Spinning Murali

The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, is in the middle of an election campaign at the moment and I have just stumbled across a bloody good piece from Mike Ticher at The Guardian. Howard is a raging cricket fan and, like any dirty politician, attempts to misuse it to his advantage. Man of the people, and all that, when he quite clearly isn’t.

Howard’s application of clunky cricket analogies to politics is as elegant as his bowling action. In the last election he claimed at one point his Liberal Party was “three for about 268 [in the campaign] but the right-hand opener is still there.” This time it needs several hundred to avoid the follow-on, and is wishing it had dropped the right-hand opener before the series started.

Superb. But it gets better. Who’s coming to town? That’s right! Muttiah Muralitharan.

Murali has two Tests before the election in which to snare the nine wickets he needs to overhaul Shane Warne as the leading Test wicket-taker. Howard has form. The last time Sri Lanka visited, in 2004, he was instrumental in Murali’s refusal to tour, when he branded the spinner a chucker with the words: “They proved it in Perth too, with that thing.” That thing, to be more technical, was the biomechanics test that showed Murali straightened his arm to an extent that was then illegal when bowling the doosra.

Howard might have to bend the truth by only about, say, 14 degrees, to whip up a wave of anti-Murali sentiment. It is an edgy time. The visitors have already had anxious meetings about likely crowd reactions, and plain-clothes police are to be deployed inconspicuously (presumably dressed in body paint and watermelon helmets) to weed out the kind of troublemakers who have targeted Murali in the past.

If Howard could only harness that sentiment, then hold up Warne as the iconic national figure who represents everything good about Australia . . . no, you’re right, he’s a goner.

A cracking read.

Cullen Bailey: frog in a blender

Have a look at this photo Cullen Bailey, the South Australia leggie.

Cullen Bailey

Awful action. Part of the problem is the angle with which the photo has been taken…but nevertheless, where is he actually looking? Australia’s frog-in-a-blender

Kashmir willow

Nice shot of a bat being made from Kashmir willow

Kashmir willow


Lloyd: ‘We became thoughtless’

Lloyd in his pomp

West Indies are in a period of transition. They have been for a decade and will be for at least another ten years. Clive Lloyd, in his biography, insists that a restoration to work ethic is instrumental to their fortunes if they are to rise again. Extract stolen from The Times.

After Packer and World Series Cricket, Clive Lloyd returned to captain the West Indies in 1979. From that time until his retirement, the team were beaten in only three of the 47 Test matches in which they played, a loss rate of 6.4 per cent. In the next six years, when Vivian Richards was captain, that figure rose to 18.9 per cent, and under successive captains it has risen and risen till the wins and losses are almost a mirror image of what they were in Clive’s years.

“The greatest reason for the decline of West Indian cricket is that we became thoughtless,” says Clive. “Too many people assumed that we had a right to go on being great for ever. It was as if they believed that West Indians would always produce great cricket in the way that France is famed for its fine wine – a never-ending national institution. But life has changed for people in the West Indies, cricket has changed in the rest of the world, and we failed to appreciate those changes.

“To put it simply, the West Indies have lost for so long because there are not enough great players. That’s obvious. But great players don’t just turn up, they have to be shaped. What very few people seem to realise is that the Test team I had in 1975-76 was really no different from the one that there is today in terms of its potential. Fidel Edwards and Daren Powell can both bowl at 90 miles per hour. [Shivnarine] Chanderpaul and [Ramnaresh] Sarwan are both world-class batsmen.

Our cricketers are free-flowing men. Early on, Viv Richards was a free-flowing guy, he got forties and never made big scores. But you knew once he had harnessed his talent and got the mental side of his game right, then he was going to be a class player. Gordon Greenidge took some time to get going, same with Michael Holding. All those guys came in and worked at their game.

“The great West Indies sides were shaped, just as this one could be. The problems we are having now are the consequence of a decade of letting the fruit wither on the vine. There have been big cultural changes in the West Indies. The regional cricket competition is not what it was. Our cricketers no longer play county cricket. The board has not used its authority wisely. The players’ expectations, what they want from the game, what they want from life, have changed.

Above all, we neglected to plan for the future.

“When people speak about the demise of West Indian cricket, the influence of America is never very far from their lips. I disagree. I think the real sporting distraction has not come from basketball or the other American sports, but from football. It’s true that in some of the islands, the first thing that a politician does is put up a basketball court; it’s much smaller and cheaper than a cricket ground, but I don’t believe that a lot of kids go on to play professionally.”

In the summer of 2007, Garry Sobers was in England and told an audience about the problems facing cricket in the Caribbean: “If someone said to me that soccer is the reason for West Indian cricket falling so low, I might think about it. But the real problem, and it is a problem for sport around the world, is television.”

Lloyd in his pomp

Sir Garry mentioned his own boys, both fine sports players, whom he believed had suffered because of the distractions of modern life. “When they got home from school they would not go outside and play, they would sit in front of a video. That’s your real culprit. Kids do not organise games of cricket by themselves, playing outside morning, noon and night. Today, if it is not organised, nobody leaves home. They wait for you to pick them up, take them to the ground, give them the best cricket attire. The natural flow of the game has gone.”

“It’s true that kids have many more things to do with their time,” says Clive. “If you want to improve at your sport, you have to be dedicated, do little else, train hard and that’s less likely to happen when there are so many distractions. And if they have a job that pays a decent wage, they’ll be saying, ‘Why the hell should I go through all this?’ In my time there wasn’t much to do. Now you can fill your day doing all sorts. You can watch DVDs all day long if you want. That is why it is so important to catch them early. We must inculcate the right things in these children before they go down the wrong lane. We must get the structure to life there early enough.

“The main thing is to get the talent, get the people who can impart the knowledge and bring the players to fruition. I know it is an uphill task, but cricket is so important to people in the West Indies; it’s one of the main ingredients of the glue that keeps us together.”

He pauses for a moment. “I think about today’s players and my overwhelming emotion towards them is not anger that they have been unsuccessful but concern,” he says. “We did so well that everybody expects the West Indies teams to be like those of the 1970s and 1980s, but it cannot happen without hard work, attention to detail and respect for the game.

“These players have been burdened with what the West Indies have done in the past and I think that’s probably wrong. This is a new era, it’s their time and it’s up to them to go out and show people what they’re capable of. A lot of people are backing them to do well, including myself.”

Supercat: Clive Lloyd’s biography

Photo of the front cover of Supercat, Clive Lloyd's biography

Supercat: the authorised biography of Clive Lloyd

I remember bumping into Simon Lister, friend of the blog and all-round good egg, at Lord’s the summer before last. He told me he was writing Clive Lloyd’s biography…and it’s finally rolled off the printers (buy).

Supercat is its appropriate title and, although the old mantra rings loud in my ears, I do love the front cover. Here’s a short synopsis:

The book draws on candid and intimate conversations with Clive Lloyd, as well as interviews with many of the great names of West Indian and world cricket.

Clive talks about growing up in the Caribbean, about slavery and race, about coming to England to play for Lancashire, about captaincy, about the changes he has witnessed in the game and about the present state of West Indian cricket. He has much to say, and it is always thoughtful and authoritative.

Yours for a tenner.

Bodyline: 75th anniversary

This winter marks the 75th anniversary of Bodyline and my boss, Martin Williamson, has single handedly documented the entire thing. It is a task which ought to take about a month, or more, but somehow (and at a b**** of a time for him) he has squeezed it into seven days. It’s worthy of your immediate attention and really we ought to run a press release about it, but…there you go.

So, go and delve. There’s a history, a dummy’s guide; a timeline and diary and a whole load of photos.

There’s enough there to keep you occupied for hours. It goes without saying that no site or newspaper has covered the history of Bodyline this deeply or broadly, so it should be instantly bookmarked.

Congratulations Martin.

Video of Shahid Afridi’s 32 from 18

One in four people coming to this blog do so to find Shahid Afridi information. What makes this all the more unsettling is that I hardly ever mention the big winner but, to satisfy those of you who hunger for his news, here’s a video:

A champion winner if ever there was one.

Atherton moves to The Times

Mike Atherton has been announced as The Times’ chief cricket correspondent, replacing Christopher Martin-Jenkins. Atherton is the foremost player-turned-writer and, at 39, quite young to hold such a prestigious post.

He’s by some distance my favourite writer, as he marries a deep knowledge of the game during his time as a player with the detachment required to write about it. The Times is also my favourite paper, so now there’s no reason to waste any more money on The Telegraph.

The longest spat

I keep meaning to praise Ian Botham and Ian Chappell’s continued spat which reared its cheerful head the other day. Botham attacked Chappell in his book; Chappell heard about it and responded to a local radio station. And loop. I’m going to steal the quotes from Rob Steen’s blog as I’m too lazy to find them elsewhere (thanks Rob):

The way Mallett tells it, when the two Ians, by now fellow commentators, were interviewed on Channel 9 in Australia a decade or two later, “the bad blood between them was obvious”. Recalled Chappell: “At the end of it, I’ll never forget, Ray [Martin] said to Botham, ‘Oh well, you’ll still have a drink at the end of a day’s play.’

“And Botham said, ‘Yeah, that’s cricket, mate. You sit down and have a beer, or wine.’

“Ray turned to me and said, ‘You’ll be having a drink with him after the commentary is over?’

“I said, ‘No, Ray. I can find plenty of decent people to have a drink with. I won’t be drinking with him.”

Storm in a dusty old teacup? Much ado about nowt? Sure, it’s a pity two such admirable cricketers continue to lower themselves by perpetuating something that should have been forgiven and forgotten long ago. On the other hand, this is a grave time in our planet’s history. An age where, courtesy of the expansion of the media, the ability of gossip to spread at the speed of light and the evolution of litigation, the number of durable and entertaining feuds feels perilously close to an all-time low. (Oh my Oasis and my Blur of not all that long ago.) The giggles, therefore, are not unwelcome.

Quite so, and long may they feud.