and this book is very similar to a O’Keeffe session in the commentary box. Entertaining, but often diverging from the original context, it is never dull.

O’Keeffe varies his topics from horse racing to cricket to the forced land of aircraft. Mixed into the humour, there remains enough insight and analysis to sustain the interest of both casual and more serious cricket lovers. Not high literature, but makes no apologies for that. It delivers what it promises – a fun read that is ideal for a lazy Boxing Day.

150 Years of NSW First Class Cricket by Colin Clowes

Clowes, one of the honorary Cricket NSW Research Librarians, wrote this book to celebrate, perhaps not surprisingly, the 150th anniversary of first-class cricket in New South Wales. It is a thick book, and with good reason. It details in excess of one thousand first-class cricket matches played by New South Wales to the end of last season. Clowes covers every first-class game that the Blues have played, with an analysis of the matches and description of individual performances.

This book is naturally aimed at New South Wales cricket supporters. However, there is a large amount of content that will fascinate readers who are simply interested in cricket in general. Great names of Australian cricket including the Gregory family, Victor Trumper, Don Bradman, Alan Davidson, Richie Benaud, Doug Walters and the Waughs are all integral parts of NSW’s history, but international players such as Imran Khan also contributed and are included here.

The book has a vast number of old photographs, scorecards, statistics and accounts of the players that made NSW the leading cricketing state in Australia. Not for the casual reader, this book is a treat for true cricket connoisseurs. Highly recommended.

The Whole Hogg by Rodney Hogg

This book is an interesting first attempt by Hogg. Unlike most autobiographies, it is not self-serving at all, and in fact, often seems to delight in portraying Hogg in the worst possible light. Some of his words are so unbelievable for a former test cricketer that you assume that they must be true. An example of this can be seen with Hogg’s recall of faking an injury so as to be made 12th man for a test match. “Being 12th man for Australia was a lot better than playing because you got the same money and could legally get on the drink every night.”

One of the most interesting pieces of information revealed was that Hogg came within one vote of taking over from Kim Hughes as test captain. Quite what Australia’s future would have been if Hogg, rather than Allan Border, had taken the reins hardly bears thinking about. Hogg also finally admits that he did try to punch Kim Hughes’ head off during a test match. Hogg’s part in the famous Dennis Lillee aluminium bat incident is also fascinating to read about. This book is certainly not your run-of-the-mill cricket autobiography – recommended but not for cricket purists.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Book Review - Beyond a Boundary

C.L.R. (Cyril Lionel Robert) James was born in Trinidad and Tobago on the 4th of January 1901. As a child, he grew up observing and playing with many of the great players in the early days of West Indian cricket. He moved to England at age 31 in order to further his writing aspirations, and gained a reputation as a social theorist. Over the following years, he spent significant time in both England and the United States, and wrote prolifically on Marx, Lenin and Trotsky. James returned to his birthplace, and was a leading figure in the development of independence in the West Indies. Over all this time, James’ love of cricket remained undiminished, and he is now best remembered for his 1963 book, “Beyond a Boundary”. Over the years since its publication, Beyond a Boundary has been nominated by many readers as the greatest book ever written about sport, but it now seems to be popular to criticise it. As such, I thought it worthy of a re-review.

“Beyond a Boundary” is a combination of a personal memoir, an examination of the social history of the West Indies, and a commentary on the role of cricket within the Caribbean islands. The book is partly autobiographical, and James begins “Beyond a Boundary” with his family history, his childhood and school years. Into this mix, James commences his analysis of West Indian society and politics. James was close friends with the great Learie Constantine, and he recounts personal encounters with Constantine, and other famous cricketers of the day including George Headley, George John and Wilton St Hill.

Many people will have read the defining quote of the book “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know”. This quote serves as the basis for James to critique the game of cricket with the historical and political role that the sport has undertaken in the ongoing devleopment of the West Indian islands. It is worth noting at this point that “Beyond a Boundary” is not a book written for the masses. It is a complex analysis of politics, race and class struggles. The modern cricket book landscape is characterised by ‘ghosted’ autobiographies of players who have just completed their first year of international competition. Beyond a Boundary clashes with this current trend, and this point of differentiation is undoubtedly difficult for casual readers. James’ qualities as an academic are seen in his writing, and the language he chooses has not been simplified for popular consumption.

James discusses the role of sport since Greek times, and puts forward his views regard its importance in relation to the social history. Essays on great players such as George Headley and W.G. Grace are counterpointed to literature and events of their time. An example of this approach is seen through James’ association of Grace’s career with the book Tom Brown’s Schooldays, and argues how the written word provided a setting for Grace to gain social prominence. James also covers the unrest surrounding the English tour in 1960, and how the politics of the islands could be seen through the selection of both the national team and its varying captains.

Whilst you don’t have to be a cricket fanatic to enjoy this book, it is certainly not for everyone. The combination of cricketing anecdotes, social commentary, politics, race, class and sociology is not one that makes for easy consumption on the beach. Nonetheless, James has managed to weave these diverse and often disparate elements together into a book that is highly compelling and interesting to read. As mentioned earlier, it seems popular to now criticise Beyond a Boundary for being overly intellectual, complicated and difficult to read. These criticisms are not without some merit, but they are to overlook the point of the book. It is a product of a time of massive change, of social, political and economic upheaval. Beyond a Boundary is certainly one of the most important books about cricket ever written, and no fan of the history of either cricket or the West Indies should miss it.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Some Cool Cricketing Quotes

The message board I have frequented for the past five years ( has recently been running a thread about cricketing quotes. That got me interested in the topic, and I have been tracking some of the better ones down to share over the next few days.

"If they re-write the laws and saw that double-jointed people must not be allowed to play the first-class game, well, fair enough" - Harold Rhodes (1966)

"An out-and-out thrower" - Uncle J Rod (2007) about Murali. Also, Dillip Vengsarkar (1991) about Manoj Prabhakar.

"My unicycle has broken down and I've left my red nose in the box" - Ally Brown (1996). He had been compared to Coco the Clown by sections of the media after his debut ODI game for England.

"The only fellow I've met who fell in love with himself at a young age and has remained faithful ever since" - Dennis Lillee (1997) describing Geoff Boycott.

"Skipper, you seem to have forgotten your own instructions" - The Nawab of Pataudi (1933). This statement was held against him by the captain Jardine; despite scoring a hundred, he was dropped for the Adelaide test.

"The people who have taken the rational side in this controversy - Tony Lewis, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Derek Pringle - they are all educated Oxbridge types. Look at the others: Lamb, Botham, Trueman. The difference in class and upbringing makes a difference" - Imran Khan (1994).

"I will not be making any comment about the pitch or the umpiring, and I want that known" - Mike Gatting (1987). This was followed shortly after by Chakoor Rana calling Gatting a "Fucking Cheating Cunt".

And for all the batsmen who feel cheated;
"I didn't hit it. You can like it or lump it. I'm not going. I didn't hit it and I'm not out" - Chris Broad (1987) to umpire Shakeel Khan on the same tour. Broad showed no conviction to his views though, as he left the wicket after a delay of only a minute or so.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Interesting interuptions to play

Apologies again for the delay on updating – I am struggling a bit at the moment with some health problems, but should now be over the worst.

A quick update from some reading I have been doing recently – some interesting reports on reasons that games have been stopped.

- In 1995, a game being played in Gloucestershire was officially abandoned by the umpires due to poor light. This decision was taken as the result of thick black smoke blanketing the ground from a nearby animal crematorium.

- Also in 1995, Shane Warne’s favourite batsmen, Darryll Cullinan, hit a ball over the boundary for a six in a domestic match. As is commonplace in South Africa, a number of spectators had fired up a barbeque, and the ball landed right in the middle of a pan of hot fat. Play was delayed for over ten minutes whilst the officials firstly retrieved the ball, and then while they waited for the ball to cool enough to be cleaned of the oily coating.

- England’s 1922-23 tour of South Africa was fairly uneventful, except for a pitch invasion in the final test. The small green frogs setup camp on the pitch, and play came to a complete halt until the groundsmen were able to collect them all and remove them to safety.

- In the 1930s in Kenya, a pride of lions was seen circling the cricket ground. The game commenced, but after a short period of time, a hit into the outfield came to stop just inside the boundary. The fieldsman in pursuit came to sudden halt when the lions came to investigate, and he prudently made a hasty retreat. The batsmen continued running, the fielders wanted no part of it, and the umpires eventually had to temporarily stop the game until the lions could be scared away. Urban legend has it that the batsmen ran until they were exhausted, but there appears little evidence to support this.

- The 1984 match between arch enemies Launceston and Old Suttonians was repeatedly interrupted. A circus had setup camp in the next field, and their camels escaped on no less than four occasions and stampeded onto the cricket ground.

- Australia has its fair share of dangerous snakes, and during summer there are often sightings of the reptiles on cricket grounds. In 1967, a game in South Australia was temporarily delayed when a brown snake, which evidently had been asleep in hole next to the pitch, stuck its head up and made its way towards the surprised batsman. The batsman, obviously a country lad, immediately beat it to death with his bat. The delay in the game actually was due to the fact that the wicketkeeper had scarpered on first spotting the snake, and was hiding in the pavilion.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The History of Chucking - Part II

Apologies to all - I have been both unwell and away recently. I will endeavour to make up for the significant length of time since my last posting.


In 1947, the law makers finally made the logical decision to combine Law 10 and Law 48. These were re-written as Law 26:

“For a delivery to be fair the ball must be bowled, not thrown or jerked; if either umpire be not entirely satisfied of the absolute fairness of a delivery in this respect, he shall call and signal ‘no-ball’ instantly upon delivery”.

This change seemed to simplify the situation, and for the next decade there were few problems with chuckers in world cricket. However, the mid to late 50s saw a sudden explosion of bowlers with very suspect actions. The various administrators around the world experimented and trialed many different wordings and interpretations for the throwing law, but none seemed to be ideal. Precisely what defined a throw was proving difficult to put into words. All countries had their chuckers, and as such, it was hard for any one country to hold the higher ground and push for a clear change. The MCC team was quick to criticize the Australian bowlers such as Rorke, Meckiff and Slater in the 1958 series, however, their own Tony Lock was as blatant a thrower as any. This made any significant complaints appear like sour grapes, as the MCC seemed happy enough to continue picking their own transgressor.

1961 saw the suggestion that the following phrase be added to the law:

“A ball shall be deemed to have been thrown, if in the opinion of either umpire, there has been a sudden straightening of the bowling arm, whether partial or complete, immediately prior to the delivery of the ball. Immediately prior to the delivery of the ball will be taken to mean at any time after the arm has risen above the level of the shoulder in the delivery swing. The bowler will not be debarred from the use of the wrist in delivering the ball”.

Thankfully, this suggestion was considered so confusing and overwhelming that it wasn’t adopted universally. Experimental notes and additional clauses were trialed, including the 1964 modification that stated;

“A ball shall be deemed to have been thrown, if in the opinion of either umpire, the bowling arm having been bent at the elbow, whether the wrist is backward of the elbow or not, is suddenly straightened immediately prior to the instant of delivery.”

Interestingly, these additional clauses seemed only to muddy the waters more, and it was through selectors choosing not to pick suspect players that the chucking furour of early 60s died away. The issue remained on the ICC agenda throughout the decade, however, no significant changes to the law were made. The 1980 code changed the numbering system, and the throwing law was contained in Law 24. The wording remained the same, and throwing was not considered a major problem in world cricket.

By the year 2000, throwing had again come to the fore. Off the field issues and the threats of litigation had resulted in major changes to how potentially suspect actions were dealt with. The 2000 revision of the laws by the MCC saw a change to law 24.2 as follows:

“Fair delivery – the arm

For a delivery to be fair in respect of the arm the ball must not be thrown. See 3 below.

Although it is the primary responsibility of the striker’s end umpire to ensure the fairness of the delivery in this respect, there is nothing in this law to debar the bowler’s end umpire from calling and signaling no-ball if he considers the ball has been thrown.

(a) If, in the opinion of either umpire, the ball has been thrown he shall

(i) call and signal no-ball

(ii) caution the bowler, when the ball is dead. This caution shall apply throughout the innings.

(iii) Inform the other umpire, the batsmen at the wicket, the captain of the fielding side and, as soon as practicable, the captain of the batting side of what has happened.

(b) If either umpire considers that after such caution, a further delivery by the same bowler in that innings is thrown, the umpires concerned shall repeat the procedure set out in (a) above, indicating to the bowler that this is a final warning. This warning shall also apply through the innings.

(c) If either umpire considers that a further delivery by the same bowler in that innings is thrown,

(i) the umpire concerned shall call and signal no-ball. When the ball is dead, he shall inform the other umpire, the batsman at the wicket, and as soon as practicable, the captain of the batting side of what has happened.

(ii) The umpire at the bowler’s end shall direct the captain of the fielding side to take the bowler off forthwith. The over shall be completed by another bowler, who shall neither have bowled the previous over nor be allowed to bowl the next over.

(iii) The umpires together shall report the occurrence as soon as possible to the Executive of the fielding side and any governing body responsible for the match, who shall take such action as is considered appropriate against the captain and bowler concerned.”

Law 24.3 saw the following wording:

“A ball is fairly delivered in respect of the arm if once the bowler’s arm has reached the level of the shoulder in the delivery swing, the elbow joint is not straightened partially or completely from that point until the ball has left the hand. This definition shall not debar the bowler from flexing or rotating the wrist in the delivery swing.”

Therefore, there were actually major restructuring of the laws in relation to process. Law 24.2 is substantially longer than previous, and was stated as such:

It would seem clear that, despite the best efforts of administrators, the situation regarding throwing is no better defined now than it was a century ago. And that is a pretty sad situation for us to be in.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The History of Chucking - Part One

With Murali’s success in the current test series against Australia (he has taken twice as many wickets in the series as any other Sri Lankan bowler, and in fact has taken as many wickets as all the other bowlers combined), there are a number of articles and blogs around at the moment discussing whether Murali is a chucker or not. This piece doesn’t argue that point at all, but is instead tries to provide a review of throwing since the laws of the game were first drafted. It gets a little long (which I accept is not normal for my posts), so I have split it into two parts.

The laws of the game of cricket can be traced back to 1744, when a set of governing guidelines were developed. There were alterations and additions to this initial set of laws in 1755, but many historians argue the first legitimate and widespread laws were established in England in 1774. All bowling at this time was underarm, and there were no laws at all about throwing. In 1816, Lambert produced his “Cricketers’ Guide. This document is believed to be the first that clearly provided an explanation and definition of what constituted a legitimate delivery. His book stated that:

“The ball must be delivered underhanded, not thrown or jerked, with the hand below the elbow at the time of delivering the ball. If the arm is extended straight from the body or the back part of the hand be uppermost when the ball is delivered, or the hand horizontally extended, the umpire shall call “no-ball.”

Lambert’s definition was adopted by the major cricketing bodies in England, and was adhered to by the players for the next six years. It was in 1822 that “round-arm” bowling came to the fore, with many arguments about its perceived legitimacy. John Willes achieved lasting infamy, being no-balled at Lords for bowling round-arm. The debate continued for another six years, with players experimenting with this new style of bowling. In 1828, the MCC proposed a modification to the law about bowling, which said:

“The ball shall be bowled. If is be thrown or jerked, or any part of the hand or arm be above the elbow at the time of delivery, the umpire shall call “no-ball.”

Over the following thirty years, the law-makers continued to try and come up with a specific ruling on what a legitimate delivery actually was. Even then, defining what a ‘bowl’ actually was, proved very difficult. The MCC met in 1864 and changed the law, simplifying it substantially to:

“The ball must be bowled; if thrown or jerked the umpire shall call ‘no-ball’ ”.

This law remained largely unchanged for many decades, with only the addition being the provision that the law should now be read in conjunction with the Law 48:

“If either umpire be not satisfied of the absolute fairness of the delivery, he shall call ‘no-ball’ ”.

The laws about bowling were therefore to be read in two separate parts, Laws 10 and 48. It was 1947 that saw a major re-drafting of all the Laws of the game that led to the next major revision of the throwing legislation.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Myth of the Speed Gun

I have been listening with interest over the past few days to the ABC radio discuss whether Brett Lee or Mitchell Johnson is the faster bowler. Largely, they are using the figures generated from the speed gun as a guide. Whilst velocity readings are very interesting, I don't think they come close to telling the whole story about how fast a bowler is. I admit that what I am going to say will probably confuse everyone but here goes; I don't think that the velocity of the ball is the same as the speed of the bowler.

What I mean by this is that some bowlers are perceived by the batsman to be faster than others, even though the measured velocity may be the same. A few years ago Glen McGrath was measured as being slower than Greg Blewett. However, if you asked opening batsman which one was faster, I assume all of them would pick McGrath.

My feeling is that batsman tend to find certain bowlers 'faster' than others on the basis of having to make a late adjustment when the ball is not quite where they expect it to be. When the ball is delivered, the batsman immediately starts moving into position to play the shot. With only half a second or so from the bowler letting it go until the batsman plays the ball, the batsman has to move on instinct into the correct position.

Brett Lee at 135kms/hr is far 'slower' than Clark at the same velocity, as Lee has a very flat and predictable trajectory. This means that the batsman is in position to play the shot earlier than against Clark, who tends to achieve extra bounce or movement off the seam that forces the batsman to readjust their shot from what they expected. This then makes the batsmen perceive the bowler as being faster than what a pure velocity reading would suggest.

Likewise, if a bowler has an unusual or strange action that prevents the batsman getting an early sighting of the ball, they will appear faster. The great South African Mike Proctor is an example of this, as his "wrong foot" action meant that batsmen were not picking the ball up early. Velocity tests showed that he was not as fast as other bowlers going around during the 70's, however, most batsman rated him as amongst the quickest.

I will concede that 160kms/hr is bloody fast no matter what!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Extracts from the 1755 Laws of Cricket

I was reading a cricket history book that had some extracts from the 1755 'The Code of Laws of Cricket'. The below are a few of the additions to the original version from 1744. Some are pretty cool.

Laws for the Bowler

If he delivers ye Ball with his hinder foot over ye Crease ye Umpire shall call No Ball though he be struck or ye Player is bowled out, which he shall do without being asked and no Person shall have any right to ask him.

Laws for the Umpires

To allow two minutes for each man to come in when one is out and ten minutes between each hand. To mark ye Ball, that it may not be changed. They are sole judges of all Outs and Ins, of all Fair and Unfair play or frivolous delays, of all hurts whether real or pretended, and are discretionally to allow what time they think proper before the game goes on again. In case of a real hurt to a striker they are to allow another to come in & ye Person hurt to come in again. But are not to allow a fresh Man to play on either side on any account.

They are sole judges of all hindrances, crossing ye Players in running and standing unfair to strike and in case of hindrance may order a notch to be scored. They are not to order any Man out unless appealed to by any one of ye Players. These laws are to ye Umpires jointly.

Each Umpire is ye sole judge of all Nips and catches, Ins and Outs, good or bad runs at his own Wicket and his determination shall be absolute and he shall not be changed for another umpire without ye consent of both sides. When ye 4 balls are bowled, he is to call over.

When both umpires shall call Play, three times, 'tis at ye peril of giving Game from them that refuse to play.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Player Profile - Alan Davidson

Great left arm bowlers do not come along frequently, and this may be part of the reason why they are so successful. Variety is the spice of life, and likewise, a distinction between the types of bowlers in a team's attack is vital for success. This is where being left handed can be of great benefit. The natural angle across the right handed batsmen is an obvious advantage, but unless it is combined with swing, it can quickly become predictable and lose its edge. Alan Davidson may have been born left handed, but without an enormous amount of skill to go with it, he would never have developed into one of the finest all-rounders of all time, described by Richie Benaud, as "one of the best cricketers ever to play for Australia".

Alan Davidson was born on the 14th of June, 1929 on the Central Coast of NSW at a small town called Lisarow. Cricket was part of his life from an early age, being supported and encouraged by his family. Alan recounted stories of sitting at his grandfather's feet, listening to anecdotes and yarns about legends of the past such as Trumper and Duff. This was a great grounding for a young Alan, with his grandfather reinforcing the value of the basics of the game, especially a straight bat. Alan played all sports throughout his schooling years at the local school at Lisarow, but his love for cricket was obvious. He was selected to play for his school against the nearby Ourimbah School, bowling slow left arm leg spin. On the morning of the match, Alan awoke feeling very unwell. He didn't breathe a word of his illness, fearing it would rule him out of the game. Alan played on and took a number of wickets, before the emerging spots revealed the fact he had chicken pox and he ended up in bed.

Alan moved onto Gosford High School, however he was very slow to develop physically. At the age of sixteen, Alan was still only just over five foot tall. In the next year however, he shot up rapidly in height to just under six foot. He had continued to play all sports and represented Northern Schools in both cricket and sport. One of his greatest disappointments as a footballer came against a team from Hamilton Marist. Playing at fullback, Alan and his teammates all struggled to lay a hand on the opposition's five eight who continually ran past them to score tries. This was part of the reason that Alan decided to concentrate upon cricket. In later years, when Clive Churchill did the same to Great Britain, Alan recalled the experience in a better light.

Alan did everything in cricket left handed, but interestingly he writes and plays tennis right handed. Alan continued to bowl left arm spinners successfully enough to be picked for the Gosford representative first XI at age seventeen, however he then turned into a fast bowler largely by accident. His uncle Vern Clifton was one of the best batsmen in Gosford, and he often used Alan for special practice sessions. One day, just prior to an important game against Singleton, he asked Alan to bowl faster than normal. Alan let go with a ball that swung back very late into Vern, scattering his stumps in all directions. Vern just replaced the wicket and threw the ball back to Alan, but he took notice. The next day in the game against Singleton, Vern, who was captaining Gosford that day, tossed the ball to Alan, telling him he was to open the bowling. Alan took 4 for 39 and his new career was well underway.

In 1947, Alan took 37 wickets for Gosford in the John Bull Shield at the impressive average of 4.3. This form was pivotal in his selection for the Hunter Valley team that competed in the annual country carnival in Sydney. In the three games, Alan took 5 for 29, 5 for 45 and 2 for 54, however this was not good enough for him to be selected in the combined country team. Despite this disappointment, some good came from the experience, with an offer to trial with Northern Districts in the Sydney grade competition. Alan gratefully took this opportunity, travelling to Sydney by train for three successive weekend trial games, and he was subsequently picked in the Northern Districts First XI. Having finished school, Alan started working with the Commonwealth Bank, and was fortunate to gain a transfer to the Strathfield Branch, which limited the amount of travel he would have faced if he continued to commute from Gosford.

Initially, Alan relied predominantly upon his inswinger, however his captain Tim Caldwell worked with him to develop a straight ball that angled across the right handers. This development increased the danger of the inswinger greatly, and Alan started to gain the notice of the state selectors. Whilst his batting was not yet coming to the fore, Alan's bowling took Northern Districts through to the Sydney premiership. He took 40 wickets at an average of 14, and selection for NSW followed in the 1948/49 summer, replacing Keith Miller who was called up for the Australian tour of South Africa. Alan was still only twenty years old but took 4 for 32 in his debut game against South Australia, and after only two more first class games, he was chosen to tour New Zealand with the Australian Second XI.

This New Zealand tour features a number of career highlights, including a magnificent game against the province of Wairarapa, which sadly was not viewed as a first class game. Opening the bowling, Alan took 10 for 29 off only eight one balls in the innings, before scoring 157 not out in the Australia's response. There was one unofficial test against the national New Zealand team, which ended in a draw. Alan took 0 for 36 in New Zealand's first innings, but then ran through their top order the second time round with 4 for 24, which left the New Zealanders at a precarious 9 for 76 when time ran out.

This was to prove as close as Alan would get to representative honours for the next two years, as the Australian line-up was exceptionally difficult to break into. At that time, the NSW opening attack was composed of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, which meant that Alan's opportunities were limited even for his state. Whilst the lack of opportunities was undoubtedly frustrating, Alan did serve an excellent apprenticeship under the guidance of these great bowlers. On a few occasions he was able to take the lead, with figures of 7 for 49 against Queensland underlining his potential. Finally, in 1953 Alan's consistent performances resulted in his selection to tour England with the Australian team.

Under English conditions, Alan showed his value to the side by not only swinging the ball, but also moving it off the pitch. He was duly selected in the side for the first test, as part of a bowling attack that included Lindwall, Miller, Richie Benaud and Bill Johnston. He took 2 for 22 and 0 for 7 as the game ended in a draw. Alan's performances were viewed favourably by the tour selectors, and he kept his place in the team for the remainder of the series. He finished the series with 8 wickets at an average of 26.50, and scored 182 runs at an average of 22.75. Whilst Alan's bowling had been fair, if underutilized behind Lindwall, Miller and Johnson, his highest score of 76 underlined his all-round potential, and his fielding was rated as exceptional. The 27 catches he took on tour was the best of any non-wicketkeeper, and he was also involved in a number of run-outs.

Over the next four series against England at home in 1954/55, back in England in 1956, and in Pakistan and India in 1956/57, Alan struggled to recapture his first class form. He only took a total of 8 wickets in these four series, admittedly at a minimal cost, however he gained valuable experience behind the frontline pace duo of Lindwall and Miller. His groundbreaking tour occurred in 1957/58 under the young twenty one year old captain Ian Craig. Without either Lindwall or Miller for the first time, Alan was given the responsibility to carry the Australian attack along with leg spinner Richie Benaud. Alan had a fantastic series, getting the choice of ends and using the new ball effectively. He responded to this by taking 25 wickets at the impressive average of 17.00, with a best bowling performance of 6 for 34. Leading South African batsman Roy Mclean in particular struggled, failing to pick the difference between the inswinger and the ball angled across him. In one match he left a ball from Alan that he thought would move across him, but it swung back so much that it hit leg stump. Alan's performances were recognized by the South African public with him being named as one of the five players of the year there. Alan reported afterwards that this was the series in which he first became a matured test cricketer, and the faith that the Australian selectors had shown in him was now starting to be repaid.

Alan was now the considered to be the key bowler in Australia's attack, and he met that challenge successfully over the next seven series. Australia recaptured the Ashes at home against England in 1958/59 with a comprehensive 4 to nil victory under Benaud's captaincy. Alan was again the team's best bowler, taking 24 wickets at an average of 19.00, and also showed his batting prowess, scoring 180 runs at an average of 36.00. The highlight of the series was Alan's three wickets in an over in the second test. England had moved to seven without loss, before Alan got the opener Richardson caught behind, clean bowled the no. 3 batsman Watson with a late swinging yorker two balls later, and then knocked over Graveney lbw with another inswinger. 0 for 7 had rapidly become 3 for 7, Alan finished with 6 for 64 and Australia were on their way.

Alan toured Pakistan and India in 1959/60, and continued his fine form in these different conditions. In the eight test matches, composed of three against Pakistan and five against India, Alan led the Australian bowlers again by taking 41 wickets. He bowled better in India, taking 29 wickets at an average of 14.86, including his best match figures of 12 for 124 at Kanpur in the second test. Alan took 5 for 31 in the first innings, and followed it up with his test best 7 for 93. His batting continued to improve, averaging a healthy 45.00 against Pakistan.

The 1960/61 series between Australia and the West Indies is still recognized as one of the finest of all time. As Alan commented in his autobiography, Fifteen Paces, "Not even the highly imaginative editor of Boy's Own Cricket Annual would have dared to take such liberties with fiction". The first game produced test cricket's first ever tie, in a game whose momentum swung back and forth constantly. In this test played at the Gabba, Alan became the first player to ever to take 10 wickets in the match and also score 100 runs. Alan's bowling had taken 11 for 222, including a magnificent 6 for 53. Chasing 232 runs for victory in the final innings, Davidson and Benaud came together at a very precarious 6 for 92. They decided that attack was the best policy, and Alan produced his best test innings by scoring a rapid 80, before being run out with only seven runs for victory. The game eventually finished in an amazing tie, with Australia's last four wickets falling for only six runs including two spectacular run outs. Alan's performances in the entire series was exceptional, taking 33 wickets at an average of 18.54 in the five tests, and scored 212 runs at an average of 30.28. Australia eventually won the series 2 to 1, but if the West Indies had some luck, it easily could have been reversed.

Alan toured England for the third time in 1961. He took 23 wickets at an average of 24.86 and scored 151 runs at 30.20. Just prior to the Lords test, Alan injured his back and told his captain Benaud that he couldn't play. Benaud replied that Alan had to play, as Benaud himself was already out. Reluctantly Alan agreed to play, and overcame his back injury by taking 5 for 42 in the first innings. He did however feel that this effort cost him greatly and he did not bowl near this level again in the series. He did have one further highlight for the series however, scoring a rapid 77 not out in the fourth test at Manchester. On a wearing pitch in their second innings, only one hundred and fifty four runs in front, Alan decided to attack once the no. 11 Graham McKenzie came to the wicket. He proceeded to smash 20 runs off the next over from the English off-spinner David Allen, and the two players added a valuable 98 for the last wicket. England needed 256 runs to win, but Benaud's leg spin took Australia through to a famous win after England were cruising towards victory. Fittingly, Alan took the last wicket, bowling Brian Statham to secure the Ashes. He was fittingly named as one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year.

Alan was now thirty three years old, and coming to the end of his career. He was still working for the Commonwealth Bank, and with a wife and children, it was difficult to make ends meet. As with almost all Australian cricketers of his day, Alan did not make money from the game and relied upon the sympathy of his employer in gaining leave for tours. He decided to retire at the end of the 1962/63 Ashes series at home. Alan showed that he was retiring at the top of his game, taking 24 wickets in the series at an average of 20.00. He added 158 runs to this, at 22.57. This series saw the end of four Australian stalwarts, with Alan calling it quits at the same time as Neil Harvey, Richie Benaud and Ken Mackay.

Alan was rated by his peers as the greatest left handed bowler of all time. Since then, Wasim Akram has laid a claim for this title also, however it is a measure of their respective skills that Richie Benaud compares the two favourably. No less a judge than Garry Sobers, who played against Alan in the famous 1960/61 series, rated Alan as the best fast bowler in the world for the final five or six years of his career. Whilst his bowling skills are well remembered, his batting was also far better than average. Sobers viewed Keith Miller and Alan as the two best all-rounders he played against.

Following his retirement from the game, Alan served for many years in Administration for NSW cricket, and is still the President of the NSW Cricket Association. He was named as one of NSW Cricketer's of the Century, and continues to live in Sydney.

Career Statistics

Test Matches

Alan played 44 test matches, scoring 1328 runs at an average of 24.59, and snared 42 catches. He took 186 wickets at an average of 20.53, with best bowling figures of 7-93.

First Class Games

In a total of 193 first class games, Alan scored 6804 runs at an average 32.86 with a highest score of 129. He took 672 wickets at an average of 20.90, with best bowling figures of 7-31.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Book Review - "Inside Story"

I must begin this book review with an admission that will come of no great surprise to readers of this blog; I am a cricket tragic. As an example of this characteristic, I actually enjoy reading books about cricket that are not a ghosted autobiography or diary of a current cricketer. One book I found fascinating was “True to the Blue” by Phillip Derriman which reviewed the history of the NSW Cricket Association. Derriman got access to the Association’s records, and he delved deeply into the interesting, and sometimes slightly murky, past of the body. I was therefore keen to read the recently released “Inside Story – Unlocking Australian Cricket Archives”. This story reveals the ‘behind-closed-doors’ discussions and decisions made by the entity originally called the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket and currently known as Cricket Australia.

Interestingly, this book was actually commissioned by the Cricket Australia, and it allowed the two nominated authors complete access to their secrets, and the freedom to write the book as they see fit. The co-authors of this book, Gideon Haigh and David Frith, were deliberately selected for the simple reason that they are superb writers. Both authors have written extensively on the history of cricket in both Australia and around the world, and have won many prizes for their works.

This is not a book for the casual reader. Exceeding 350 pages and at nearly 300,000 words, it examines and dissects in great detail the actions of the board. The reader cannot simply skim through the content presented by Frith and Haigh, as is possible with many other current examples of cricket literature. Their analysis of many key points in Australian cricket history is excellent, and the time taken to digest the text is very worthwhile.

The early days of the Board of Control provide fascinating details of the famous “Gang of Six” revolt in 1912, and the day the captain punched the chairman of selectors. As with any review of Australian cricket, the name Bradman features strongly. His career as a journalist whilst still under contract as a cricketer is examined, as is his quick move from player to official. Other highly significant events such as Bodyline, Packer’s World Series and the South African rebel tours are also reviewed, and make for interesting reading.

It is hard not to feel considerably empathy for the players throughout the 20th Century, as the administrators often appear very remote and condescending. This issue is not limited to the dim and distant past, with the bookie scandal of the 1990s an example of administrators more interested in minutiae than serious problems. When Warne/Waugh indiscretions were discussed, the resolutions were limited to the end of the meeting, by which time one member had already left to catch a plane. There didn’t even appear to be a vote, with at least one board member admitting afterwards that the entire process was poor and unsatisfactory. The arrogance of some administrators is evident right from the moment of inception, but it didn't necessarily diminish quickly over time. One of the more intriguing themes over the board's history is the fact that ex-players were unwanted as administrators. The knowledge and experience they could have brought were clearly considered less important than the skills of the local businessman who had never played cricket.

This is a very valuable book for fans of the game, and provides a great insight into the logic, questionable as it may have been, that underpinned many of the decisions that have guided cricket in Australia. Cricket Australia deserves credit for letting Frith and Haigh to write as critically as they have. They could have censored the authors to prevent embarrassing blunders being made public, but both writers claim that there were no restrictions on either their access to materials or the content that flowed from it. Very highly recommended for serious fans of the game, but casual readers probably will be overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of the project. Nonetheless, it is recommended that they start the book, as the quality of writing and interesting content will quickly drag them in.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Player Profile - Roy Dias

When a country is first admitted into the family of test cricketing nations, they usually have a number of competent players without possessing the one or two truly great individuals who can lift the team from the bottom of the table. There are obviously exceptions to this rule, and Sri Lanka were fortunate to commence test cricket in the early 1980’s with a number of very experienced and successful batsmen. Whilst Sri Lanka did not have the bowling strikepower to win many games in their early years, the presence of Roy Dias in their top order ensured that their batting had a stability that most new teams take years to develop.

Roy Dias was born on the 18th of October, 1952 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Richard Dias used to take all four of his sons, Roy, Phillip, George and Marshall along to watch local soccer and cricket games. Roy watched the inter-bank cricket matches with great interest, however Richard was more enthusiastic about soccer and pushed his sons in this direction. All his brothers pursued this sport later in life, however Sri Lankan cricket was fortunate that Roy went to St Peter’s College Bambalapitiya. He attended this very strong cricketing school from 1959 to 1972, and as soccer was not offered as a sporting option, Roy was able to concentrate upon developing his obvious batting skills.

Roy’s ball skills were apparent very early on, and he was very lucky to have the assistance of a number of Sri Lankan’s best coaches assist him through his schooling. Carl Obeysekera, a former All-Ceylon cricketer, was one of Roy’s major influences during his formative years. He provided Roy with his first coaching lessons, a happy coincidence due to the fact that he lived next to the Dias family in Colombo. Roy played for the St Peter’s school junior teams in his early years, and captained the First XI in his final two years at the school. He was rapidly gaining a reputation for his classic technique and his capacity to adapt to changing pitch conditions.

Roy left school in 1972 and was quickly picked up by the Colts Cricket Club in Colombo. He played for them for the next eight seasons, before moving to the Singhalese Sports Club in 1980, and finally finishing his career with the Colombo Cricket Club in 1988. In 1972 Sri Lanka had not yet been granted test match status. They did however play games against other nations to gain experience, and Roy’s performances for the Colts Cricket Club gained him selection for his country for the first time in 1974 in a game against the West Indies. Opening the batting, Roy made the worst possible start to his international career, being run out without scoring. Sri Lanka was not admitted to test match status until 1982, which meant that Roy spend many of his most productive batting years in the local Colombo competitions on very bowler friendly pitches. Sri Lanka did have one saving grace on the national front, in that they were invited to join the first ever one day World Cup in England in 1975. Roy was only twenty three at this time and just missed out on selection for the squad, however it did open the door for Sri Lanka to at last play recognized international games.

Roy was selected to make his international debut for Sri Lanka in the 1979 World Cup, again to be held in England. On the back of strong batting performances by Roy, Duleep Mendis and Anura Tennekoon, Sri Lanka had established themselves as the dominant side among the Associate Cricket nations. Whilst Roy had not played any officially sanctioned international games prior to this tournament, his performances for Sri Lanka in minor matches had established himself as the best player in the team and one of the finest batsmen in the world. He was now twenty seven years old, and batting at the peak of his powers. Roy played his first official game for Sri Lanka against New Zealand at Trent Bridge in the opening match of the tournament. Whilst he only scored 25, it was Sri Lanka’s second top score and the commentators all noticed the ability and style of Roy in his fifty run partnership with the captain Tennekoon. The highlight of Sri Lanka’s short international career came in their third and final match against India, following a wash out in game two against the West Indies. Sri Lanka won their first ever game, putting together a score of 5 for 238 on the back of half-centuries from Roy, Mendis and S.R. Wettimuny. In reply, India slumped to all out for 191 and the Sri Lanka team celebrated.

This victory against India was a pivotal moment in the push for Sri Lanka to become a fully fledged member of test playing nations. Following the intense lobbying of Australia’s delegates amongst others, Sri Lanka was finally admitted as a test playing nation in 1981. They played their first series of international games outside of the World Cups against England at home in 1982. Whilst the teams played two one day games on the 13th and 14th of February, the real match all Sri Lankan’s were looking forward to was their inaugural test match which commenced on the 17th of February at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium in Colombo. In a horrible reminder of his initial game against the West Indies almost a decade earlier, batting at no. 3 Roy was dismissed for a duck, caught by Geoff Cook off Bob Willis. Sri Lanka were dismissed for 218, England replied with only 223, however Sri Lanka could only manage 175 in their second innings. This was predominantly due to Roy’s magnificent 77, as only two other players managed to get into double figures. Sadly, this was not to be enough, and England won by seven wickets. Roy was quite old to make his debut at almost thirty, however his experience and skills were of inestimable value to his nation.

Sri Lanka quickly followed this one-off test against England with a three match tour of Pakistan. Roy scored a good double of 53 and 19 in the first game at the National Stadium in Karachi which Pakistan went on to win, before showing his real value to the team in the next two tests. Roy just missed his first test century in the second game at Faisalabad, scoring 98 before being caught off left arm spinner Iqbal Qasim, with the game ending up a high scoring draw. In the third test he managed to get into triple figures, with 109 at the Gaddafi Stadium at Lahore. Roy finished the series with 295 runs at an average of 49.16, reinforcing his rating as the best batsmen in the team. He followed this in the one off test against India that started on the 17th of September 1982 with scores of 60 and 97 at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai. At the conclusion of his career, Roy was to rate this 97 as the best innings he ever played. One of his opponents, Sunil Gavaskar, also considered the performance, on a wearing pitch against India’s spinners, to be one of the best batting displays he ever saw.

Roy had a disappointing game against Australia in the one-off test on the 22nd of April, 1983, scoring only 14 runs in his two innings. This was an exciting time for Sri Lankan cricket, but it was also a steep learning curve for everyone in the team. Each team they played was new, and it took time to adapt to different conditions and opponents. Another factor that affected the consistency of their performances was the few matches in each series. At this time, Sri Lanka was getting predominantly one or two test series, and this limited the amount of exposure that the players could get to the opposition.

Sri Lanka went to the 1983 World Cup in England feeling confident about their chances of pulling off an upset win or two. They had managed one day wins against Australia, India, Pakistan and England, however the team was still lacking great depth. This was further challenged by the loss of regulars such as Tony Opatha and Bandula Warnapura following their decision to tour South Africa with a rebel team. West Indian great Garry Sobers and former Australia leg-spinner Peter Philpott both worked with the side leading into the tournament, however the concern remained that Roy Dias and Duleep Mendis were still their only class batsmen. This proved to be the case, as Sri Lanka lost their first four games with neither Roy or Mendis scoring the necessary runs to give their bowlers anything to work with. In their fifth match, New Zealand were bowled out for only 181. In spite of only four batsmen reaching double figures, Roy scored a match high 64 not out and guided the Sri Lankan team home to victory with only three wickets in hand. This was sadly Sri Lanka’s only success in the tournament, and they finished bottom of their pool.

Roy was quickly back into test match form, scoring 134 runs in the two test series against New Zealand in March 1984, with his 108 being his second hundred at this level. He scored a solid double of 38 and 32 against England in the one off test in 1984, before Roy had his best ever series against India in 1985. He started very disappointingly with scores of 4 and a duck in the first test, however Sri Lanka recorded their first ever test match victory when they beat India at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium in the second match. This test saw Roy record 95 out of Sri Lanka’s first innings 385, and followed it with 60 not out in the second innings, allowing Sri Lanka to declare at 3 for 206. India were bowled out for only 198 and the victory for the home team was secured by 149 runs. Roy scored his third test century in the final game of the series, and finished with 273 runs at an average of 54.60.

Roy then experienced the first significant run of outs at the international level leading into the 1987 World Cup in India. He had disappointing series against Pakistan both at home and away, however he was still seen as a key member of the World Cup and test squad. Sri Lanka played Pakistan in the opening match of the 1987 World Cup, and Roy was bowled by Abdul Qadir for only 5 in Sri Lanka’s loss. It was felt by the selectors that Roy’s scoring rate was too slow for one day games, and he was surprisingly dropped for the second game against the West Indies. Sri Lanka were annihilated, replying to the Windies 4 for 360 with a snail-paced 4 for 169 off their full fifty overs. Following further losses to England, the West Indies again and Pakistan, Roy was brought back into the team against England. He responded by top scoring with a classy 80, however apart from Asanka Gurusinha’s 34, no other batsman supported him and Sri Lanka were thrashed again and thus ended up losing every game of the tournament.

Roy was one of a number of players discarded by the selectors following Sri Lanka’s disappointing World Cup performances, for both test and one day matches. Whilst they claimed they were looking for new talent to take them through to the next World Cup in 1992, it was a sad end for a man who had done so much to make Sri Lanka competitive over the years since their admittance to international competition. He was admittedly over thirty five by this time, but he still appeared to have much to offer in the five day game if not one day internationals. His test match batting average of 36.71 is not overly impressive when viewed in isolation, but it fails to capture his immense contribution to the team. His peers all rated him very highly. A measure of his standing in the game can be seen when the West Indian captain Viv Richards was asked to name his world XI. He overlooked many of his teammates such as Richie Richardson and Larry Gomes to name Roy Dias as his no. 3 for this side.

Following his early enforced retirement, Roy has maintained very close linkages with cricket. Roy set up an academy for talented players in Colombo that he still is involved with. He was one of the selectors that picked the 1996 World Cup winning squad, and elected as the coach of the Sri Lanka team following the sacking of Australian Bruce Yardley in 1998. Sri Lanka had a very successful fifteen month period, beating England comprehensively in a one off test at Lords and also winning a series against New Zealand, however he was sacked after Sri Lanka’s poor performances in the 1999 World Cup. From there, he was offered a position as the coach of the national Nepal cricket team, and his role there has assisted them to make great strides forward. The junior Nepalese team managed to beat Bangladesh, Kenya and Pakistan in the Youth World Cup, and Roy’s efforts were recently recognized by King Gyanendra, who awarded him the Prabal Gorkha Dakshin Bahu (IV Class), an honour which Roy described as being equivalent to a knighthood or OBE. Roy has also been an ICC Match Referee and is married to Tharnga. The couple have two children, a son and a daughter. Roy still lives in Colombo, depending upon his varying cricketing commitments.

Career Statistics

Test Matches

From 1982 until 1987 Roy played in 20 test matches, scoring 1285 runs at an average of 36.71. He scored three centuries and eight fifties, and he also took six catches.

One Day Internationals

Roy played 58 one day internationals for Sri Lanka, scoring 1573 runs at an average of 31.46 with a strike-rate of 67.94. He had a highest score of 121, with 16 catches. Roy also took 3 wickets at an average of 23.33, with best bowling figures of 3 for 25.

First Class Games

In his 93 first class games, Roy scored 4296 runs at an average of 32.05. He took 1 wicket with his very occasional off spin, at an average of 118, and also took 39 catches.