June 27, 2008

Michael Jeh

An apologist for the MCC

Michael Jeh

As an MCC member, I was quite indignant when I heard some cricket fans, cheering sarcastically at the great club’s response to the Kevin Pietersen switch-hit incident. Apparently they were surprised that the MCC could possibly have made a decision that was eminently sensible, reflecting a commonsense view of Pietersen’s outrageous talent.

To the ignorant, it seems a populist view that the MCC is made up of ancient people who are completely out of touch with the realities of the modern game. And ignorant they are. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I can’t speak for generations past but I’ve only ever experienced a club that views its role in the game with a mixture of irreverence, humour and a total devotion to the true spirit of the game. The Pietersen ruling was exactly what I expected – a commonsense decision that acknowledged KP’s genius and the fair contest between bat and ball. What’s so surprising about that?

And before you write me off as an apologist for the aristocrat Brit, perish the thought. A Sri Lankan-born Australian from suburban Brisbane is hardly the epitome of the posh Etonian with a double barrelled surname and a country estate in rural Hertfordshire. From my experience, the MCC is made up of a host of people who share one thing in common – a genuine love for the game and a real desire to see it embraced in far-flung corners of the globe.

Sounds far fetched? Sound elitist? Not on a little island called Lakemba in Fiji where a thousand rowing boats descended on a tiny village green to watch the MCC take on the Fijian national team. This was my first overseas tour with the club and it opened my eyes to how far the club would go, at its own expense, to promote the game. Test cricketers discussing the finer points of reverse swing with a burly Fijian fast bowler whose occupation (surely he was pulling our leg?) was apparently a bat hunter, the flying fox variety. The only ‘elitists’ were the giant mosquitoes which completely ignored the locals and feasted solely on the MCC. And feast they did!

Playing for the MCC seems to have a liberating effect on cricketers, even the world’s best players. I played in many games where seasoned international players shared a dressing room with rank no-hopers like myself and never felt the need to act like primadonna’s. In fact, it almost appeared as if playing for the MCC allowed these players to regress to a time when they played cricket for the pure enjoyment of it. You’d go a long way to meet a nicer man than Andy Flower and he never once gave the impression that he was too good for a game against a school First XI on a windswept British hillside on a chilly April afternoon. He was not an exception.

England is full of teams like the Free Foresters, The Arabs, John Paul Getty’s XI and the MCC and it’s easy to be sarcastic without understanding their genuine love for cricket. As an outsider who was always made welcome in this environment, I never witnessed the sort of arrogance that I see in club cricket every weekend. Even players who are prone to such tendencies seem too embarrassed to carry on like pork chops (Australian vernacular for ‘idiots’) when turning out for the MCC. Winning or losing is almost an afterthought.

Of course the MCC was going to endorse Pietersen’s brilliance. It was a moment that was great for cricket. Why wouldn’t they embrace it? For those ignorant critics of the MCC who don’t really understand what it stands for, take a leaf from KP and reverse your stance!

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Posted by Ibrahim on (July 15, 2008, 15:05 GMT)

Well said; a much-needed article. The only arrogant snobs are the daft dolts who tell people like those at the MCC to "get with the times". By the way, cricket needs more greentops, as Luke Evans said.

Posted by Luke Evans on (July 4, 2008, 21:31 GMT)

I agree with the MCC's decision to leave KP alone. If he has the talent, then let him use it. I am in awe of anyone who can swtich-hit, especially for the maximum result!

As far as competition between bat and ball, it seems that it is the ICC's way of bringing in new fans...but, having huge scores all the time , even in a Twenty20, cannot even compare to a close result, regardless of how small the total. The beauty of cricket and it's uniqueness, is a combination of all the factors of the game, such as strengths, abilities, luck, wickets left, one on one battles, varying conditions, human error. Who cares if a team reaches 500 in a ODI. If the opposition only manage 210, then it's uninteresting. But if a team reaches a target of only 115 with one wicket in hand in the 50th over and they've had 3 wickets left in the last 10 overs against the best bowlers, then I'd chose the latter anytime. Remove fielding restrictions and increase bowler's overs to 12max. Oh yes, more green-tops!

Posted by Dimuthu Ratnayake on (July 2, 2008, 23:10 GMT)

Very interesting article. This debate will go on and on til the cows come home i think. Do people remember that the ball immediately before KP hit his 1st reverse six, Colly tried it and almost was caught at short 3rd man (or short fine leg?) I also think that relaxing the legside wide rule whenever the batsmen switch hits is the only practical change an ump can make. I truly wonder tho that if the exponent of the shot was say... Asian, would the MCC have made such a quick decision? I know it's not a racist group considering people of all colour and nationality are members, but i still wonder. Btw - "Will", don't be an arse. Going to Fiji to spread the game isn't a holiday. Going to the West Indies to play an unofficial T20 match for $20m is tho ;)

Posted by saurabh somani on (July 2, 2008, 7:11 GMT)

interesting point Michael...i am (i hope!) very far from being part of the anti-bowler brigade, however the problem i would have with a bowler stopping in his action is that there is no inherent risk involved for the bowler (especially a spinner). whereas moving about in the crease carries considerable risk for the batsman. so if he's willing to play a high risk-high return game, so be it. so i don't think that is unfair. coming back to switch hitting, imagine a situation where India are down 7 wickets with 2 balls left and 4 runs to get. in walks irfan pathan and takes a right handers guard. by law, he can have only 2 fielders behind square on what is his leg side now. however while the bowler bowls, he does his switch and reverts to his normal guard (left handed), with a huge unfair advantage over the fielding side. for that alone, i think switch hitting ought not to be allowed.

Posted by Reddy on (July 2, 2008, 7:00 GMT)

The switch hit should be banned immediately for the good of the game.At the heart of a cricket contest lies the contest between bat and ball. Batting is a reactive skill.You react to what is being bowled to you. At times the batsmen preempts by walking down the track or moving across yet the bowler still holds the cards simply because he can alter his length line etc. In Pietersen's case the change in grip and stance deal him an unfair advantage.This should be rooted out of the game before it becomes yet another major problem.And as many people have pointed out if genius should be rewarded then we might as well start rewarding pick pocketer s.

Posted by Michael Jeh on (July 1, 2008, 11:54 GMT)

Saurabh and Anjo, thanks for your comments and for pointing out that some ideas to even the contest are pretty unrealistic. We'd all love to see bowlers switching hands or bowling from different angles but pragamatism suggests it is just wishful thinking.

It got me thinking about yet another innovation that was stamped on by the anti-bowler brigade. A few years ago, Robert Croft and Saqlain Mushtaq started a very effective trend of stopping in their bowling action and freezing for a few seconds. Even that has been semi-outlawed now with it being deemed "unfair" to the batsman. What about when the batsman feigns to charge or moves around the crease or does a KP? I think the only realistic solution might be Stephen's suggestion about the LBW ruling which makes it much riskier to contemplate the shot. Mind you, KP's real genius wasn't just to reverse hit but to actually hit it for six. It's hard enough to make any contact let alone hitting it out of the park.

Posted by saurabh somani on (June 30, 2008, 4:43 GMT)

Michael, your article is very well written, and is obviously full of passion for the game, but you're ignoring a very important by-product of switch hitting: it changes the laws for a fielding captain that is just not fair (refer to Ian Chappels piece on Cricinfo for the detailed argument) as for bowlers switching their arms or not having to declare whether they'll bowl over or round the wicket - what about the sight screens? they are adjusted according to where a bowler will bowl from, so there is a very practical problem with trying to even the switch hitting score for the bowlers. in any case its given us good food for thought, and has also reiterated KP's innovativeness and raw talent.

Posted by Anjo on (June 29, 2008, 15:32 GMT)

Well thanks a lot Michael, there I was thinking the MCC was cricket's equivalent of Vogons but you've gone and dashed that n... oh wait, that was the ICC, not the MCC. Another really good article and to add to your thoughts on making a more even contest between bat and ball: I agree with Stephen, if he meant the rule about pitching outside leg-stump is ignored when the switch-hit is employed. What about wides, will the boundary on both sides be used rather than penalizing a ball that just drifts down the legside. I'm all for introducing balls that have sides with varying degrees of abrasion. While a new ball will still swing based on the orientation of the seam, perhaps this will encourage contrast and reverse swing much earlier than conventional balls.

Posted by Stephen Gelb on (June 28, 2008, 12:11 GMT)

Michael, Lovely article. I am in awe that you are not only a member of MCC but have actually played for them in any sort of game. The fact that the MCC invited Archbishop Tutu to give the Spirit of Cricket lecture shows innovativeness, I think. I have always been a Mike Brearley fan.

On KP's shot, it seems to me that the way to go is to for umpires to give reverse sweepers out LBW if they would have been out EITHER as left-handers OR as right-handers. This puts more risk onto the batsman and so gives the bowler the advantage. Of course it makes life a bit more difficult for the umpire, but that's their lot...

Posted by Michael Jeh on (June 28, 2008, 0:15 GMT)

Vishwam, I agree 100% with your comments. The odds are generally stacked too far in favour of batting innovations. Apart from the slower ball and the doosra, there haven't been a lot of experiments that try to redress that imbalance. Even the doosra has attracted some controversy with some people questioning whether it is bowled with a bent elbow or not. Who cares? It's great for the game and is a terribly difficult skill to master (like the reverse sweep) so why not encourage this sort of innovation?

I think KP's shot is going to need serious examination in terms of the lbw rule. You're 100% correct there too. Perhaps bowlers should be allowed to switch hands at the last second or veer away and bowl round the wicket without warning but that's easier said than done. With the no-ball rule, maybe the answer is to go back to the back foot law. This gives batsmen that extra time to change their shot. You've got me thinking now though..what else can we do to make a fair contest?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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