IF THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN, THEN I’M NAPOLEON
You can scarcely go to a rugby match these days without watching some disorientated participant being ordered off for a head assessment test, and it may be time for cricket to stiffen up its own rules and regulations in this highly topical area. Especially when it comes to one-day internationals.
When it comes to spotting that all may not be well upstairs, the England Rugby website’s advice to referees, coaches, trainers, teachers and the like, includes “not knowing the score”, “general confusion”, and a “blank stare/glassy eyed, the light bulbs are out, nobody’s there”. All of which regularly apply to that blankly staring, glassy-eyed individual known as an ODI bowler.
The test should be every bit as strict as it is now in rugby union. Ergo, Bloggs runs in to bowl a perfectly decent ball to the opposition No.10, who clubs it straight back over his head, over the pavilion, over the roof, and into the rush hour traffic.
Back goes the bowler, sends down another perfectly decent ball, and this time the top edge clears the keeper by 20 yards, and ends up, amidst raucous cheers, being caught one-handed by a beer-sizzled, multi-tattooed, baretorsoed oik, just in front of a banner reading: “Nottingham Forest Rule OK.”
At this point, the umpire should be statutorily obliged to approach the bowler (who by this time is on his knees in mid pitch foaming at the mouth and making incoherent gibbering noises) look him squarely in the eye, and say: “Now then son. I want you to tell me where you are, and what your name is.”
And if the reply comes back somewhere along the lines of: “I am feeding the ducks in Regents Park, and my name is Napoleon Bonaparte,” it should be obligatory to refer him to the medical boffins for a more expert analysis.
In most instances, a few games off would be enough to get the patient back to normal again, although in those cases where long-term damage is suspected, more drastic treatment may be required. A fortnight spent watching old videos of Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram bowling inswinging yorkers to tail enders, perhaps, where any No.10 contemplating remaining in front of the stumps, never mind launching a six over the pavilion, was in serious danger of ending up with a set of toes so badly swollen, that, with a smattering of Dijon mustard, and plonked between two bread rolls, they could easily be mistaken for a plate of hot dogs.
As England’s recent ODI series against India has confirmed, there has never, in the history of the short-game format, been a greater imbalance between bat and ball. It’s getting to the point where, in the not-too-distant future, the losing captain will (once he’s made the obligatory reference to “taking away the positives” of course) proffer the following explanation at the post-match press conference: “Well, our bowlers did a pretty good job in trying to defend 400, but I always felt we were maybe 30 runs light.”
The 50-over game is virtually unrecognisable now from what it was in 1987, when a certain DR Pringle of this parish recorded the-then worst-ever analysis from an England bowler in this format, 10-0-83-0 against the West Indies in a World Cup game. Turn in those sort of figures now, and Del would have left the field to a standing ovation.
For some of us, the absence of any serious legislation on modern bats is almost as big a mystery as the Marie Celeste, or Shergar. There must be enough wood in one of these things to knock up a new Barratt Housing estate, and yet they pick up like a conductor’s wand. Any old Tom, Dick and Harry can swing away in the knowledge that a top edge is more likely to bring down a low flying aircraft than get them out, whereas in Del’s day, it would have resulted in a gentle plopped catch.
Some years before Pringle, the hard-hitting Leicestershire batsman Brian Davison gave me one of his spare Duncan Fearnley three pounders, which I immediately christened in my next club game with a first-ball duck resulting from a routine forward defensive, which flew straight into the hands of deep mid-off.
Next time I was on my guard for this kind of thing, and had been batting for 20 minutes or so when I became aware that I could no longer lift the bat up. Or at least not without setting a new Olympic record for the clean and jerk. You could use a heavy bat in those days if you had the strength, but now, it’s about as strenuous as picking up a chopstick in a Chinese restaurant.
The first batsman who regularly blocked good deliveries for four, at least that I can remember, was Graham Gooch, also with a Duncan Fearnley handmade Magnum, but in the last ODI at Eden Gardens, I watched Eoin Morgan block one for six. In all three games 300 was a seriously below-par score, and even when England successfully defended 321 in the third match, it was only because a talented, but inexperienced, Indian side lost the plot with six needed off four balls.
Around 40 years ago or so, what represented a ‘par’ total has now become a pea-shelling operation. In the old 55-over Benson & Hedges, 240 was reckoned to be okay, and in the 60-over Gillette/NatWest, around 260-270. And when Leicestershire won the 40-over Sunday League in 1974, the captain – and Ray Illingworth knew a thing or two about cricket – set his side a target of 30-0 off the first ten overs. As a launchpad – wait for it – to a mammoth, and more often than not unbeatable, 160.
In those days there was no directive for the umpires to signal a wide for a ball missing leg-stump by two centimetres, no free hits, no fielding circles (until 1980), and no power plays. And no directives to move boundary ropes in so far that, armed with one of these modern nuclear bats, even one of the tea ladies could be summoned from buttering scones to hit a six.
And if that makes the modern one-day game more entertaining, then (and you can assess me all you like) I’m Napoleon Bonaparte.
Armed with one of these modern nuclear bats even one of the tea ladies could be summoned from buttering the scones to hit a six