The Universe Podcast 4. Swing; some Science.

 

 

 

Two years ago the Waltons visited Bath – and Bath Uni specifically – in support of my son, who was contemplating an application to the Department of Mechanical Engineering. As well as being wowed by the L, L, L, and indeed the F, F, F (Facilities, come o-on, keep up), a particular one of us was more than mildly diverted by a particular chance-occurrence. Or was it fate?

(By the way, it’s cool to call it ‘Uni’, right?)

Following an encouragingly cosmopolitan, reasonably well-healed crowd into the relevant building, we encountered the usual signage, plus material delivering to the departmental sales-pitch. A formula-something racing car, in the foyer; a video twinkling out sexy-but-profound Things You Should Know But Probably Didn’t, About Bath Engineering and a clutch of posters in a rack, speaking of specific research undertaken in the gaff.

The first of these posters was winking at me alone.

It may not, actually, have been called The Science of Swing but clearly it should have been. It was the story of one particular student’s release into the mysterious world of hooping cherries; some hows and whys of bowling swing – swing measured and experimented-upon in wind-tunnels and stuff. Proper, academic swing. Shockingly, I departed from family duties at that moment.

That project was written by a youthful James Scobie, the same James Scobie who triumphantly wheeled away to the Bath Uni Mech. Eng. staff room, where he still sits: that poster said as much.

Clouseau-like, I eventually discovered that the Dr Scobie was, on the day of our visit, “in the main sports hall, doing the student-welcome effort”. I went, and finding a gap in the worryingly-rehearsed but no doubt sincere questions from young hopefuls, began a conversation about balls. Later, graciously, James sent me his original research and our contact persisted, somewhat.

Two years pass and whilst delivering our newly-enrolled son into his room on the campus, I re-meet Dr Scobie, as arranged, for a further delve into the science and as it transpires, the poetry around the subject. The result is Podcast 4, for the Universe Podcast, which I present below.

It’s a rather magnificent 20-minute ramble through Laminar Flow, Turbulent Flow and dimples, on golf balls. Meaning there is science, but not of the deathly dry variety, I trust.

I strongly recommend it – the Dr is well worth listening to. The bloke who says WAGGA, instead of WACA (I think because he was raw excited and thinking of the GABBA) maybe less so.

 

 

I’m adding some thoughts and reflections because they may contribute to the understanding – maybe. Bullet-pointing, because a) speed b) there’s that feeling we bolted through many complex things and my head remains excited. To the extent that I will revisit this and re-claim some form of intelligent conclusion, in time.

  • It’s not about the humidity, folks!
  • It *may be* partly about the relative stillness that grey/cloudy/humid conditions deliver above the pitch. During ‘classically good bowling conditions’ at (e.g.) Trent Bridge in September, there may be an atmospheric stillness which enables the necessary Fluid Dynamics.
  • Conventional Swing is about the difference in two types of air flow… and about new balls and Boundary Layers around them.
  • The Duke’s ball swings (conventionally) when skilfully steered, when it’s newish, when the surfaces are in a condition that supports ‘hooping’.
  • The Duke’s ball is a ‘fabulous product’ with no unhelpful groove or slot between the four pieces of leather that make up the two hemispheres. The ‘fast’ or polished side can, therefore, be slick and quick – supporting swing.
  • The Kookaburra ball has a noticeable groove, which may negatively affect the possibility for swing.
  • *Also*, in Australia/India where there is often significant heat, turbulences above the pitch may interrupt or reduce the possibility for swing. James Scobie/Bath Uni conducted an experiment to try to replicate this WACA-esque phenomenon, using a grid to complicate air flow.
  • Wind tunnels are not 30 yards long. They are room-sized bits of kit in which the chamber may be the size of a suitcase, or tea-chest. The ball is fixed in position and air propelled across it to reproduce events. But the science is still valid.
  • Reverse swing is a function of speed and/or deterioration in ball condition.
  • Sandpaper can accelerate or make possible Reverse Swing.
  • Sugary spit can artificially maintain or improve the surface condition of the ball – and therefore promote swing.
  • Both sandpaper and sugary spit are ver-ry naughty.

Important: lots of chat arising about humidity and a perceived contradiction in the Scobie argument regarding the influence of muggy conditions. To be clear, Dr S conducted experiments where humidity was increased incrementally (and measured) in the wind tunnels. These showed clearly, in his view, that humidity specifically – the presence of water in the air – played no role in the production of swing.

Extracts, here, from a further explanation from Dr Scobie.

’humidity in isolation has no effect…

What we are arguing is than in order to cause the ball to swing you need the asymemetry set up by laminar flow on one side of the ball and turbulent flow on the other. If the environment is not conducive to this then swing will not occur’.

Encouragingly and for me more than slightly wonderfully, it is scientific fact (of a sort) that some of this remains… a mystery.

Last Chance Saloon?

Early the morning after, reflecting on another extraordinary night of sport. Savouring again (I AM a Glammy fan, after all) the intensity, the ecstasy and the daft rejuvenating joy of those key moments; Meschede’s knock; Smith’s two-in-two; VDG’s ultimate last-over roar. Wow.

The Crash-Bang Story is clearly that Glamorgan’s season remains alive but my own experience of the day was enriched by conversations with colleagues – Senior Blokes at Cricket Wales.

So respect to Matt Thompson, Kerry Lloyd, Peter Hybart and to Mark Frost, out in the Fun Zone welcoming folks and proferring his cricket storybook. (This for children, this intelligently linked to the CW/Chance to Shine project to embed/develop the link between sport and thought, all proceeds to cricket in Wales). Behind the Glam rollercoaster, there is honest, strategic, generous work.

Meanwhile, here’s how it was; the game – live.

 

Big Few Days coming up, for Glammy. In which a season, a coach maybe, might be saved.

Juicily, we’re against local rivals Gloucestershire, at Sophia Gardens, with conspiratorially muggy skies enhancing that possibility-for-intense-drama thing as we ease towards blast-off.

Glammy are without their recently-imported star Aussies but are emphatically buoyed by yet another great win away at Mighty Southern Softies, Surrey, a handful of days ago. After a prolonged period of disappointment, if not trauma, for Glammy fans, there’s a dangerous wee buzz building as the potential for a successful T20 campaign threatens to emerge.

Tonight, we know, is important: at 3.32 p.m. it’s still not clear if Colin Ingram will play. If the South African leftie-genius doesn’t march out there that would surely be a blow, unless the budding beauties – Donald, Carlson, maybe – sear into the void?

After my customary pitstop at The Plan, I scoot through Bute Park into Sophia Gardens to meet up with Matt Thompson, recently appointed by Cricket Wales to oversee the Player Development Pathway. (Official job title Talent Programme Manager).

Matt is every bit the spookily authoritative, engaging and – despite his preposterous youff – experienced cricket bloke I imagined he would be. I spoke to him for cricketmanwales.com and will post the podcast soonish.

By 6 p.m. a comparatively smallish crowd 3-4,000(?) is in and enjoying the sunshine. The Glam Media Team are hoping and expecting for more following ‘goodish ticket sales’. A win tonight will surely boost attendances for the remaining home fixtures but a defeat, in the context of frankly poor form throughout the County Champs and 50 over season, will inevitably see them remain lowish.

Payne – left arm over, quickish – opens to Donald, who drives him for two off the first ball and then middles the next to point, who gathers. The young welshman then survives two wobbles on consecutive balls as  a beauty beats him playing inside the line then a misjudged effort flies up into his face – off bat, I think – dislodging part of the helmet. Only three off the over.

Higgins follows, for Glos. Donald drives him lustily over mid-off, into the river, for the first boundary and follows that with an angled drive backward of point. Early signs are that the pitch is looking true-ish and placid and that therefore we could see a bundle of runs. After Payne’s second over – the third – Glam are at 20 for 0. Enter Tye – a unit – for the fourth.

People, it’s now a delightful evening and maybe you should be here?

Khawaja finally middles a pull over midwicket for four and Donald betters that with a cover drive for six. Good start now, as Glamorgan reach 37 for 0 off 4.

The night’s first great catch is a crowd catch, as Khawaja drives Payne majestically over mid-off but a yorker/full-toss cleans the Aussie out for the first wicket. 45 for 1; in comes Meschede. It feels like honours are relatively even as Glamorgan rack up 68 for 1 off the first seven… but maybe Glam would have liked one or two more boundaries? This is comfortable rather than explosive and the evening is looking set fair for top, top batting conditions.

Donald tries to invent nine different shots at once and spoons one out to backward point for another disappointing dismissal. He made a goodish-but-also-mixedish 31 – so neither bad nor really influential again. Absolutely right that he opens… but does need to flesh out these promising starts. Enter Carlson, who did so well the other night at the Oval.

At the halfway point Glam are 90 for 2, meaning 200 should be within their compass – but again this feels like a deck where nearly anything might be chaseable. We’ll see.

Carlson contemptuously despatches Noema-Barnett to square leg for six to signal the necessary gearing-up; he backs it up a superb, whipped cut-drive through point before sadly skying one to mid-off. Missed opportunity, you sense; 105 for 3. The incoming Cooke will know he needs to maintain, if not build, the momentum.

Meschede baseball-bats Smith through cow corner for six: come the end of the 14th, he’s onto 49 and Glamorgan are 131 for 3. (Spoiler: he gets his fifty).

Cooke sweeps Smith over backward square for six, drives him out over extra cover for four, then heaves him over midwicket for a further six. Important. The shadows are long and the night still: there is much drama to come.

Cooke is caught at deep midwicket off Howell for 29, in the seventeenth, bringing in the other hero of the Oval, Wagg. He must tee off, immediately. Instead, he falls l.b. to a cute slower ball. Salter must fire. Glamorgan are 159 for 5 off 17. Not enough, for me.

Things are in danger of falling apart, as Salter is caught behind, swinging hard to Payne, who now runs in from the River End. Meschede remains, defiantly swinging that same bowler over long on for another four, bringing his own tally to 63. Glammy surely need 20-something off each of the last two overs to be competitive?

They do get 25 off the last over, from a furiously frustrated Tye. Innings closed on 201 for 6, with Meschede on a creditable 77 and Selman also undefeated on 12. Good score, clearly but from where I’m sitting – looking straight down the strip on a glorious summer’s eve – it simply does not feel enough, against Klinger and co. Is that weird?

Gloucester have been competent rather than brilliant. Glam have been okay. Let’s see where this goes from here…

Hammond and the consistently excellent Klinger will open for Gloucester… and they will attack. Almost the whole of Sophia Gardens is now – at 20.09 p.m. – under deep shadow but as Glos race to 30-something this feels less than relevant. That is, until Hammond skies (and I do mean skies) Hogan to mid-on. After 3, the visitors are 39 for 1, with Hogan looking notably fired up; bowling full, quickly and with a beautifully bounce-inducing high hand. Heard it said that Hogan is a spent force. I like him for his intelligence, consistency and heart.

(Interestingly, we hear in the Media Centre that a Glam fielder has been penalised under the new law on feigning control or possession of the ball. Could be that Salter faked a return to the keeper but honestly not clear on this. The penalty is clear; five runs to the opposition).

In the sixth over, Cockbain exquisitely drives van der Gugten out through extra for arguably the night’s most delicious boundary before fluking an ugly one past the inevitably vacant leg slip area. But Glam respond, dramatically, having that man Klinger caught at long off *and* Cockbain caught behind next ball! Wow. 58 for 3 and game on with knobs on. Change of pace for the 8th as Salter comes in.

He fires in a beauty – ragging the ball for spin – but the edge goes through slip for four. Good little over, mind, encouraging shift in momentum, here. The wicket-taker Smith runs in again from the River End; like Hogan, the fella seems fired-up.

At the halfway, with Gloucestershire County Cricket Club at 76 for 3 and Glammy seemingly in control… I’m delighted and surprised. (Cue the inevitable six, from Hammond).

Wagg’s first ball is a peach, speared in, dismantling the stumps, removing the opener Howell. Such is the nature of things that his third – a perfectly decent, full, straightish delivery – is heaved over midwicket for six. 102 for 4 off 12.

Could be my eyes – long day, already – or my sympathetic nature but Meschede appears to be following the other Glamorgan bowlers by finding an extra yard: another sign that the home side want this.

A moment or two of concern for Wagg, who collects one on the head on his follow-through… and lies prostrate for some time on the pitch. He eventually storms off, having been instructed to leave by attending medical staff, understandably concerned re- a possible concussion. Almost funny but then not.

With five overs remaining, at 129 for 4, Gloucester have a lot to do. They attack van der Gugten, with some success – until Donald pockets Higgins for 37, at long on. This could be close. Crucial over from Hogan upcoming.

Oof. Carlson spills a tough chance out at square leg. Not critical, as Donald promptly takes Noema-Barnett at mid-on. 154 for 6. Jack Taylor biffs the last ball for six. 41 to tie, from 6.

Meschede from underneath me (as it were). Streaky four then dot ball. Awful misjudgement in the deep gifts cruel four. Then powerful drive for four – fifteen off the over. 27 from 2 wins it. The crowd are willing Glammy on, now.

The penultimate over will be Hogan’s. Another delay after Taylor takes a knock. Tense.

Roderick spoons a scoop-effort to backward square. Out. Should settle it but is settle a word we can use, here? No. Taylor hauls a six.

16 required off the last over, which van der Gugten must bowl.

We all leap as he cleans out Taylor with an emphatic yorker! But – there’s gonna be more buts, right? – Tye heaves a six high into the night sky, leaving 9 from 3 required.

Dot ball!

SIX!!

BOWLED!!! NEVER IN DOUBT!!

Stunning, painfully brilliant finish… for all of us. Massive, massive result for Croft, for Glamorgan, for Welsh Cricket. Take me to a dark room or a bar, swiftly, please? Fabulous, crazy, dramatic night.

 

 

 

 

 

In the ether.

Update: questions remain, following this extraordinary, garish, polarising Trauma of the Now. The role of the much-loved Boof may be chief amongst them, even if we accept that his six, soon-to-be-iconic words (“wtf is going on?!?”) are accepted as key to his innocence in the moment of ball-tampering. 

What  I’m wondering is – given the obviousness of Warner as a long-term arse – why no sense that he, at any stage, has been reminded of his responsibilities, reined in, by his coach, fellow players… or anyone else?

Fans have hated Warner (strong word but justified in this extreme case), for aeons. His cheap, unnecessary malevolence has been plain to followers of the game around the world. So in the whorl of emotions and reactions around the powerful conclusions from Sutherland’s enquiries, perhaps it might be wise to reflect some on that ‘environment’ thing? Again, this may bring us back to Boof… and to the Cricket Australia hierarchy more widely.

 

Here’s wot I wrote as the story was breaking…

 

So the world’s exploded into a rage that we really don’t need to add into. But we will anyway… because #sandpapergate.

The thing is hatred is a strong, ugly, unhelpful emotion and it can’t be good that there’s so much of it about: and yes this applies generally but let’s stick to cricket – to the cricket ether. 

Warner. Raw truth is Warner has been hated pretty much across the globe for some years. Ye-es, there is an argument that he is feared by opposition fans because he’s a threat, a player but let’s not be so daft as to think that the hatred is arising solely or even mostly from that; it’s not. It’s stoked by the persistent, cheap, boorish-aggressive behaviour of the player – of Warner. Warner carrying the flag for a country (or maybe just a squad?) who pride themselves on being the toughest.

Davy boy is the attack-dog, the snarling soul, the little big man, leaping and punching hysterically, hatefully sending all-comers off. He is Aussie Toughness personified.

Forgive us our feebleness but some of us don’t think real toughness is the same as Davy’s loudness, as his crassness, as being most-intimidating-in-a-foul way. We reckon the essence of real toughness is often a kind of quiet.

So this Aussie notion of ‘going to war’ and getting into the heads of your opposite numbers through erm, a game of cricket feels pitifully weak, as understandings of toughness go, to us. As a concept it feels weak, indulgently, incriminatingly weak, weak intellectually, morally and in terms of modelling.

Hang on, did I say morally? Haha! Yes! Because however hilarious and pompous these, my concepts are, I’m going to plant a flag round this baybee:

there is always a moral and/or behavioural dimension to sport – particularly at the representative level. It may even define the thing… as sport.

So, no surprises that an evidently persistent – and therefore presumably coached and intentionally ‘confrontational’ approach – has blown up in the faces of the aggressors. Whether this is traceable to a sort of natural justice, righteous sports-karma or simply and only to Bancroft’s exposed intervention is for you honourable sleuths to decide: I’m less interested in the timeline of events than the haul towards progress, here.

Aus cheated and were caught. And hoisted.

Previously, South Africa and their fans have been guilty of ugliness, belligerence, foul sportsmanship. (This may have been the spark but #sandpapergate is, we all agree, inexcusable, irrespective, yes?)

Before these guys… well, again, make your own chart. Kohli may be guilty, Anderson may be guilty, Broad, Atherton, Henry VIII: the video, the betamax, the whisper, the quill records the mortal wrong. Blimey. Where do we go from here?

Maybe we gather our wits. Maybe we penalise Smith, Warner, Bancroft and (after further, prompt enquiries), their coach. Maybe then we have an intelligent review of the strengths and weaknesses of where we’re at, with a view to legislating and/or recalibrating the Preamble to the Laws? Or we scrap them and determine to be contemporary in our judgement.

Said many times I fully accept that the volume of guffawing around the Spirit of Cricket means we have to be ver-ry careful of anything that sounds or feels like historic posturing. Like it or not, the universe will not blithely accept stuff that feels preachy, sanctimonious, archaic. Even if that stuff reflects good.

The Aussies cheating should be the catalyst not for Furious of Fremantle to scream ‘but what about?… but for calm reflections on effective ways forward. In the blur around this one despicable act, there must be a way to account for or prepare a response to (for example) Warner and Rabada’s ill-discipline – to cultural over-zealousness, to the prevailing macho-mania.

It could be of course, that the necessary weaponry is in place. That umpires and match referees, never mind the ICC or individual national authorities can sort this. Let’s hope that in the inevitable charge towards Decisive Action, we don’t fall into the trap of demanding consistency, when the situations demand intelligent, individual appreciation. (I say this in the knowledge that high profile former players and pundits alike will bawl out for that comforting c-word – naively, in my view).

This won’t be easy. We’ve heard too many braying about the stifling of characters in the game or ‘sanitising’ the great confrontations for this to be straightforward. But anyone with more than a handful of braincells must surely see that a) plain cheating is wrong and b) bitterness and x-rated conflict are not essential to the drama of great sport. Yes that sense that feelings are running high can be exhiliratingly present… but no, no, NO, this is not the object, the pretext for indulgence.

There is tellingly little sympathy around, for Smith, Warner and Bancroft. Even on their home patch, apparently. Whatever happens next – and there will be somebody, somewhere, right? – this is one of the great, self-inflicted booboos in modern sport. Outsiders view it as the biter bit, par excellence, relishing the fall of these particularly prickly protagonists.

We need to convert this relish over to energetic renewal. If Australia at large really is mortified, then the onus may be on them to start the ball rolling on the cultural education front. But when the immediate concern is for #sandpapergate, will Cricket Australia be bold or generous enough to make the link between broad (but weedy, but spiteful) confrontationalism and hollowed-out sport? I hope so.

 

What do we call this?

Okay. Maybe you’re centre-midfield on a parks pitch in North Lincolnshire and it’s down to you. This. The ball plummeting towards, their grizzly number six feeling for your presence, aware you’re the one who can head. You’re gonna not so much head as clear out the universe, power through, make the most intimidating statement ever made in sport.

This only works if you bawl something as you leap; something kinda specific. Something like ‘RICKY’S UP!’ – which may on the page sound cheesy but in the moment, no. The two syllables of the name project, control, make real the intervention in a way that RICK just couldn’t. It would be ricdiculous. The words, the sound, the something… decide.

Everybody who knows footie – knows sport – understands this. The words in the event are massive. What you call yourself, what you get called, how you’re spoken of , is critical. Not possible to be bona fide without (weirdly, mainly) two syllables.

Of course this is why we get Gazzas and Glendas and (don’t worry I’m coming to cricket now) Rootys, Cookies, Jimmys. Cobblers to any other cultural-sociological considerations, it’s about what naturally fits, then. So I can be as Rick as I want but if I plant the ball majestically wide of cover’s left hand somebody on the boundary’s going to mutter ‘shot, Ricky!’ If the England number three does that beautiful unfurling thing through extra-cover, Farbrace is going to rumble ‘played, Vincey!’ as he’s stirred to his feet.

How else, though, is the gorgeous-but-infuriating Hants bat spoken to, or of?

When he strides back to pavilion, eyes down, caught at slip, what else could it be from Bayliss but ‘what the **** was that, Vincey?’

Actually it could be lots of things. It could be silence, for one. Bayliss may choose a later opportunity, maybe to ask a wiser, more searching question. Like ‘where do you think we are with the dismissals, Vincey*? In terms of pattern?’ And then they together choose what to work on.

*Could be of course that in the real world moment there’s another nickname. Not in there – don’t know. I’m betting it’s two syllables, mind. Vince is worth talking about; with yaknow, words.

Clearly there’s a lot of chat around all those starts, all those frustrating, demoralising finishes. (Sometimes I wonder if they’re worse for us poor buggers watching than for him!) Plus a rich vein of psycho-gubbins around personality, freedom, responsibility and yes, that coaching framework. There’s a documentary series, never mind a blog around What, Exactly, Vincey Should Do: for now, I’ll stick with the former.

Some are fascinatingly clear that what they deem a ‘failure to learn’ simply disqualifies him already; however he might purr, this cat ain’t suitable for Test Cricket. Others argue that the problem isn’t so much centred on poor choices as kindof disproportionately fiercely-punished non or near-execution. Failing to execute shots he very often plays. Outside off-stump. Imperiously.

From memory I think I’ve only seen one media name blame technical issues for Vince’s predicament. Chiefly he’s getting slaughtered for going there at all, given we’re under, or about to be pitifully legs and arms akimbo under the cosh. There may actually be something comical about the level and intensity of verbals aimed at the rather serene-looking strokemaker but head-in-talons at the unbe-leeee-vably serial transgression across the Don’t Play Eet Less Ya’ve To Principle, us nighthawks – Yorkie nighthawks? – have typically stooped full-tilt into raging fury. Perspective? Proportion? Intelligent Investment? Na.

Here’s a thing, though. Plenty of us have woken the dog – quite possibly immediately before the offending nick of the wide-ish one behind – with a snortaciously approving ‘Yesss, Vincey’ as the ball raced to the off-side fence. We’ve muttered something about ‘class’ – and I don’t mean his private schooling in medium-luxurious Wiltshire. Thus many a dark, dark December night has felt defined (or possibly caricatured?) by the cruel see-sawing between expressive pomp and dumb, tribal humiliation.

Incidentally, I wonder how many of us have marked a beautifully squeezed J.V. drive with a follow-up aimed (in increasing order of spitefulness) at Starc(k)y, Smithy or War-ner? And is there something else about doubling up – going bi? Bitterness? Bile? Emphasis? Certainty?

See, I am more sure of my two syllable hypothesis than any of the Vince cricket-things. He’s a fabulously gifted player – milky, honeyed, rich, pure. And yet we wonder either if no-one’s home, if nothing’s been said or if our fears about the empowerment of players through (ahem) *personal discovery* have in his case reached an epic high, or low?

Freedom for learning is a gift and a blessing. It’s also very much at the forefront of contemporary coaching philosophies. They change. The need to decide stuff arguably doesn’t.

Vincey, come out and tell us: what’s been said?

 

 

Whites’ Mischief.

Our relationship with Australia and its inhabitants is extraordinary. Put simply, we can’t stand each other. We think they’re boorish and dumb (but noisy): they think we’re stuck-up and feeble. But who are these ‘we’s’ and ‘they’s?’
Hang on. I’m simply not the man for an epic deconstruction of this stuff. Partly because I suspect a three year research project into What Gives With Ashesness could only come up with with the same conclusions as my own hunches; partly because I get that it’s only Level 2 serious – where Level 7 is outright racism and Level 12 is war. So my general, sub-considered view would be let’s flick the vees at each other and crack on.
However, in passing, let’s also agree that the English (as seen by the Aussies – and please note this maybe really doesn’t include all The Brits) are Middle Class (or worse), pretentious, privileged, moneyed, ‘Imperial’. People you want to put in their place, rob, subvert, expose, humiliate, exact your own justice upon. (Note that historical issues unquestionably play a role here, in a frozen-in-chip-fat kindofaway).
I reckon there’s marginally less bile going in the other direction but maybe the sense that there’s something essentially superior about the dismissal of the Aussies by the English is telling. Like they’re the shepherd at the door, reporting a problem with the ewes but we don’t want to hear just now, thank you – dinner is served. In our heads they’re still rural underlings.
At the full, twisted and/or comedic extent of this we can pull out the criminal thing: The Banished. But is this really part of our framing now, or do we just revisit this for the larfs? As in Brian Moore and his SD’s wind-up? (Shackle Draggers, if you’ve missed that). Personally, now, I’m thinking the origins of (white) Australia barely register in the gathering of factors… but I may be wrong.
Incontrovertibly, though, there is feeling around this. The relationship is not so much loaded or complicated as part-sunk, with strangely, disturbingly animated baggage. England v Aus at anything has become charged but the cricket is something else.
There is proper history there. Facts and everything but mainly rivalry and dislike and increasingly, hype. A dash of romance, lorryloads of mischief, some outstanding sport and every now and then some real sportsmanship. But – and here’s my concern – the matrix in which the Ashes are enacted is (wouldn’t you say, currently?) more weighted with bitterness than any healthy game should be. Begging the questions, in 2017, post everything from Bodyline to Ball Of the Century to Buttgate, where do we go with this and how do we forensically isolate sociological import from banter, from That Which Transgresses?
I don’t think we can.
Jimmy Anderson has written in The Telegraph. He says (effectively) that the Aussies don’t say much when they’re scrambling but they like to bully folks when they get on top. They won’t like that but there may be some truth there.
Interestingly and probably controversially, Anderson says he asked the umpires in Brisbane about levels of intimidatory bowling against the England tailenders: something he knows will stoke the fires in more ways than one.
He also talks of how the current crop of Brits are quietish by nature and how they agreed, given that prospensity, to let their cricket do the talking. Clearly now, they have to turn that volume up.
Anderson is no angel. He’s clever and toughish and coolish and (I think) not that easy to like. The absurd thought strikes me that it will take bigger, better blokes than him (and David Warner, and Steve Smith, probably) to break the log-jam of spitefulness characterising much of what we see, hear, read.
If anything can sort this – and my expectation could only be that this might be temporary, until the next provocation, or ‘incident’ – it will be proper, unashamed, natural big-heartedness, a quality that may be lurking behind the bravado in certain cases but which has lately been reigned in (or ‘whipped’) for the appearance of team machismo.
Shame. Shame when Warner and Lyon talk utter, provocative horse-s**t and then *maybe* have reason to think that it’s worked. Shame when any professional in the media – on either side – toes that particularly grubby party line.
It feels impossible to appear unbiased in this so forgive me if I unleash one or two more contentious ‘views’; take them as seriously as you like. The central one being that the Australians, regrettably, are worse at this unravelling of the opposition. (Yes, more guilty than England are – guilty is the word I would use). They have made a kind of weirdly heightened machismo a badge of honour, a weapon, a pre-requisite almost, for Proper Aussieness. This idolises, breeds and infers violence. As a notion this is so plainly pitifully neanderthal, it’s a huge shame that it’s been notably successful.
Aus have made a virtue (hah!) of going beyond mischief – I, like most of us have no issue with mischief – to a place where they hope the opposition will break down under their assault. This is the plan.
The association they make between realness – real, successful Aussieness – and winning Big and Nasty is both juvenile and ugly. Mitchell Starc’s forced confrontationality, post-delivery. The endless chirp – wot Lyon and Warner sed. Smith’s ludicrous badge-kissing and slightly faux hysterics in the Buttgate interview. The Team Mentality. A psychologist really would have a field day – and surely words like ‘insecurities’ might crop up in their notes. Surely?
But I would say this cos I’m a Brit, right? Maybe.
I am a Brit and a cricket man – a sportsman. I don’t buy the argument that tolerances are different at the top level (which I never played). I don’t buy the idea that we’re simply not getting the (Aussie) joke, here, that we just need to chill on out and there will be handshakes at the end. Cobblers. There is too much that is unnecessary, too much that is anti-sport, that we can’t claim back or re-coup.
David Warner may not need to care how he is regarded over thissaway but many actively dislike him for his bullishness, his place at the forefront of Australian aggression. We view his claims to have ‘matured’ with some contempt. Really good player, total arse; still. That will always be part of his legacy.
Warner has role-played his way through a very successful career, opting to push his luck a bit in regard to his relations with the opposition. Almost certainly, he’s either been directly encouraged to be a pain-in-the-arse or the Team Mentality has supported that idea that maybe that would be good. I guess I’m saying that this is in no way good. It’s unnecessary and ugly and mean-spirited.
There are the laws and there are things undrawable, abstruse, beyond legislation. We all know, though, where the lines of fairness and decency are; know too, where understandably adrenalin-infused mischief veers off into distraction, anti-sport, intimidation. The game needs the players to manage some of this.

Resting, before acting.

I’m not much of an actor but I have been resting; between performances, or bundles of performances.

Pretentious? Moi? Well, that’s kindof what our sessions in schools are; more-or-less theatrical projections or expressions of strategy, policy, faith in our sport. And I have been waiting for the next launch, the next tour of our Community Cricket show to begin, so it’s felt like a rather welcome lay-off as well as a time to gather, before going again.

As I guess there must be for the average thesp, so there’s a weirdly seductive tension around my own downtime. Part of this arises from the fever going on in the background, as a discreet fury of discussion over strategy rises or rages to its conclusions. It feels as threatening as it does exciting. It feels big.

I mean of course the ECB/Chance to Shine/All Stars/Player Pathway stuff that has occupied the lives of most Cricket Development people over the last two years or more. The Seminally (Semenally?) Sexy Questions about how cricket needs to be, to be bubble-burstingly present for the next generation.

Hard to imagine? The sweeptastic revolutions on the pitch being mirrored by off-the-fullest-run-imaginable stylee pow-wows for admin staff and cricket people at all levels?

It’s been happening. It’s been spicy – and probably, I’m guessing still is – but given the preciousness of the raw material and the (honestly!) radical nature of some of the ECB proposals, no surprises that opinions might veer towards the antagonistic.

I’m at arms length from most of this, admittedly, being Coach rather than Development Officer. But I’m close enough to know that massive calls are being or have been made on everything from player pathways to All Stars to Coach Education. Big Stuff around the recreational game. Big Stuff around re-inforcing the rationale and execution of All Stars. Big Investments in change; a) because the belief is change is right and b) because the confident expectation is that there will be money. All this llus arguably Even Bigger Stuff in relation to the professional game, which I will all but ignore, here.

Year 2 All Stars is almost upon us. If you’re not clear what this is or means, here’s a view, or review, of some of the whats and whys.

All Stars Cricket is the ECB headline project for young children, begun this year, enacted through clubs. For 5-8 year-olds, very much aimed at boys and girls, very often via their mums, after shedloads of research showed this was the way to attract new families into the cricket universe.

All Stars is bold and welcoming and new: it represents a break away and forward (arguably – your choice) because Matt Dwyer, the Australian guru/driver/leader-in-possession of The Rationale has a) done this successfully before (in Aus) and b) believes only this level of ambition and dynamism can keep pace with or make sense with the kaleidoscope of change around the pro game. All Stars is defiantly in your face: not just an extraordinary investment but also a considered (and therefore philosophical) commitment to breaking out from the narrow heartland of the status quo towards something simply but strikingly more popular.

I have no doubt that there are one or two key words in that last paragraph that put the beejeeebers up some good cricket folks. But there’s no going back on this. All Stars is populist, yet the powers that be (or enough of them to back it, ultimately) plainly view it as essential to delivering new blood, new impetus. Resources are flowing that way again.

However, Roadshows to support the project and answer questions were delayed: I can’t honestly tell you whether this was due to alarm bells ringing or logistical stuff re kit or accessories or what. I can tell you that in a striking departure for us Community Coaches, our work in schools (as of any minute now) will be aimed primarily at a kind of parallel All Stars course, heavily linked to the general Primary curriculum and that we will be coaching the younger age-groups – Years 1 &  2. This is significant.

In previous years, the objective was more about enthusing 7-11 year-olds for the game and ‘signposting’ them into clubs ready to receive and support a new Under 11 side. The switch of focus to All Stars at 5-8 was initially to gather a new audience earlier, compete earlier with other sports and plant the cricket flag more visibly into school playgrounds: Dwyer (not entirely wisely, in my view) openly talks about ‘winning the battle of the playgrounds’.

All Stars has always been more sophisticated than might appear at first glance – probably as a result of the huge lump of research that preceded it. Year 2 will build on this by being ver-ry savvy in relation to what Dwyer & co. have understood to be the aspirations of the broader curriculum. In other words, the crossovers between mere cricket and all manner of learning skills (over and above the obvious developments in physical literacy) are being strongly emphasised.

Cynics might fear this is driven by box-ticking rather than the joy or brilliance or undeniable value of ‘games’ in itself: it certainly appears to cosy up to contemporary notions of what’s good educationally, as opposed to what makes wonderful and enriching sport. The All Stars proponents – and I am largely though not uncritically in this camp – would say that the project can deliver Big on the physical and the educational side.

You may not believe me when I tell you that I/we Community Coaches probably do need a rest between tours: I think we do. I know I’m pouring most of the bestest, truest, most generous-personal energy I can muster into trying to light up kids (mainly) through cricket-based games. Honestly, at the end – not during, not for me anyway – you do find the battery has run a tad flat.

Right now, then, I’m waiting, before doing some re-training or further training specific to the All Stars delivery. Then I’m on it.

In fact I may start with some work with Secondary School Girls, as we’ve run a really successful Lady Taverners competition here in Pembs, for some years. If logistics allow – and there can be issues around travelling for matches or clashes with other sports – all eight of our Secondary Schools try to enter teams. I try to get round the schools to lead some sessions and encourage, as well as attending the matches themselves.

Always sounds a bit corny when some bloke says something like ‘I really do want to make girls feel like they can and should be playing cricket’ but… that’s the way I feel. Indoor, festival-type cricket can be a great way in.

Two new teams were set up last season in the Pembs Ladies League. Having led pre-2017 season training sessions, I was struck by the proper keenness and quality and pride (actually) amongst the cricketing women. I am really hopeful and optimistic that more girls will step up as the opportunities feel more real – and as the role-models become yet more visible. In all the turmoil and change, the profound development of women and girls’ cricket will surely be a constant; undeniable and undeniably good?

Over to you, Sarah Taylor, Nat Sciver…

 

 

Coaching: a fabulous crisis.

We can’t pretend nothing’s changed; everything’s changed. McCullum plays baseball cum tennis, with hands eight feet apart, off a wide, elasticated base. Pietersen says ‘kiss the ball’ – it’s all about head – and forget (or trust?) your feet. Nye Donald (a fair symbol for the next, irresistible generation?) has high, twitchy hands, intent on pulls and slaps – and he’s opening. The old certainties are buried.

Or are they?

All of us coaches at all of our levels are scrambling across the fallen masonry. It’s the age of the positive, the pre-emptive counter-attack, the bomb squad. Levels of change, development or challenge have become become so-o tectonically shifted it’s become unthinkable to deal in classical batting… or has it?

A series of Sky Sports Masterclasses have felt central to the annihilation of all we knew; or maybe they’ve simply enacted the moment of kerrplunk. Hussein and Key and Vaughan and Warne; McCullum and Pietersen most memorably perhaps; bawling, often brilliantly, from the war-zone.

We can revel in, learn from or capitulate to this fabulous carnage but whether we work with elite players, juniors or clubbies we have to find a way to move forward through it.

How then, in what feels like a period of peak anarchy, can we generalise or theorise or point to ways that work? When the kiwi great has made a nonsense of a hundred years of good practice? When the South African-English-South African grenades the notions around footwork being key? Is there a coach, in fact, when there are no wisdoms left unravelled? Or what is now sayable, deliverable or true, that the artist previously known as Coach might deal in?

For years there’s been a drift away from the instructional, or that which might be demonstrated by the coach. (And yes, I guess I am talking about batting, largely, here). The much-maligned ECB Coach Education programme, which I am happy to report has seemed somewhere between useful and really good, to me, has moved on dramatically and with some intelligence.

The essential ECB shift towards ‘core principles’ – i.e. allowing batters/players to find a way that works after offering areas of consideration – is bold, positive, liberating, generous. It challenges the coach to ask brilliant, helpful questions rather than regurgitate conditioned ‘knowledge’. It implicitly understands there are revolutions going on and that the genius of individual expression trumps all… or can.

Frankly I’m not in a position to know if things have very recently been further moderated towards freer interpretations of what batters should do – my most recent series of ECB Workshops being undertaken a couple of years ago. I don’t doubt, despite widespread assumptions to the contrary, that the enlightenment (if that’s what it is) continues.

There are naturally a zillion views on the move towards sound but negotiable concepts – cricket coaches being a fascinatingly opinionated bunch. Many have been bolshy about the perceived drift away from expert, cricket-specific coaching and towards what we might call generic skills moderation. Others see that casting off of the coach’s ego and his or her need to directly instruct as a seminal step towards the holy grail of enabling the player to understand, to learn, to own the development. There is much talk of empowerment. 

But let’s get to those masterclasses. Not that they’re the sole agents of change here but they do represent something of the crazy, immediate, polemical, possibility-heavy now. I’m going to look briefly at McCullum’s and KP’s.

The New Zealand skipper, Ar Brendon, is loved and respected for his freewheeling boldness. He is Everybody’s Brendon – SooperMac, never mind BMac. He’s (almost literally, given that scything swing of the bat) put all-comers to the sword, most notably the Aussies in that barely believable, record-breaking century in Christchurch in 2016. McCullum brought some of that fearless twinkle to the Sky Sports studio for the masterclass included below.

http://www.skysports.com/cricket/news/12345/10941493/brendon-mccullum-in-the-zone-for-batting-masterclass-at-lords

The Christchurch innings was the embodiment of the shock of the new. It was brash to the point of lurid, it was dancing on graves; maybe it underlined some profound stuff about the age of instagram and fake news, who knows? I’m still reeling. However we view it – and I do know people who see it as some kind of sacrilege – it mattered.

In the masterclass McCullum shows us and talks about his stance, his grip, his set-up. His hands are crazily far apart, with his apparently emphatically dominant right obscenely ready to hoik to leg. His feet are wide, legs bouncy and bent. He looks like a wild child ready to spring and slap. The whole smacks of latent, instinctive action – an unleashing. Grown-up, traditional, straight-batted cricket seems unthinkable from here. He is re-inventing the game.

McCullum does nothing in these few minutes on Sky Sports to diminish our love for his openness, sportiness, generosity of spirit. How wonderful that in trampling the textbooks, his radicalism seems utterly predicated on a kind of glorious old-school honour; Brendon being game.

Pietersen, of course, is different – and he posits a different technical challenge to coaches. Firstly (and generally) it is noticeable that KP, unsurprisingly, is preachier here, more didactic than McCullum. This may be because he feels more wronged, more traduced(?) KP shows us The Model, or possibly A Model, in a way the New Zealander doesn’t.

This model is based on head position – almost to the exclusion of other considerations. It’s implied that feet, for example, don’t matter because they will follow naturally, given assumptions around athleticism, balance, flow. If the head goes to the ball, the striking should be good and consistent and powerful. Just kiss the ball.

Many of us will relish the simplicity here – one of the great pitfalls of coaching surely being that thing where you give the player forty-two things to think about instead of two. Possibly because there are other coaches within earshot; other better-qualified coaches, so the urge to let rip with everything you’ve ever heard anyone good say about issue z proves irresistible. (I know this happens: have seen it, done it.)

KP has something fascinatingly clear and pure around which his processes crystallise. This is arguably to be envied; whether it is to be followed will depend on the coach… and the individual being coached.

http://www.skysports.com/cricket/news/12123/10965314/watch-kevin-pietersens-batting-masterclass-from-the-oval-on-saturday

The views of KP & McCullum, together with the other contributors on Sky are of course hugely welcome contributions but they do both enrich and un-pick our coaching almanac. The social media world, likewise pours opinion into the flux. So, where are we?

I’ve asked some leading coaches to comment on where coaching is at, following on from all this traumatic/brilliant/befuddling/game-changing stuff. And I’d like to throw this open to all.

Coaches, friends, players: why not stick something in the comments here about what gets you going… or what you’d like to torch?

The questions are merely a way into this: I don’t claim they’re the smartest or most important; I just thought they’d get coaches fairly promptly into the mix of philosophical and technical worlds thrown against each other through (for example) the Sky Masterclasses. Please do have your say on these or anything else about how coaches respond. 

MAYBE SUGGEST THE QUESTIONS US COACHES MOST URGENTLY NEED TO ASK OURSELVES(?)

1. Given the radical approach of someone like Brendon McCullum – crazy grip, wide, bouncy, pro-active stance – what do we coaches do with a player who can make the unorthodox work ?

Encourage him or her? Talk about potential flaws? What?

2. Is it still ‘our place’ to mainly guide players towards traditional skills and movements? Straight bats/still heads etc. Or how/when do we intervene?

3. KP talks in his masterclass about ‘kissing the ball’ – meaning his key focus is getting head to the ball – almost to the point of forgetting or not worrying about feet. Presumably the assumption is they will take care of themselves. How do you feel about this?

4. McCullum talks about his hands being quite far apart on the bat and demonstrates a set-up that simply doesn’t fit with traditional, straight-batted cricket. But clearly he has lit up all formats in recent years, with his freewheeling, sporty approach. Does this raise any issues with you?

5. Finally, is there anything you think we need to add in or take out of our ‘textbooks’, our overall view of what constitutes good batting practice – or is there simply no single way to go now, in the light of contemporary, revolutionary changes?

 

Go on. Stick your oar in.