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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.

Cricketing common sense

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.

UNFAIR PLAY at Headingley

UNFAIR PLAY at Headingley.

When James Anderson lost his wicket fending off the umpteenth bouncer at Headingley, it was the clear duty of the umpire to call "no ball". Law 46 - Fair and Unfair Play (short pitched bowling) insists that the umpire acts under two separate threads of the Playing conditions. 1. Only two bouncers per over - the ball in question was the third or fourth. And 2. Repeated short pitchers which by their line and height are likely to inflict injury - Anderson had already taken a considerable blow on his bowling hand.

On the second count there is reinforcement of the instruction to umpires. They shall NOT take into account protective clothing. They SHALL take into account the relative skill of the batsman. Anderson bats at number 11 because his skill level against a "bodyline" assault is modest.

What part of the word "unfair" do these "world class"? umpires not understand? Though I picked out the last ball dismissal as an open and shut case for intervention, they had ample evidence to take action much earlier. On various occasions the fast bowlers went round the wicket with the sole intention of " bouncing" people out. "Repeated" Yes. "Length" Yes. "Direction" Yes. Prior was bounced out twice. Not something that should happen to a player of his skill but the ploy was unfair in the first place.

I do not begrudge Sri Lanka their first Series victory in England. The batting of their Captain Mathew was the outstanding individual performance of the match - although new boy Moyin's century for England was hardly far behind.
England's bowlers had a shocker on the fourth day and barely deserved to be let out of jail.

But to go back to Moyin. I am sure that I was not the only one to detect real style and composure on his previous appearances and credit to the selectors for pinning their faith in quality rather than quantity. The most telling feature for me is how narrow he looks in defence, meaning that he has retained his sideways position more than most of the moderns.

Being lazy by nature, I doubt I would have put two fingers to my IPad keys but for a separate concern about the conduct of the match. If comments after the fourth day by ex- Captain Jayawardene were accurately reported, when he brazenly voiced the intention to "give plenty" to England's less experienced batsmen i.e. Sledging, then I believe he should have been taken to task by the ICC referee for bringing the game into disrepute.
It is a pernicious development in our greatest of games and cuts right across the principles of the preamble to the Laws setting out in detail what is meant by " The Spirit of the Game". Sledging is shoddy, underhand, secretive and generally abusive. Not only to the recipient but the game itself.

The very thought of Gary Sobers, that Prince of Sportsmen, indulging in such sleazy tactics is ridiculous. Or Wesley Hall or Richie Benaud - all colossi of the game and revered down the generations. The sledgers of the modern game, however talented they may be with bat or ball, may do well to consider to what extent their legacy will be for ever tarnished by opening their mouths once too often.

The Ashes

Amidst the orgy of recrimination after the England Cricket team appeared to capitulate too easily to the Australians, I offer a crumb of comfort. The Australians are actually the better team. And what happens when you have the edge - yes, you have a bit of luck as well. Winning the toss twice is just one of the things that have gone Australia's way.

Thinking back to Adelaide three years ago, Siddle and Hilfenhaus took the new ball, Watson was possibly the best of the 3rd seamers and they had no spin worth a mention.Now they have a revitalised Johnson and the more than lively Harris. The steady Siddle is the ideal foil to these two and Lyon is proving himself at least the equal of Swann.

What happens when one team knows it is being outgunned with the ball is a creeping malaise which destroys confidence on the one side and empowers the other. So England's fielding is way below par and the batsmen find ways of getting out because there is tension where there used to be concentration and relaxation. Hence the dropped catches and the plethora of ugly dismissals.

There have been crucial moments when things could have been different. When Australia were 130 for 6 in the first Test in Brisbane, England needed to seize the moment but were not strong enough to do so. Then Australia were five down again at Adelaide when Haddin miscued to Carberry offering a simple catch - which went down. I could hardly help myself. watching on TV when I muttered the time honoured Captain's comment “never mind son, you have only lost the Ashes”.

Give Clarke his due, he has got inside the heads of the England batsmen in a big way. With Cook they have idenfified a weakness on the off side and bowl accordingly. With Pietersen they have gone the other way and simply blocked his most fruitful scoring areas. Trott was clearly out of sorts during the summer in England and may have been lured into making the trip more by a sense of loyalty than a genuine belief that he could overcome his problems.

What can England do now? It would help to win the toss in Perth and get somewhere near 400 in the first innings or even 350 - just enough anyway to give the bowlers a chance. The Australian middle order still looks unconvincing but they will all climb on the bandwagon given half a chance.

I always thought that Warner was the best of their newcomers because, even when he was crashing the ball here and everywhere, he remained quite compact - generally not much daylight between bat and body. Clarke has simply improved his batting immensely. I thought he was a bit of a “chancer” until recently when he has become much more selective and thus mighty hard to bowl to.

On the bowling front for England, Anderson is a bit of a worry because the Kookaburra ball seems less suited to his types of swing, both normal and reverse. I have a feeling that the Australians have worked him out a bit too.

England have a mountain to climb but it is not impossible. Cook should read about Len Hutton as Captain in West Indies - well beaten in the first two Tests and then righting the ship single handed with a series of huge scores. If Cook can find his own form, then the others may find theirs.

A more cerebral approach to one-day cricket

A more cerebral 50 over match.

Recently Shane Warne was highlighting in commentary all the changes that have been made to the playing conditions of One-Day Internationals. He felt that they have tended to be in favour of the batsmen. If so, then the idea must be that the bigger the scores, the greater the entertainment. That is certainly not my experience. Some of the most gripping games for me have been of the lower scoring variety when runs are hard to come by and preserving wickets a key issue.

Years ago I floated a very different approach. This was to limit the number of batsmen who were allowed to bat in certain circumstances. Both sides would always be able to play their top seven but, if the team batting first lost only five wickets, then the team batting second would also be limited to seven. For each extra wicket lost, so the team batting second would gain one themselves.

The intention is to make the later overs a better cricketing contest, less of a thrash with loss of wickets immaterial. For example, if team A has made 200 for 5 after forty overs, then there may be a case for guarding that position to limit the opposing batting side. Meanwhile the fielding Captain may want to set attacking fields, because for every extra wicket he takes, he gains an extra batsman himself.

There may be more ramifications with alterations in the batting order depending on the state of the innings. Also there may be more thought given to the best make up of the side depending on the strength or weakness of the opposition lower batting strength.

There may be something in the idea - or just as easily nothing - but we will never really know until it is given a public airing for discussion and then more importantly a reasonable trial period when the various scenarios are played out for real. It just appeals to me to the extent that Captains and players will find themselves more involved in fine judgements and tactical planning than is the case at the moment. And, who knows, the spectators may find the nuances a little more stimulating than the present, rather formalistic patterns of play.