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Helmets

HELMETS.

That helmets have made a difference to cricket is beyond dispute. At Test match level, no less a luminary than Michael Atherton says that batting performances “before” and “after” are simply not comparable. So what has changed?
Those batsmen who have played all their lives in a helmet have never had to learn the skills that we bare headed batsmen were forced to acquire from day one. It was drilled into us to “ALWAYS” keep our eye on the ball. Ducking the head was the preserve of tail-enders only. I can recall very few nasty blows to the head in pre-helmet days. Nowadays it is a rare day of Test cricket which passes without the ball cannoning off helmets as batsmen take their eyes off the ball and duck. Then comes the obligatory testing for concussion symptoms, possible replacement pf the helmet. They really are a pain in the neck, in more ways than one.
Sometimes people suggest that bowlers are faster these days which I dispute. There were no helmets when England faced the great Australian “Tommo”, once timed at 100 mph. Nor when the Australians were put to the sword by the fearsome Frank Tyson in 1954. And even if those critics are right, I will remind them that under the old lbw law, before the front foot rule, the ball was released from 3 to 4 feet closer than now. Especially by the draggers. That gave them an added advantage of getting more bounce off the pitch. The most extreme example was the very tall Australian Test bowler Gordon Rorke in 1958 whose skid marks from the “drag” extended right through the batting crease with his front foot landing another SEVEN feet further on.
So how did helmets creep into the game? When Mike Brearley walked out to bat at Lord’s with a prototype contraption covering his temples,I thought it was just a one-off by a player who obviously had no faith in his own technique. But it may have been the thin end of the wedge
A change in the lbw law was also critical. This allowed an l.b.w decision against a batsman playing no stroke, even if the point of impact was outside the line of the stumps. This was a well meaning attempt to stop batsmen simply padding away spinners with impunity. What it actually did was to benefit the quicker bowlers slanting in from wide of the crease. However this “advantage” was soon balanced by the front foot law. Nevertheless, right or wrong, batsmen felt they had to play forward more, putting their heads in danger. Hence the dreaded helmet. And there is at least one unintended downside.
From a spectators point of view there is a lack of connection between the audience and the player. It is hard enough to know who is at which end, even on TV. From the boundary, nigh on impossible. The only batsman I recall batting without a helmet was the then Captain of the West Indies. Richie Richardson. He wore just a wide brimmed white sun hat and, as a fine hooker of the ball he never ever looked in the lightest danger. Would I have switched to a helmet? I really don’t know. If there was the slightest chance of it impairing my batting - the answer is no. I might have tried one - and then, who knows? It would certainly have improved my playing of slow bowling because I could have practised sweeping without fear of getting a top edge in my face. The ability to sweep is a key part modern batting skills and I would love to have had that in my armoury.
The next time I saw a “helmet” - actually it looked more fitting for a motorcyclist- was a West Indies Tour match against Derbyshire. I had no clue about the identity of the home team batsman protected by a huge heavy duty plastic wrap around visor. The pitch was quick and bouncy and the West Indian fast bowlers were letting loose.
Half a dozen times the ball simply bounced off the face guard and the batsman continued serenely without a sign of any injury. I honestly thought that the days of short-pitched fast bowling were numbered. But I was wrong. Fast bowlers still dominate Test cricket in UK other than on India’s slower, turning pitches.The reason seems to be that batsmen have altered their technique - and not for the better.
What made modern batsmen pick the bat up before the ball is bowled is a bit of a mystery.
And I find it hard to raise an argument in it’s favour. It may help the less talented ones but not much more than that. The most noticeable change is in the stance and head position. Feet wide apart, bat raised and the head upright peering through the bars of the helmet. Here I do argue the toss.
The most obvious flaw is the lack of lateral movement of the feet. Secondly the shoulders are already turned making it much harder to bring the bat down straight. The natural timing that came with swinging the bat up and down is lost. Just as well for some players that the new “super bats” are more forgiving than of old.
There are pluses and minuses when it comes to pulling and hooking. Protected by the helmet these strokes can now be made in front of the face. We always had to get inside the line which made it easier to judge the ones to play or leave alone. All of which would be acceptable if the helmet actually did what it is supposed to do - protect from injury.
Actually there are more injuries, not less. There is the tragic case of the young Australian who was killed by a blow behind the ear. He went to hook, head in line, turned away in the process and paid a dreadful price. This prompted further protective add-ons at the back of the neck which may or may not do what they are supposed to do. The Australian Captain Smith was not wearing these when he was pole-axed, flat on his face in 2019 at Lord’s by Joffre Archer. It has also been put to me that batting with the eyes canted at 30 degrees - as I did and most of the past Test batsmen did - is no longer an option with the face bars straight across. I further doubt the validity of this because we all know when we peer through a wire mesh fence that the closer we get the less we can see the wires.
I remember when I first saw it written that the eyes must be level in the stance. Tell that to Jack Hobbs or Wally Hammond. It was in a little coaching strip in some newspaper under the name of the greatest of wicket-keepers Alan Knott - an unorthodox but talented lower order England run scorer. I asked Alan a supplementary question - does that mean that the two eyes have to be equidistant from the approaching ball? He had no answer even if he had the slightest clue what I was talking about.
It was really a tease, because I went on to shred the need for level eyes in ball games. Citing the fastest ball game in the world ie Rackets where the best players will still middle the ball with their heads down, sideways and every other way. They certainly do not wear helmets. Maybe they and squash players should in fact wear goggles because the balls, hard in rackets and softer in squash are small enough to penetrate the eye socket. There have been blinded players. For all I know, perhaps they do wear some sort of protection.
Going back to batting, there will always be genii like Smith and Kohli who defy all the rules and, who knows, there may be a host of schoolboy batsmen who are already copying them successfully. Aesthetically Smith looks a mess unlike Kohli who is more orthodox but who gains advantage from his helmet by standing a yard outside his crease. I have not seen him face the current Australian attack on hard pitches. That could be a titanic clash, indeed.


Who is in charge?

Just how professional are our professional cricketers?. Maybe not as professional as they think they are? We have fast bowlers who do not swing the ball and waste the new ball by not making the batsmen play. Spin bowlers who rotate rather than “spin” the ball. Batsmen who play some shots well but others rank badly. Bowlers who seem satisfied to bowl a maiden without a single ball straight or full enough to hit the stumps. I could go on.
Not all of this is really new. In my five years with responsibility for the England Test team, I would count the balls that might have hit the stumps in the first 10 overs. I never reached ten, I handed on my inspired piece of research to the dressing room but nothing ever changed.
All this in the light of a sobering Test defeat by New Zealand not so long after the Stokes miracle innings against Australia and a tense Series drawing victory at the Oval.
I wonder how many people get to have a say at the post match discussions. Do the batting and bowling and fielding coaches all sit in with the manager and the Captain ~ and the Vice-Captain? If so it may be a case of management by Committee resulting in no clear path forward. Commitee decisions usually have a blurred imprint in my experience.
Most to worry about is Joe Root’s lack of runs. Even when he does get a few, it is a stuttering process with no rhythm. He is taking twice as long as before to score. I think he knows what is wrong but is finding it difficult to put it right. His clean cut footwork used to be the key. Now there is an impression of him running around with many movements going nowhere. He used to be one of those rare batsmen who put 20 or 30 on the board without you noticing. No longer.
A really flat pitch when he can stay long enough to sort things out may be the best medicine. But the last pitch was about a friendly as you could wish for in the first innings but that opportunity was missed.
I would recommend practising the seldom discussed art of “waiting”. It is completely counter-intuitive but there is a long established observation that the longer you wait, the more time you appear to have. Maybe it is because you only have time to make a single movement coupled with the obvious advantage of knowing exactly where the ball is.
I have seen slow motion film of Gary Sobers playing Dennis Lillee at Melbourne when he made a double hundred. Don Bradman thought it the best bit of batting he had ever seen, The 80~90 mph ball was over a third the way down the pitch before Gary even twitched.
Root apart, there were so many other unnecessary batting errors. Stokes running down the pitch first ball after a self induced break in play when he called for new gloves. Pope slashing flat batted at a wide good length ball, not once but twice.
I wonder who takes him to task or does he just get a cuddle and a few sweet nothings. Thinking back, I think myself lucky to have played when the Captain was boss at every level. If I played a rash stroke, I did not need to look toward the dressing room to know that Peter May would be shaking a clenched fist in my direction.

Thoughtless cricket reporting

England were thrashed by Windies (an abbreviation I abhor) in Barbados. Then came the post mortems. Most agreed that leaving Stuart Broad in the dressing room was a mistake. So far so good. Some even mentioned that, with the exception of James Anderson, our bowlers had performed below par. But they were not saying THAT at the end of the first day when the West Indians lost a number of wickets cheaply. Then the scribes went on to castigate the England batting - in both innings.
None mentioned the fact that the pitch and weather conditions combined made batting extremely taxing on the second day. Roach was bowling fast, lifting off-breaks from round the wicket to our left handers, Burns, Jennings, Stokes, Curran, Moeen and Anderson. It was hardly less taxing to the right handers, Bairstow, Root, Butler, Foakes and Rashid.
Being bowled our for 70 ish was the game loser which no amount of Boycott grit and determination was going to fix.
By the time Holder started his epic innings, the pitch was flat with no turn or swing: his team was already way in front allowing the batsmen all the freedom in the world.
In our second innings we fared much better while the quick bowlers were on, with Roach a far more straightforward proposition. Burns showed he could more than just defend against pace and gave as good as he got More in hope than anything Holder switched to his one part-time spinner. and this is where England made the one key error. They failed to attack the slower bowling and got winkled out. Of course Holder still held the whip hand because no amount of fours and sixes was going to make him start to defend given England' huge deficit.
I firmly believe that, had we played Broad and won the toss, the result would have been reversed. But fate has a way of ensuring that small mistakes are punished doubly and trebly.
I am reminded of the Australian team in 2005, when the great McGgrath trod on a ball in the warm up on the first day at Edgbaston when they had already decided to put England in to bat. Rashly they proceeded to bowl first despite being without their trump card - and the whole of the Series was turned England’s way.
And talking about good days to bat or field. Only recently at Lord’s there were the most difficult batting conditions throughout the match with heavy overcast EXCEPT one glorious sunny afternoon when all-rounder Woakes cruised to a delightful century in the easiest conditions of the match. England will do a lot better in West Indies when conditions are fair to both teams.













Corporal punishment.

Only a few months ago, there was a press feeding frenzy surrounding stories of Winchester schoolboys being abused by a sadistic teacher during special out of term religious studies. Horror of horrors, some of these extra curricular canings actually resulted in “bloody bottoms”! Judged by today’s standards with corporal punishment of young students being totally eliminated, it does seem pretty heinous. But, even in my early lifetime, it would hardly have raised a press paragraph, let alone many headlines.
I have no great love of schools. I was shuttled from one establishment to another, from Boarding in Scotland, (Belmont House)aged 5, to Northern Ireland, and to South Wales (Selwyn House).
Each move followed my Dad’s wartime postings in RAF Bomber Command. When he was posted to Egypt, his wife Elise, my older brother John and I were finally settled In Bucks for the duration. I had been caned by the Headmaster of Belmont House who informed my Dad of the event on his solitary visit to the school. Did you deserve it Teddy? Yes, Dad. What else could I say in the circumstances. In fact, my Dad never once lifted his hand to either me or brother John. On the very rare occasions he lifted his voice, we were happy to jump to it with a will. We both loved and respected him to the end of his life.
Now I attended my fourth and last prep school, Norfolk House in Penn ruled over in a harsh and unforgiving way by Mr Cyril Glover. Canings were a regular part of everyday life. This tyrannical person had a saving grace which was his love of cricket. He spent hours tending the nets and the middle and he taught me the basics of the game. Visiting the the school years later, it was astonishing to find that the cricket ground was no bigger than a couple of tennis courts.
Mr Glover retired and for the first time I could enjoy two years of education free from the threat of beatings. But this freedom was not to last.
I was squeezed into Radley College a term early, probably because brother John was there already and the “crammer” near Romsey was proving anything but satisfactory. Only now was I to come under the most loathsome of code of discipline which meant that virtually every boy would wind up being caned. And not just caned, but caned by older boys.
Looking back, I wonder how responsible adults could have ever devised, let alone condoned, a system of boys beating boys when they only rarely had the responsibility of doing the job themselves. Certainly, the Warden (Headmaster) the Reverend Vaughan Wilkes, he of the saintly air and other worldly manner, never saw fit to lift a finger - all the while presiding over wholesale canings of the pupils in his care.
It is a particularly sore point with me because as Head of Social (House) , it fell to me to do more than my fair share of beatings. Then I became Head of School and was required to deliver the most severe canings - delivered in the school prefects’ private study and witnessed by all such members. What a horrible thing to be required to do. Not that I suffered pangs of conscience at the time. We were all conditioned to believe that " that was just the way it was". However a form of retribution was not far off.
As my cricketing career burgeoned and my name 'Ted Dexter' became fairly common currency, a certain Peter Cook, he of the famous comedy duo with Dudley Moore, seldom missed an opportunity to tell the world of the beating he had received at Radley College at the hand of yours truly.
I never ascertained whether this was true or even whether Mr Cook had ever been a pupil at Radley College. Guilty or not the damage was done. I did not want to pour any more fuel on the fire. But a sense of revulsion at what I and others did remains alive to this day. Happily, my children will confirm that a very few mild slaps were the limit of my parental corrections.
And even more happily, the days of corporal punishment were numbered, soon to be banned by Act of Parliament, as it is to this day.


Joke batting by England

England's batting problem is getting worse and has now become beyond a joke. It can be blamed on "joke", white ball cricket, if you like. But when the fundamentals of batting technique are so conspicuously ignored, that can only be part of the answer.
The latest fashion of standing with the feet far apart and the bat raised may have merit, but, if so, I am unable to identify what it is. The first problem is that you cannot move easily laterally. The second is that it destroys the natural rhythm of playing forward and back. Just as well that they wear helmets. Or is it the helmet that has caused these aberrations?
You would think that the new feeling of invulnerability should work to your advantage when facing bouncers etc but it hardly seems to be the case when you see the amount of clumsy ducking and diving, eyes not on the ball and any amount of blows on the helmet itself. If you cannot move laterally, i.e across the batting crease, what chance is there of getting your body out of the way, never mind getting close beside the offside ball? And if you are already straddled, any forward or backward movement of the body is evidently curtailed.
The most obvious tell tale sign of poor technique is the position of the feet. I have given up counting the times I say to my wife, an avid cricket watcher, " look at his feet" before the cut to the replay and then the slow motion version of the dismissal. Invariably both feet are facing up the pitch which means that the body has turned round which in turn means that the bat has not, indeed can not, come down straight.
There is a further fashion for turning the head unnaturally towards the bowler in the stance which means not only unnecessary tension but a built in inclination for the shoulders to follow it round. If someone told me that they simply HAD to face the bowler head on in the stance, I would advise them to stand more open and then turn the left shoulder into line as part of the stroke. All of which comes back to the old adage that cricket is a "sideways" game.
I will not go through the whole gamut of reasons for the "sideways" advantage. But one is mathematically and geometrically crystal clear. If you are sideways. then you have a number of feet in which to play the ball i.e. the width of your shoulders plus, let's say, six inches in front and six inches behind. Possibly 4-5 feet in total. If you turn square on your "range" becomes measured in inches. "Leaving the ball" becomes much more difficult. I could go on and on.
I just find it incomprehensible, now that every stroke and dismissal is available for video replay, that these basics are ignored. I am available for consultation any time. I don't want to be paid and I will not put in any expenses.