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.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Evolution of the Cricket Bat and Batting Techniques

The first mention of the bat used in cricket can be traced as far back as the 1620s. Interestingly, this particular reference to the bat is in relation to the death of fielder during a game, and the inference is that the batsman had hit the fielder with his bat in order to prevent him catching the ball. This incident may have also served as the instigator of what is now Law 37 - Obstructing the Field. Bats at that time were shaped very similarly to modern hockey sticks; as the ball was delivered underarm and rolled along the ground this design made sense. The cricket bat commenced its transition to the now recognisable rectangular profile in the 1770s, when the laws of cricket changed to allow bowlers to ‘loop’ the ball in the air whilst still bowling underarm. The change in law resulted in a corresponding change in batting technique, with players starting to use a more vertical swing of the bat, as opposed to the horizontal ‘sweeping’ motion that was commonplace with balls rolled along the ground. The bat was still very heavy at the base, and it wasn’t until the 1820s with the advent of round-arm bowling that bats started to take the truly modern form.

Initially, the laws of the game made no restriction on what size or shape the bat needed to be. This limitation was not needed, until a clever thinking player, one ‘Shock’ White representing Ryegate, marched out to bat against Hambledon in 1771 with a bat the width of the stumps. This tactic was considered quite unsportsmanlike, and Hambledon’s recommendation that the bat be officially limited to a maximum of four and a quarter inches in width was quickly accepted around all of England. A number of steel gauges were made, so that bats could be quickly checked for conformity to this new law. This change in law consolidated the changes in batting technique from predominantly horizontal swing path to a mixture of vertical and horizontal. The different shots we see now were starting to take shape, however, the general batting technique was based around power and strength.

The search to find the ideal timber for making cricket bats has seen many different types of wood experimented with. Traditionally, cricket bats have been made from English willow, known as Salix Alba Caerulea. It has been used since the early 1800s in almost all cricket bats. The reason for using willow related to its resilience to the impact of a hard ball, its toughness and also its relative lightness. Other timbers have been found to be either too dense, which makes them too heavy to be used, or not dense enough, which results in them breaking on contact. These early bats made from English willow could weight up to a massive five pounds in weight, and were constructed from the heartwood of the tree. This part of the timber is very dense, and this is why the cricket bats of this era appear far darker in colour than more modern ones. In 1890, the English bat manufacturer C.C. Bussey started using the sapwood of the tree instead, and found that it was far lighter and was also more cosmetically appealing to buyers. Very soon afterwards, all bats started being constructed from ‘white’ willow.

The early ‘white’ willow bats were a lot lighter than previous versions, weighing a few pounds at most. This change coincided with the “Golden Age” of batting, with a number of players such as Kumar Ranjitsinhji and Victor Trumper using these lighter blades to great effect. Bats of this era were characterised by a very slim and relatively straight profile, with very thin edges. The distribution of the weight was often quite high in the blade, as this helped with the desire for a ‘feather’ feel. Interestingly, the actual length of the entire bat was also smaller than today, with the handle being quite short. The bats were usually in the range of two pounds to two pounds and four ounces. The batting technique was again altering, with many players relying on touch rather than power. Ranji’s development of the leg glance and glides were, at least partially, made possible by the fact that the bat was light enough to be manoeuvred easily. Late cuts and other shots that relied on timing rather than brute strength were quickly adopted as the bats of the day allowed greater improvisation.

By the late 1920s, a few players were again trialling the use of heavier bats. Whilst leading batsmen like Jack Hobbs, Don Bradman and Wally Hammond used a bat of around 2 pounds 2 ounces, Bill Ponsford was famous for his “Big Bertha” bat. Ponsford used bats around 2 pounds 9 ounces which were considered very heavy for the time. The bats also lasted a long time. The willow was very heavily pressed during the making, which made it more durable, but also less responsive. However, the majority of players were still using light bats. Batting techniques were still predominantly around touch and feel. It was normal in this period for at least 110 overs to be bowled on every day, so the number of runs per over didn’t need to be high. A scoring rate of two and a half runs per over would still see nearly 300 runs scored in the day. The introduction of both timeless and five day test matches saw less emphasis on quick scoring, and more on survival. Many batsmen relied on stroking or deflecting the ball rather than striking it fiercely.

The actual design of cricket bats had remained fairly standard since the 1890s. By the 1960s, some players were choosing to return to very heavy bats, with Graeme Pollock and Clive Lloyd both using blades that exceeded three pounds in weight. This density assisted greatly with the power they could hit the ball with. The heavier options were not for all players though, as many struggled to play shots such as cuts and hooks as the sheer weight of the bat limited their ability to move it quickly enough. Gary Sobers continued using a very light bat until the end of his career. However, during the 1970s John Newberry and Gray Nicolls started experimenting with various changes in the weighting of the bat. Karsten Solheim, an engineer with General Electric in the USA had started making golf putters with heel-toe (or perimeter) weighting in the late 1950s. These putters had proved extremely popular with both professionals and amateurs alike due to their forgiveness. Gray Nicolls used similar concepts in their ‘Super Scoop’ bat, which featured a large hollow on the back of the bat, and more wood around the edges. This redistribution of weight from the middle to the edge allowed the manufacturers to increase the ‘sweet spot’ on the bat, thus making a bat that was more forgiving to slight mishits.

In recent years, the bat makers have continued to refine their art. By careful design of scoops, hollows, plugs, cores and so on, the sweet spots have been maximised and even mishits race to, and over, the boundary. The weight of Ponsford’s bats, once considered exceptional, are now considered on the light side of average. By pressing the timber less, bats can be made much heavier whilst still retaining a light feel and pickup. This has also resulted in a great reduction in durability. Bradman said that he changed his bat around every 1000 runs or so, and that this was considered fairly normal for batsmen of his era (admittedly for Bradman, this was after every three of four innings). In contrast, Herschelle Gibbs once commented to the Guardian newspaper that he went through 47 bats in one season. Players can now have the combination of power and manoeuvrability in the one bat, and with sponsorship, they don’t have to worry about how long the bats last for.

One of the interesting side-effects of this revolution in bats may be the increase in net run-rate that is evident around the world in Test cricket. The great cricket statistician, Charles Davis, conducted some fascinating research into the percent of team scores that is the result of boundaries. During the 19th Century, just less than half a team’s runs were scored in boundaries. This figure remained remarkably consistent throughout the 20th Century, before starting to rise in 1990. It has now nearly reached 60%, a quite considerable increase in less than two decades, after being stationary for over a century.

Some of this increased run-rate can naturally be ascribed to fast outfields, shorter boundaries, and possibly weaker opposition. However, it seems clear that the technological change in bats has also been a significant factor. Batsmen are not afraid to risk hitting sixes, as even mishits can still clear the boundary. Comparisons of bats from even twenty years ago show significant changes. The edges of bats are now measured in centimetres, not millimetres. The meat of the bat is now much lower in the blade, but also thicker. Bats now quite often have a pronounced ‘bow’ shape, in contrast to many of the straight blades of the past. The weights of bats have increased, and yet the feel and pickup of them has not been affected adversely. A recent quote by a friend summed up the difference ‘looks like a railway sleeper, picks up like a wand’. Shots that seemed to be forgotten during the 1970s such as the late cut have made a comeback. Batsmen are able to combine both touch and power within a wide range of shots, and run-rates have soared.

Golf, tennis and other sports have seen a major revolution in recent years due to changes in materials such as carbon fibre, graphite and titanium. The clubheads of golf drivers have tripled in size, but the overall weight hasn’t increased. Cricket has not seen this structural shift (apart from Kookaburra’s graphite reinforced bat) due to the requirement for the bat to be made of wood, however, other technological improvements have definitely improved the equipment batsman have on hand. These changes will naturally continue in to the future, as the cricket bat continues to evolve and manufacturers seek the next big breakthrough. And batting techniques will continue to evolve with them.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Player Profile - Sydney Francis Barnes

The standard route for an aspiring player to reach test cricket involves performing at a suitably impressive level for the local club team, from there selection in the state or provincial side, and then, with luck and impeccable timing, being chosen for the national team. It is almost inconceivable now that a player could be chosen for England without playing regularly for one of the established county teams, however it has occurred on occasions. One of the few that have managed it regularly was Sydney Barnes, an imposing figure who preferred to play professionally in League cricket than in the County Championship.

Sydney Barnes was born on the 19th of April, 1873 in Smethwick, Staffordshire. He was the second born of five children, three boys and two girls, all of whom were born and lived the majority of their lives in Staffordshire. Syd's father Richard was a typical working class individual, being employed by the same Birmingham firm for sixty three years. Syd did not play cricket regularly until the age of fifteen, when he first started to turn out for a local team in the Smethwick town competition. At that time, Smethwick's first XI played in the local Birmingham League, and they employed a professional called Billy Bird who was a Warwickshire representative. He provided coaching for the local players one night a week, and Syd was soon invited to participate in these sessions. Whilst Syd was initially a wicket-keeper, his bowling quickly took caught the attention of Bird. He took the time in the weekly net practice to assist Syd to learn the basics of spinning the ball, however even this training was very limited.

Syd's ability as a frontline bowler first became evident when chosen for the Smethwick First Eleven. Whilst he started off the innings keeping, the team captain Dick Thomas informed him soon after the start of play that he would bowl next. Bowling his medium paced spinners, Syd ran through the opposition batting, finishing with 7 for 19. Syd continued this form in follow-up games, and quickly made a name for himself throughout the Birmingham Leagues. By the age of nineteen, Syd had reached his final height of six foot one, with a muscular physique characterized by long arms and fingers. He only bowled off a short run, but could bowl at genuine medium pace. His stock ball was a leg break, but even at this early stage in his career he possessed the ability to also bowl a variety of different deliveries including off-breaks, top-spinners, as well as in and out swingers.

Syd's bowling ability had been spotted by the Warwickshire selectors, and he was chosen to play the last match of the 1893 season against Gloucestershire at Bristol. He was invited back the following year, and indeed played another handful of games for Warwickshire from 1894 through to 1896. A permanent contract was not offered to him however, and through the necessity of making a living, Syd became a professional cricketer. In 1895, he signed up for Rishton who played in the famous Lancashire League, for the grand sum of three pounds 10 shillings a week. In his first season for Rishton, Syd took a total of 71 wickets, and followed this with 85 wickets in the 1896 season and 87 in 1897. His 1898 season was even better, as he snared 97 wickets at an average of just 8.46. 1899 saw him take another 71 wickets, meaning that in his five years with Rishton he had taken 411 wickets at the modest average of 9.10.

Syd moved from Rishton to Burnley, playing there for two years in 1900 and 1901. It was here that Syd's chance to play test cricket came about. Syd's domination of the Lancashire Leagues had continued with Burnley as with Rishton, and his reputation spread far beyond the local leagues. A.C. MacLaren, the England captain, specifically selected him for play for Lancashire against Leicestershire late in the summer of 1901. This match was seen purely as a trial for the upcoming tour of Australia for Syd. He responded by taking 6 for 70 in this game and, despite the fact that he had only played six first class games for Warwickshire and Lancashire over the past seven years, MacLaren declared that Syd must go with his touring team. Part of the reason for Syd being selected related to a series of disputes between the counties and the MCC. Two of England's premier bowlers, George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes, were both refused a release for the tour by their county Yorkshire. This opened the door for Syd to make his move from league cricket to the test arena.

Syd's form in the early first class games in Australia was impressive enough to guarantee his debut in the First Test in Sydney on the 13th of December, 1901. Syd was quite a late debutante, being twenty eight years old. This delay is undoubtedly due to Syd's decision to play League cricket rather than in the County arena, however financially it had been the only option available to him at the time. In this first game, Syd started off with a surprising score of 26 not out in England's first innings. Whilst never totally inept with the bat, Syd simply did not see it as his role to score runs for the side. When he had his chance to bowl, he wrecked the strong Australian top order with 5 for 65 off 35.1 overs. Australia had a number of very good batsmen such as Syd Gregory, Victor Trumper, Clem Hill, Monty Noble and Joe Darling, however England finished up winning by an innings and 124 runs. Syd improved on this in the Second Test in Melbourne, taking 6 for 42 and 7 for 121, a total of 13 for 163. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury early in the Third Test in Adelaide, he only bowled seven wicketless overs in the match and didn't play again on the tour. Syd finished his first test series with nineteen wickets at an average of 17.00.

Syd was described by even his teammates as a difficult character. He was hard on himself, but he applied the same exacting standards to his fellow players and also the captains he played under. In league cricket he was king, and his captains let him set the fields he liked. This same temperamental attitude in county cricket and for England undoubtedly cost him matches. The selectors at the time were aware of his considerable talents, but his personality and unwillingness to tow the line meant that he was a risky proposition from an establishment's point of view. This meant that he only played one more test match between 1902 and 1907. This game was against Australia in the third test of the 1902 series. Syd took 6 for 49 and 1 for 50, but he then was not chosen again for England until selected to make the 1907/08 tour of Australia. In the intervening years, Syd continued to play as a professional, however he parted company with Lancashire in 1903. He had requested that Lancashire find him some form of winter employment that could lead to a career following his cricket days. Lancashire did not comply with this request, and so he moved from Burnley to the Church Cricket Club in his birthplace of Staffordshire. Lord Hawke tried to induce him to tour with the English team to South Africa, however Syd had obtained a good job with a Staffordshire iron works and he declined as it would have jeopardized his employment.

Syd was finally restored to the England team for the 1907/08 tour of Australia. He played all five tests on this tour, taking 24 wickets at an average of 26.08. His best bowling performance was 7 for 60 in the fifth test at Sydney, however the highlight of the tour for Syd occurred in the Second Test at Melbourne that started on the 1st of January, 1908. Australia batted first and scored 266, with Syd taking 0 for 30. England replied with 382, before Australia scored 397 in their second innings, with Syd's figures 5 for 72. He bowled tirelessly, sending down nearly thirty overs. This was a timeless test, and finally finished on the sixth day. Chasing 282 to win, England had sunk to 8 for 209 and the game appeared gone. Batting at no. 9, Syd managed his highest test score of 38 not out and guided his tail-end partners through to a stunning one wicket victory. The game finished in an almost farcical situation. With scores tied and the last pair having already added 39, Barnes hit the ball into the covers and ran. The other batsman, Arthur Fielder, did not respond immediately and then set off forlornly, certain to be run out with the game ending in the first ever tie. Unfortunately for the cover fielder Gervys Hazlitt, the pressure got to him, throwing the ball wildly over the wicket-keeper Hanson Carter's head and the game was won for England. Wisden's description of this game involved an analysis of Syd's batting, stating that his efforts were 'to the astonishment of everyone concerned'.

Syd had established himself not only as England's best, but also laid clear claims to being the foremost bowler in the world. In spite of this, the selectors were still reluctant to risk playing the headstrong Syd. He was picked to play his second test match at home in 1909 against Australia, in the third game of the series. Syd took 1 for 37 and 6 for 63 to again underline his sublime abilities, and he was then picked for the final two tests of the series. He finished with 17 wickets at an average of 20.00.

Syd was by now an established test player, with selectors prepared for the time being to overlook his obstinate ways and his desire to play away from the County Championship. He played consistently for England from this point until 1914 when he was forty one years old. Syd toured Australia for the third time in 1911/12, taking 34 wickets in the five match series at an average of 22.88. In the Second Test at Melbourne, he overcame a severe bout of the 'flu prior to the game by sweating it out under numerous blankets with a bottle of whiskey for company. Syd made an astonishing start to this test, taking 4 wickets for 3 before lunch, and soon afterwards Australia lurched to 6 for 38 with Syd improving his figures to 5 for 6. England ended up winning the game on the back of Syd's efforts by eight wickets. Syd followed these performances in Australia in the six match Tri-angular test series in England against both Australia and South Africa in 1912. Syd took 39 wickets in the six games at the impressive average of 10.35. His best performance was 8 for 29 against South Africa at The Oval.

Syd's final series for England was in 1913/14, when he toured South Africa. This was the setting for probably the greatest bowling performance by any bowler ever in a series, taking 49 wickets in only four games at an average of 10.93. In the first test at Durban, Syd took 5 for 57 and 5 for 48. He performed even more impressively at Johannesburg, taking 8 for 56 and 9 for 103, resulting in the then best ever match figures of 17 for 159. The third test was again at Johannesburg, and Syd took 3 for 26 and 5 for 102. The fourth test was to prove Syd's last game for England, however he went out in style. He took 7 for 56 and 7 for 88 at Durban. There was a fifth test scheduled, and Syd was heading towards being the first bowler to ever take fifty wickets in a series. However Syd's difficult personality intruded, and he withdrew from the game following a dispute with the authorities regarding match payments and accommodation for his wife.

Syd never played test cricket again. Even if he had not been blackballed by the selectors for the disagreement in South Africa, the breakout of the Second World War ensured that Syd's test career was over after twenty seven tests. He took 189 wickets in these games at the average of 16.43. This remains the best average of any player during the twentieth century, and his strike rate of 41.6 is likewise foremost amongst players from 1900 onwards. Syd continued playing in his beloved minor cricket however, and indeed played his last first class game at 57 for Wales in 1930. Interestingly, Syd played only forty four games in the County Championship from 1895 to 1930; his international career involved more matches than this including tests and games for English touring sides in Australia and South Africa. At the age of 55, he played one final game against an international opponent, the touring West Indies. Even in his mid-fifties, the West Indian batsman rated him the best bowler they faced on the entire tour. Syd continued playing as a professional very successfully until his final game with Bridgnorth in Staffordshire at the age of 65. In this final season, Syd lead the competition's bowling statistics, taking 126 wickets at an average of 6.94.

Syd played his final recorded game of cricket for Stone in the Wartime Staffordshire League in 1940. Aged 67, he still managed to take 6 for 32 and 4 for 12 in a game against Great Chell, 5 for 43 against Leek and 5 for 22 against Caverswall. In 1951 Syd was awarded an honorary membership of the MCC and a commissioned portrait of him hangs in the Long Room at Lords next to W.G. Grace. Syd lived in Staffordshire until his death at the age of 94 on 26th of December, 1967.

Career Statistics

Test Matches

From 1901 until 1914, Syd played in 27 test matches. He took a total of 189 wickets at an average of 16.43, with a strike rate of a wicket every 41.6 balls. His best bowling figures were 9 for 103. He also scored 242 runs at an average of 8.06, with a highest score of 38 not out.

First Class Games

In his 133 first class games, Syd took 719 wickets at an average of 17.09. He took five wickets in an innings sixty eight times and eighteen times took ten wickets in the match. Syd also scored 1573 runs at an average of 12.78, with a highest score of 93.

Minor County Cricket and League Cricket

Syd spent the majority of his life as a professional cricketer in minor county and league cricket, taking 4069 wickets in total, with 1437 wickets coming for Staffordshire at an average of 8.10. Combining all of his cricket career statistics reveals a total of 6225 wickets at an average of 8.31.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Myth of Sunil Gavaskar and the West Indies Quicks

Sunny Gavaskar is, without doubt, one of the greatest batsmen of all-time. Gavaskar is a true legend of the game. His technique was near faultless, and when combined with limitless patience, you had the mould for the perfect opening batsman. Gavaskar’s test career saw a total of 10122 runs at an average of 51.12, with an astounding 34 test centuries.

Gavaskar retired from test cricket in 1987, and therefore his era would appear to almost completely coincide with the great Windies bowling lineups of the late 70s and 80s. In 27 tests against the West Indies, Gavaskar scored an almost unbelievable 2749 runs at an average of 65.45, with an astonishing 13 centuries. These statistics are often used by fans and supporters to underline his claims as the greatest opening batsman of all-time. However, one of the great myths that has grown up about Gavaskar is his amazing dominance of the otherwise unconquered West Indian four pronged pace battery that these statistics would suggest. If you break down the actual series that he played, Gavaskar’s record doesn’t quite look as impressive as a first glance would indicate.

Gavaskar made his debut for India against the West Indies on the 6th of March, 1971 at Port of Spain. He played four tests, and finished the series with an impressive total of 774 runs at the astronomical average of 154.80 with four centuries. During this series, the West Indies were in a state of change. The leading pacemen of the 60s including Hall, Griffith and Gilchrist had all played their final test. The Windies bowling attack was dominated by spin, with Lance Gibbs well on his way to passing Fred Trueman as the leading test wicket-taker. The fast bowlers that Gavaskar faced during this series were Keith Boyce, Grayson Shillingford, Vanburn Holder and Uton Dowe (he of the 11th Commandment – Dowe shall not bowl). The other medium paced bowlers used included Gary Sobers and John Shepard. With all due respect to the bowlers of the time, it was hardly an attack to cause significant concerns to a player of Gavaskar’s obvious skill.

Gavaskar only played two tests of the 1974/75 home series against the West Indies. He struggled, scoring 108 runs at an average of just 27. The quick bowlers he faced in this series included a young Andy Roberts, and the medium paced Holder, Boyce and left armer Bernard Julien. Gavaskar’s next series against the West Indies was again away from home in 1975/76. Gavaskar again batted beautifully, scoring 390 runs at 55.71, with another two centuries. By this time, the Windies fast bowling battery was just starting to take form. The first two Tests saw Gavaskar opening the batting against genuine quicks Michael Holding and Andy Roberts. In support was swing bowler Julien, and spinners Holford and Jumadeen. After disappointing initially with 37 and 1 in the First Test, Gavaskar did score a wonderful 156 in the second. The Third and Fourth Tests saw no Andy Roberts, with Michael Holding in his second series as a Windies player supported by Wayne Daniel, Holder, Julien, Jumadeen, Albert Padmore and Imtiaz Ali. There was not yet any sign of the four pronged pace attack that would soon dominate the cricket world.

The West Indies then toured India in 1978/79. This tour was in the middle of the Packer years, and the West Indies bowling attack was decimated. Rather than facing Holding, Roberts, Garner and Croft, Gavaskar opened the batting in the First Test against the legendary Norbert Phillip, his old nemesis Vanburn Holder, and Sylvester Clarke. The Windies attack again had reverted to spin, with Derek Parry and Jumadeen both playing. Gavaskar again gorged himself, scoring 732 runs at 91.50, with another 4 centuries. A very young Malcolm Marshall made his debut during this very high scoring six test series that India won 1-0, with five draws.

Gavaskar’s second last series against the Windies was away in 1982/83. He scored 240 runs at an average of 30, with one century. Against the full might of the Windies four quicks (Holding, Roberts, Garner and Marshall), he scored 20 and 0 in the First Test, 1 and 32 in the Second, a very good 147 not out in the Third (which was badly affected by weather and India didn’t even finish their first innings), 2 and 19 in the Fourth, and 18 and 1 in the Fifth. This was the first time Gavaskar had played against all of the Windies quicks, and he clearly struggled.

In 1983/84, Gavaskar played the Windies for the last time. This series was at home, and the bowling attack was weakened by the absence of Garner. In the first test, the Windies fielding four quicks, but whilst Holding and Marshall were genuinely fast, neither Eldine Baptiste or Winston Davis really threatened. Gavaskar started poorly with 0 and 7 in the First Test, before finding some form with 121 and 15 in the Second, and 90 and 1 in the Third. 12, 3, 0 and 20 were his scores in the next two tests, before Gavaskar played one of his great knocks. In the final test, he dropped himself down the order to no. 4, with Gaekwad and Sidhu opening. The fact that Malcolm Marshall took two wickets without a run being scored meant that Gavaskar may as well have opened anyway. Gavaskar proceeded to totally dominate the Windies attack and scored a wonderful 236 not out. This was a fantastic innings, and underlined why Gavaskar is a great. There is a wonderful account of this innings at that is highly recommended reading. Unfortunately, his previous failures in the series were effectively covered up by this large unbeaten double century.

When you examine the record of Gavaskar against the West Indies, it is clear that only the final three centuries were actually scored against an attack that resembled the fearsome Windies pace barrage that we remember. A large percentage of his runs were accumulated in two series against very much weakened bowling attacks. As a consequence of factors outside of his control, Gavaskar didn’t play against the Windies full strength team between 1975/76 and 1982/83. This analysis is not to decry Gavaskar – he is a legend of the game and deserves ultimate respect for what he has achieved. He could, after all, not control who he played against. A very strong argument can be made that Gavaskar should be considered of the best few opening batsmen in the history of the game. However, the claims made by some supporters that he is the greatest opener of all-time based solely on his record against the Windies is one that simply does not hold up to closer scrutiny.