Harking back to my recent lament about bowling tactics, or lack of them, to certain batsmen - here we go again, with Enland's fast men against De Villiers. In common with the Australian Steve Smith, DV walks across his stumps before the ball leaves the hand.
Is it coincidence that these two are rated perhaps the two most successful batsmen in the world? I think not.
They have it in common that the moment the ball is aiming for the stumps, they are adept at turning the ball through the open spaces on the leg side. As the bowlers become increasingly frustrated, their reaction has been to bowl wider and wider of the off stump. As Willis and Underwood used to do to Viv Richards to their cost.. The " beauty" of this batting system, or at least the bowling reaction to it, is that they have virtually excluded being bowled or lbw.
Surely it is worth a try, bowling at the stumps and putting fielders where they hit the ball !! Freddie Trueman told me that he was only looking at the batsman's feet as he ran in to bowl. You can bet your bottom dollar he would have had two more leg side fielders with at least a couple of attempted yorkers every over. When I buttonholed Captain Cook on the subject at the end of last season I got a shrug of the shoulders, little more. Unless a little common sense dawns on our heroes, they are in for some long spells in the field.
If you are a "take it or leave it" cricket follower, then stop here. What follows is an in depth diatribe on the LBW and other Law changes before and during my lifetime and their effect on the way the game is played.
Time was (anyway in Don Bradman's era) when the ball had to pitch in the line of the stumps and be hitting for an appeal to be upheld. Thus the faster bowlers needed to bowl from close to the stumps i.e. wicket to wicket. Away swing was another way of achieving the desired result.
Bowling from close-in meant a degree of pivot on the front foot to avoid running down the pitch. Thus there was less rushing through the crease and more body action to achieve pace.
By the time I arrived on the scene, the law had been altered to allow the ball to pitch outside the off stump - with the proviso that the point of impact was still between wicket and wicket. This meant that I could still pad up to anything so long as my pad was outside the off stump. It meant still being able to play more off the back foot, which was just as well because a new breed of bowler came along delivering from wider on the crease and rushing through full tilt.
I emphasise here that lbw law changes are not usually followed by wholesale changes in how any existing group of bowlers go about their business. What they Do do is to dramatically improve the chances of types of bowlers to whom they suddenly hand an advantage.
A further change came along which allowed the point of impact to be outside the off stump if the batsman was judged to have played no stroke. This led to an era of pad play against spinners, hiding the bad behind the pad as though pretending to make a stroke.
A major beneficiary from this change was Derek Underwood whose slow-medium cutters bowled for quite wide round the wicket were ideally suited to this new regime. Unlike the old timers who had to bend their backs over the stumps get the ball to "pitch on and straighten".
Coming right up to date, that new kind of "pretence" pad play was conveniently sent packing by the advent of DRS (Decision Review System) which made any form of pad play a more perilous proposition.
Another very lucky guy was Graham Swann who, thanks to DRS, was given LBWs galore with the leading pad well down the pitch. His proportion of LBWs compared with those of, say, John Emburey was so considerable as to be almost embarrassing. Batsmen have been forced to play the ball more in front of their pads and also to go down the pitch more - to "get to the pitch".
With the successive changes to the Law, and with the majority of the world's fast bowlers being right handed, I felt so certain of the advantage given to left handers that I predicted a rash of lefties coming to top. Hence the make-up of the two current Ashes teams where every other batsman is a lefty. What was that advantage? Simple. The ball goes down short to the right hander and he shapes to pull. The ball keeps low- out LBW. Exactly the same ball to the left hander - not out because it has pitched outside leg.
But there is an almost Darwinian undercurrent of natural selection in the game of cricket. Is it by chance that the Australians have two or three top quality fast left arm bowlers? Or is it natural selection at work as they pose the left hand batsmen an equal number of problems to the "right to right" combination.
Another straw in the wind is the increasing popularity of right arm quickies e.g. Broad and Anderson and Stokes too, going round the wicket and getting the ball to spear in and then move away, both in the air and off the pitch.
It would have been unthinkable a generation ago when bowlers' "sideways" actions would have meant running on the pitch and only bowling in swingers to left handers. Because the current generation of bowlers are more open chested 1. they will naturally cut their fingers down the inside of the ball to move the ball away. 2. they naturally follow through straight down the pitch and are able to keep clear of the sensitive pitch areas.
So the great battle between bat and ball continues with small advantages shifting the balance of power, not exactly from match to match, but slowly and surely over a period of time.
I have stopped watching the Oval Test. Steve Smith is in charge and England have no clue how to counteract his unusual and extreme footwork. It beggars belief that he has suckered the England Captain and his quicker bowlers into NOT bowling at the stumps. He cannot be bowled. Nor can he be LBW. So before the ball has left the bowlers' hand, Smith has reduced his chances of getting out by at least 50%.
They insist on setting an off-side field which is just what he wants. Any length ball can be left alone. Over pitched or short and he has all the room in the world to swing hard. He is extremely gifted at his leg side placements when the occasional ball drifts onto his pads. And because there are only two fielders that side, ones twos and threes are there for the taking.
Is it so hard to grasp that the way to make Smith think hard about his tactics is to bowl at the stumps and set a 6/3 on-side field. Then all methods of dismissal are back where they should be.
Via Andrew Srauss, I made my views known to the England coaches before a ball was bowled in the Series. It was pretty galling to watch the Australian get a faultless double hundred at Lord's, without any change of mind by the Captain. Not even an experimental over or two in case it happened to work.
The fact that hey got him out on some very sporting pitches at Cardiff, Edgbaston and Trent Bridge is neither here nor there. Every batsman, bar the excellent Joe Root was struggling for runs in those matches.
To sum up - if any batsman can persuade bowlers, for whatever reason, not to bowl at the stumps, then he is already the boss and the fielding side will pay dearly.
It has been many a month while my occasional lurch into print was frustrated by a "'dead" blog. This is a thank you to daughter Genevieve who made me a present of my own website in the first place: to Pino Agnello who had much to do with the original design but also gave of his time on many occasions to deal with blips in the system. They with others have taken to heart my concerns at losing this emotional outlet - and, after much coming and going have finally re-established a link between what I choose to write and the modest number of readers who have the measure of curiosity to follow my trains of thought. To all concerned, I offer my sincere thanks and look forward to the next moment when elements of the sporting life allow me to indulge myself with personal observations of a greater or lesser importance.
Complaint by Edward Dexter re Article Headed : “PLAYING FOR STAKES” Neil Robinson. MCC magazine.
1: …… during an “idle” tour free winter spent in the offices of a city insurance broker who had evidently employed the famous cricketer more for the glamour of the association than with any idea of giving him anything to do…
The word “idle” is pejorative.
The “insurance broker” was not an individual. C E Heath was a major player in the insurance world and did not engage staff on a whim. My father was an insurance man of standing, also my brother John and I wished to emulate them.
“famous cricketer” – I was by no means famous in the spring of 1959 after an unsuccessful tour of Australia.
“more for the glamour of the association than with any idea of giving him something to do” – I worked on an equal basis with a small intake of “apprentices”. I took and passed Part 1 of the Insurance Examinations.
So little did my “glamour” impress that I was called to the Chairman's office in the Autumn of 1962 and given an ultimatum. No more cricket or you must leave. I had just been appointed Captain for the 62/63 Tour of Australia. I left.
The remainder of the paragraph about betting seems to have been lifted straight from The biography “Dexter the Enigma” – Alan Lee. It was unauthorized and I had not a single conversation with Alan Lee in the writing of the book. Alan Lee was a sports writer for “The Sun” at the time.
2: … “ Dexter took to travelling the country with a portable (TV) set”.
In the early 60's, I doubt there was such a piece of technology. I have no recollection of this. I did travel with a tiny portable screen in later years when I was broadcasting. On one occasion, the commentary monitors went blank and my mini picture had its finest hour.
3: … “Botham, Compton Dexter – for them the game was not a technical challenge or a test of concentration”. Anyone who knows my character, let alone seen me practise for hours on end will know this to be rubbish. How did I come to wager that Alan Davidson would not get me out more than once in the 62/63 series, if I was anything but confident of my technique. Also see Ossie Wheatley's comments on my undergraduate cricket development at Cambridge. “Dexter, the enigma”
I was also dismayed to read a supposed connection between Denis Compton's modest educational opportunities and his liking for a bet. What presumption and what hubris. Recently there was an obituary of the late Michael Melluish which stated that his National Service home posting arose mainly from his skill as a wicket-keeper. A similar off the cuff put down. I wrote in protest to the Editor without effect.
This kind of feckless, irresponsible writing belongs in the tabloid world and reflects badly on journalism as a whole. To find an MCC publication blithely repeating a series of half truths and ill-researched assumptions is simply shocking.
Reference 1,2 and 3 above, I seek a an apology in the next MCC magazine alongside my written statement above. A token contribution to the MCC Foundation would also be acceptable.