December 26, 2006

Fourth Test, Melbourne

Everest and K2

Gideon Haigh
Shane Warne acknowledges the crowd after picking up his 700th Test wicket, Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, December 26, 2006
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Before the day’s play, there was a certain amount of press-box debate not merely about Shane Warne’s chance of a 700th wicket, but of his chance of a 706th. Warne took six wickets in last year’s Super Test. What might happen were that pretty daft and pointless game to have its Test status revoked? It can happen. After all, Wisden gave Alan Jones a Test cap for playing against the Rest of the World in 1970 only to confiscate it later.

Some press box talking points last longer than others: this one seems to have been more or less disposed of by today’s events. Unless, of course, it’s decided that the entitlement to top level status of Tests against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe should be reviewed. In which case Warne would have rather less to lose than Muttiah Muralitharan: 17 wickets versus 137. But however you count it, 700 is a stupendous quantity of Test wickets. I was at the Melbourne Test just over 30 years ago when Lance Gibbs broke Fred Trueman’s record of 307. It seemed like the scaling of Everest. Now we have a new Everest, and Murali’s K2.

Both Warne and Murali, of course, are slow bowlers: hard yakka at the best of times. ‘Bowling spin can be a lonely business,’ Warne observes in his new book. ‘A lot of the time you are the only spinner in the team.’ That being so, however, where a seam bowler on an overcast day or faced with a lush wicket might have to split the overs three ways, a spinner usually faces little competition for overs when conditions are favourable. So while we’ll probably continue fetishising the new ball, it’s likely that our major long-distance wicket takers will be those who use the old.

Some commenters objected to this blog’s criticisms of Rudi Koertzen during the Perth Test. Mind you, when you’ve been branded an English sycophant and an Australian jingoist, you tend to take comments with a grain of salt; nor did Koertzen do much today to quiet my mind. By my reckoning, he rejected five good lbw shouts: Collingwood when he was 0 and 6, to Clark; Panesar when he was 4, to Warne; Hayden when he was 6 and 9, to Hoggard. Worse, he was not consistent. Having added a foot to the height of the stumps in Perth, he seemed here to have shrunk them by a foot. To say that ‘umpires are only human’ is a fatuity: so are cricketers, and they are understood to pass in and out of form, and be subject to promotion and demotion. Koertzen is, to me, out of form as an umpire.

Let us, though, be constructive. How do umpires practice? How do umpires find their form? We’re apt to complain that international players are expected to produce their best at the drop of a helmet. But what about our decision makers? Once an official joins the Elite Panel, he leaves first-class umpiring behind, which countries protect for the encouragement of their own domestic officials. There is no opportunity to rehearse one’s skills in a less fraught environment; no chance to test one’s concentration over standard days' play. Is it possible, then, that the process devised to eliminate the impression of bias in umpiring has had the effect of corroding competence?

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer

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Posted by Maheshkumar M on (January 8, 2007, 5:52 GMT)

Both McGrath and Warne did not have to bowl against (arguably) the greatest team ever i.e. their own. That 'handicap' apart (it is not their fault), they have been truly great bowlers.

But which one is better? Pace and spin may be apples and oranges, but comparing the two from the same orchard may just be a worthwhile thing to do.

McGrath is clearly the unconquered hero. Only against SouthAfrica, his strike rate (no of balls per wicket) is high at 72 and wickets per match low at 3.35, but his economy against the country is a cool 2.29, below his career economy of 2.49.

Warne's strike rate against India is a high 91 compared to his career rate of 57, the closest being South Africa at 63. He has taken only 3.07 Indian wickets per match, much below his career avg of 4.88. And you have his economy rate against India struggling at 3.10 (higher than his career avg of 2.65).

That explains it all. McGrath, the Mr Clinical par excellence wins hands down.

Posted by Julie on (January 5, 2007, 4:54 GMT)

Of course us "Aussie Yobs" think Warne's the best - we crowded around our televisions today and wept at his departure. If one man could win a test series Australia would never have lost the 'urn' in 2005 based on Warne's performance. Adelaide this series he demonstrated yet again why he is, and will always be grearded as the best.

No-one expects anyone from Sri Lanka to agree with this - it's always conspiracies and attacks on Murali. Murali's a good bowler and everyone knows he'll surpass Warne in the wicket taking stakes, but does he inspire the whole nation the way that Warne has inspired Australia? It's not just Aussies singing the praises of Warne, but cricket loving people from all over the world.

Sure, he's f&$ked up every now and then, but he's played, he's been passionate about the game he so obviously loves. His gamesmanship (yes, that is what I believe sledging to be) is superb and I've thoroughly enjoyed all the banter that goes on in every series I've watched him play in.

I'm sad today, because, we all know, we'll never see the likes of him again.

Posted by woppa on (January 2, 2007, 14:11 GMT)

I'm really disappointed at the remarks regarding Australians as yobs and racists on this site. Drop the comments about racism & politics.

It's a game boys & I love it. Be passionate, yes, but take it easy please & lighten up.

No more comments about being an Aussie yob etc otherwise people will start answering back in the same fashion.

Posted by z on (January 1, 2007, 14:58 GMT)

If the fast bowlers only get an advantage of 1-2km/hr by straightening their arm, wouldn't it make more sense for them to bowl 1-2km/hr slower. Labelling McGrath and Pollock as chuckers is no more cruel than labelling Murali a chucker. Murali has been called by Darrell Hair (Aus), Tony McQuillan (Aus) and Ross Emerson (Aus). The only claim to fame that McQuillan and Emerson have is for calling Murali for chucking. Darrell Hair has been embroiled in controversy throughout his umpiring career. He, along with Doctrove, umpired in the first Test match ever to have been forfeited. He has been labelled as biased by several players from the sub-continent. Little wonder that Murali is reluctant to tour Australia as the only umpires to have a problem with his action have been Australians.

Posted by z on (January 1, 2007, 12:38 GMT)

I believe that the most recent Australian to be subject to testing was Brett Lee having been reported for having a suspect action in 2000 in two matches against New Zealand (admittedly early in his career). He was subsequently cleared by Dennis Lillee (notably a former Australian player - if Murali was cleared by a Sri Lankan all sorts of accusations would be raised about bias). Murali has been cleared on every occasion as well. He did straighten his arm to some extent, but the speed of his arm was as fast as that of many pace bowlers according to scientists involved. Was this against the spirit of the law? Statistics indicate that Murali has a better average, strike rate and economy rate than Warne in Test cricket and has a significantly better record than Warne in ODIs, despite Warne frequently having the luxury of bowling to opposition batsmen having been unsettled by the bowling of Australia's fast bowlers or chasing large scores. Murali can't be held accountable for the fact that Australia has not played more than a handful of Tests against Bangladesh or Zimbabwe despite having played much more test cricket than Sri Lanka against "respectable" opposition. Besides, Murali has not been suspended from the game for taking banned substances or been fined for having accepted money from bookies as Warne has. Perhaps it is Warne who should have an asterisk against his name in the record books. I'd rate Murali slightly ahead of Warne in Test cricket and Murali again, by a more comfortable margin in ODIs. Let us not forget that at the moment Murali has taken about 100 more international wickets than Warne (Tests and ODIs combined) and will certainly extend this margin after Warne plays the final international match of his controversy-riddled career at the SCG.

Posted by marcus on (January 1, 2007, 6:02 GMT)

Tadhg

My point was that comparing CSI and Midsomer Murders was that there are plenty of differences between them. CSI is edgy, entertaining and colourful, whereas M.M is a traditional whodunit, with more humour built in and probably more red herrings. You can say that you enjoy CSI more, just as I enjoy M.M more, however that is not the same thing as saying that one is better than the other, because they are two completely and utterly different styles of show. Just in the same way that you can't (in my opinion) say that one's better, I don't believe that you can say that Warne's a better bowler than a leading paceman. And the whole Star Trek thing is an even bigger difference; not only is the style of it different from either CSI or M.M, but it's a completely different genre! Which is why it's a metaphor for why it's hard to label someone the greatest CRICKETER- let alone bowler- of all time.

At the same time, I'd just like to thank you for at least arguing your point logically, something which is apparently beyond certain others in this blog.

Posted by Tadhg on (January 1, 2007, 0:08 GMT)

Marcus, CSI is better than both Midsomer Murders and Star Trek, therefore Warne is the greatest of all time ;-) Well, maybe that doesn't make Warne the greatest of all time. But it does make a point. Everyone's got a different opinion on what they like to watch - there a plenty of Trekkies out there. Lara obviously, personally, feels that Warne was the biggest challenge he faced as a batsman. Every batsman has different strengths and weaknesses, which different bowlers expose in different measures. Ask a different batsman, get a different answer. Atherton should mention McGrath, Cullinan will say Warne, and so on. Just like I say that CSI is better than Midsomer Murders and Star Trek! Pete, great point about the Super Test. For those who point out that Murali had to put up with a lot of rubbish from Australian crowds, you're right. But no more than anyone else cops. And Warne doesn't exactly have it all his own way when he tours, either. But look at it this way - Warne's retired to play for 2 more years in the home of tabloids, which have been scathing of him throughout his career. I'm not saying this makes Murali a lesser cricketer, but he really does need to thicken up his skin. If he were like Pietersen (current example) and many others over the years, he'd use it as motivation, rather than run and hide. In terms of the whole chucking debacle, what I will say is this: Fast Bowling is more likely to cause chucking than spin bowling. This was noted, as one of the proposals for the law change was to have different angles of flex allowed according to the pace of the bowler. This is not a voluntary movement, it is caused by momentum. A spinner, on the other hand, bowls at much lower speed, and therefore has less excuse for flexing the elbow. If a spinner is straightening his arm as far as a quick, the odds are that it's not all involuntary. I'm not saying it's deliberate, just that it could be eradicated with dedication. We should bear in mind that a fast bowler shouldn't gain much by straightening his elbow, maybe a km/h or two, but no extra deviation, where a spinner can impart considerably more spin (and drift) through "snapping" his elbow straight. I'm not saying that Murali deliberately straightens his elbow, but am merely pointing out that the chucking law has more sensitivity to spinners. Also, labelling Pollock and McGrath as chuckers is cruel - they bowl with the straightest arm possible, within the spirit of the laws. Spinners who snap their elbows - even if it is less than 15 degrees - are not in the spirit of the law, just within the guidelines of the law. I don't believe that this is the only point where people are outside the spirit of the laws - many would say that Australia's appealing (and, if we want to be honest, some others - perhaps Panesar?) is outside the spirit of the game - although I enjoy the spectacle. Some would say not using your designated 12th man as your substitute fielder is outside the spirit of the game. The problem is that following the spirit of the game doesn't always give you results as good as those supplied by stretching away from the spirit and going to the extents of the guidelines. On the point that Australia should test their own cricketers before they let them play international cricket, well, it does. When was the last time an Australian was called for throwing? And the last time an Australian with international experience was subjected to testing? I wouldn't be surprised if it was Meckiff! Similarly, I can't remember an Englishman, a West Indian... However, there are several from the subcontinent that have been tested (and some banned) over the last few years. And one South African offspinner, who was trying to bowl like his heroes from the subcontinent. I believe the only fair thing for Murali and Warne is to have a bowl off. They can have the best fielders in the world all around the bat, at their own direction, and they should have the best players of spin at the other end - Lara, Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dravid, Pietersen, Clarke, Hussey, Symonds... Some may debate Symonds, but I'd rather have people who use their feet and smack the ball out there than people who leave everything. And, if I were bowling finger spin to Symonds, tha man with a voice in the back of his head telling him he can hit every ball for six, I'd be rather nervous! I'm sure there are others who should be in that batting line up. Each bowler must dismiss each batsman once (if one gets a batsman out, the next batsman comes in an plays the first bowler only, the original batsman stays out there to face the second bolwer), and play the "test" at a neutral venue - England (so it makes money)? West Indies? Although this is extremely unlikely to happen, it's about the only way we'll ever get some people to agree as to who's the best. And even then, there'll be others there who won't accept the result. For mine, Warne every time... More menacing in more conditions. I'd love to watch Symonds and Pietersen get after Murali...

Posted by logical on (December 31, 2006, 22:10 GMT)

So far, these are results established by scientific studies:

1) It's virtually impossible for a normal human being to bowl without straightening the arm. Thus people like McGrath and Pollock may have actually been "chucking" for a long time. I guess we should take their records away from them as well, if we're going to do the same for Murali.

2) It's almost impossible to say whether someone's chucking using the naked eye, unless the degree of flexion is more than 15 degrees.

These are facts established by scientific study. It's amazing how so many ex-cricketers find problems with Murali, when maybe they should be reading the findings more carefully.

The reactions of people sound like that of the Catholic Church when Galileo discovered the earth went around the sun and not otherwise. Galileo used a scientific method to discover this, but no one wanted to believe him because it went against accepted knowledge at the time.

It seems to me that a lot of people in Aust think he's chucking because of Darrell Hair's judgement. Hmm, the same guy who called Pakistan for ball tampering yet couldn't produce any evidence? The same guy who when placed under pressure asked for $500,000 from the ICC as a "golden handshake" so that he could keep quiet? Sounds like a dodgy character to me.

As for Warne vs Murali, how about the simple truth: It's almost impossible to compare them as it would be similar to comparing apples and oranges. So why don't we just acknowledge them both as greats and leave it there.

Posted by z on (December 31, 2006, 21:49 GMT)

Murali straightens his arm by about 10 degrees while bowling the doosra (more than he does for any other delivery, well under the 15 degree limit). Fast bowlers including McGrath and Pollock straighten their arms to a greater extent. As a university based in Perth, Australia currently seems to be the only place with the technology to test bowlers actions that is accepted by the ICC, maybe Australia could take the lead and ensure that all their bowlers actions have legitimate actions before they are allowed to play international cricket and then have their actions tested regularly after that.

Posted by Peter N on (December 31, 2006, 19:49 GMT)

Isn't K2 supposed to be a tougher proposition than Everest?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gideon Haigh
Born in London of a Yorkshire father, raised in Australia by a Tasmanian mother, Gideon Haigh lives in Melbourne with a cat, Trumper. He has written 19 books and edited a further seven. He is also a life member and perennial vice-president of the South Yarra CC.

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