IF THIS IS SUP­POSED TO BE FUN, THEN I’M NAPOLEON

The Cricket Paper - - OPINION - MARTIN JOHN­SON

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

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