Pakistan in England 2010 July 30, 2010

The world's luckiest players, and its favourite

Even ridiculous hairstyles don't stop some from being truly blessed

Lady Luck has huge crushes on these two © AFP

A new Test batting star emerged for England yesterday, to go with the new one-day batting star and new Twenty20 batting star, who also emerged over the last year. Eoin Morgan's highly attractive three-for-the-price-of-one offer has added to the growing competition for places in a Test side that should soon start to impact even on the seemingly undroppable.

The calmness, timing and variety of run-scoring capabilities that Morgan displayed in his excellent and stylish performance bode well for his and England's future, but his innings also illustrated the BruceReidically slender margins that separate the vintage champagne of success from the budget processed grape juice of failure.

A better wicketkeeper than Kamran Akmal (any volunteers? - no previous experience required; candidates should ideally possess their own gloves and, preferably, a willingness either to watch the ball all the way into the those gloves, or to move their feet, preferably both; apply to PCB by next Thursday) would probably have been standing in the right place to catch an edge when Morgan, on 5, played away from his body to another good ball by the brilliant Aamer. He later survived what appeared to be a fairly conclusive lbw appeal when missing a sweep off Shoaib Malik on 35.

Hawk-Eye suggested the ball would have hit the inside of leg stump, but, to compound the umpiring error, Pakistan had blown their two referrals trying to get rid of Kevin Pietersen, who seemed to be busy trying to get rid of himself anyway, as Kamran expanded the range of known methods of wicketkeeping ineptitude by demanding a referral for a rejected caught-behind appeal after a ball that had barely passed within conversational distance of the bat.

Had Morgan been caught on 5, questions would have been asked about his Test-match technique and his footwork against the swinging ball. Had he been given lbw, he would have failed to convert three consecutive 30-plus scores into half-centuries. Instead of proving his Test credentials, he would have raised further questions about them. Instead of delivering under pressure, he would have failed under pressure. Instead of a "magical maiden ton". He capitalised brilliantly on his luck, and some low-grade spin bowling, to kickstart his Test career in spectacular style. Pietersen had plenty of good fortune in his innings, but looked like a man who doesn't play much cricket these days, and did not capitalise.

Luck has always been and will always be a fundamental, and fascinating, part of sport, particularly in batting, where a batsman's bad luck is final (how many centuries would I have scored in my career if I hadn't been unlucky in 99% of all my innings?), and a batsman's good luck can make the different between an unremarkable failure and a career-defining success.

Some examples: Lara, dropped by Durham wicketkeeper Scott on 18, powerdrills his name into the record books by blasting 501 not out. Gooch snicks Prabhakar at Lord's in 1990, but Indian keeper More Kamrans the primary-school-level chance, and Gooch goes on to score another 297 runs. Pietersen at The Oval in 2005, on nought, edges Warne - but Gilchrist's glove deflects the ball away from the waiting Hayden at slip; then after 15, nervous in one of the most pressurised periods of play in all Test cricket, he edges Lee to slip, where Warne fluffs a relatively simple chance. On each occasion, the batsman was, essentially, provisionally out. They had made their mistakes, and were merely awaiting confirmation of their dismissals. Before being reprieved, and capitalising to achieve cricketing immortality.

Pietersen's luck was particularly transformative - it probably won the Ashes for England, and he became a cricketing hero over the course of one staggering afternoon. History shows that he played one of the great modern Test innings, one of the most brilliant and important in England's Test history, an expression of individual cricketing bravery and daring that just about justified a brave and daring hairstyle, and elevated himself to the cricketing A-list. History could have shown that he failed, technically and temperamentally, thus concluding a debut series in which his early promise had faded into a run of costly failures, whilst sporting the most ridiculous haircut in Test history.

Similarly, there must be many of one-, two- and three-cap Test players who ended their careers thinking, "If only that usually incompetent fielder hadn't pulled off that uncharacteristic one-handed diving catch", or "If only that umpire hadn't been certifiably blind". Scorecards do not record luck.

Perhaps 1920s batsman Jack MacBryan would have turned out to be a surprise Test-match great. He had an unlucky Test career. In his only Test, in 1924, it rained for much of the first day, then for all of the rest of the match. MacBryan did not bat. And failed, in his 66.5 overs of fielding, to convince the selectors that he had what it takes to succeed at the highest level. Perhaps they spotted some flaw in his technique whilst he was playing pretend shots in the covers in between balls.

For Morgan, then, the future looks bright. The cream generally rises to the top. But sometimes, it needs a helping upward shunt from the capricious hand of Lady Luck, a fickle woman whose hand can tenderly stroke or unforgivingly spank.

Pakistan have had little luck with umpiring this summer, particularly with lbws, and could have had England in even deeper trouble yesterday. As it was, with Gul and Kaneria off form, only Aamer - fast becoming the world's new favourite cricketer - and Asif applied pressure, and the fragile confidence of Salman Butt's side visibly dissipated. At Headingley against Australia, they seemed to become nervous in the field when it became clear they would have to chase more than one run to win. As it was, Farhat and Azhar nervelessly took them close enough that even a top-quality collective choke could not deprive them of an excellent victory. Their inexperienced top order and dangerously long tail will do well to avoid defeat in this game.

(A quick comment on the Umpire Decision Review System. It seems to me to be unfairly weighted in favour of the batting team. Generally, more appeals are given not out than are given out, so statistically the fielding side has more occasions on which it is likely to want to use their referrals, and are thus more likely to run out of referrals. If a not-out lbw decision turns out to have been fractionally out, it remains not out. If an out decision transpires to have been fractionally not out, it becomes not out.

Whilst this maintains the traditional balance of doubt in favour of the batsman, there is a double punishment when, as happened to Pakistan yesterday, Pakistan referred a not-out appeal, the technology suggested that it could/should have been given out, but only marginally, so the "Umpire's Call" stood.

Thus, Pakistan, despite essentially having correctly referred an appeal that was shown to be out, lost a referral. I suggest that if a team refers and appeal that results in an "Umpire's Call" refusal, it should not lose one of its referrals. I also think the fielding side should have two appeals, but the batting team should only have one.)

(And finally, commiserations to all those who had to watch the Colombo Test match. I can only imagine what you have just been through. It sounds awful.)

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on August 31, 2010, 20:12 GMT

    Interesting article. One thing to consider though is that the batsman is good enough to score after been given a chance. As in the case of Lara, 18 to 501, but the point is well taken that there might have been some good cricketers we may not have seen much if they were not given a chance or two.

  • testli5504537 on August 9, 2010, 2:52 GMT

    To the understandably ignorant person above who asked how Hawkeye "knows" the bounce, the answer is, simply, it doesn't. Hawkeye extrapolates data on the movement of the ball *after* it has bounced. Thus, Hawkeye uses the velocity of the ball moments before impact with the pad to determine where the ball would have traveled had it not come into contact with the pad. The trajectory of the ball at this point is independent of its softness, hardness, brittleness or what-have-you, and is dependent only on its velocity prior to impact (velocity being both speed and direction). If the ball hits the pad on the full and has not yet bounced, then Hawekeye would be unable to predict its path accurately as it is not designed to predict bounce. I hope this clears things up a bit.

  • testli5504537 on August 3, 2010, 13:53 GMT

    4 referrals an innings means chance of having 16 decision wrong in a match..this is too much for me!..unless you have umpires from the past home series'

    successful referral should result in gaining additional referral for fielding team.

  • testli5504537 on August 2, 2010, 9:44 GMT

    Totally agree Andy, Pakistan had an lbw decision that was shown to be grazing the stumps and they lost a referral. Maybe they could extend your suggestion further and the team only loses a referral if in the umpire's opinion the appeal is deemed to be frivolous. Would give a subjective opinion back to the umpire.

  • testli5504537 on August 2, 2010, 9:07 GMT

    I personally do not like the UDRS system. After every close shout players from the fielding side gather around the pitch discussing whether to go for the review or not which is not a pleasing sight at all. I love it when players have their head in their hands in disbelief. Also it will take out the controversies out of the game. We wouldn't be able to discuss stuff as "How can Sachin be given out lbw when ball was clearly going over the stumps. Surely Bucknor has something against the Indians." "India would surely have won the Sydney Test had Symonds been given out caught behind.". All this stuff would be sorely missed.

  • testli5504537 on August 2, 2010, 8:37 GMT

    Totally agree Andy, Pakistan had an lbw decision that was shown to be grazing the stumps and they lost a referral. Maybe they could extend your suggestion further and the team only loses a referral if in the umpire's opinion the appeal is deemed to be frivolous. Would give a subjective opinion back to the umpire.

  • testli5504537 on July 31, 2010, 6:27 GMT

    Kevin Pietersen sported the most ridiculous haircut in Test history? I beg to differ, Mr Zaltzman. Remember Colin Miller, the Australian off-spinner, who induced these immortal words from the great Michael Holding:

    "This, I am reliably informed, is the first Test wicket taken by a bowler with blue hair."

  • testli5504537 on July 31, 2010, 2:42 GMT

    Mr. Zaltzman, a few points, if I may, one, I hate the URDS system, how can hawkeye know the bounce? if the ball is soft or hard, how does it know about the bounce, if the bowler is short or tall, or if the ball hits the seam, how can hawkeye figure out the bounce? I don't buy it, if it looks out , it is out, yes, an inside edge should not be out, but that is snicko, and why do they show it from the side? That is idiotic, show it from the front. These days I cannot even celebrate an lbw without waiting ten mins for some genius to say yes. Secondly, Kamran Akmal is gone, which is a good thing, he couldn't catch a volleyball, neither can first slip, (farhat), third, Yousuf and or Younis will come back for the second Test, and perhaps then, we can see a proper contest, we are only a couple of players away from matching England, in my opinion. Morgan looks very good. But your tail has no chance against Pakistan, Broad included.

  • testli5504537 on July 30, 2010, 22:45 GMT

    Losing the referral is consistent with the philosophy, and is a defined parameter of the system - not an unintended consequence - they want to catch howlers and discourage "speculative" use, especially where that changes the way the game is called ("narrow leg stump").

    Where they should keep the referral is when the decision comes back "No information" (e.g. camera didn't capture it, or hotspot hidden from view). The 3U should be able to declare "no referral used" when he can't adjudicate. In one infamous incident, Ponting lost a challenge when Wellington's 160 knot gale had seen the UDRS cameras turned off (or blown away - I can't remember which). Common sense eventually prevailed but this should be in the rules.

  • testli5504537 on July 30, 2010, 17:00 GMT

    Why the hell do you want to pour cold water on people's happiness? Let us continue to remain ecstatically oblivious to "what might have happened", "how it could have transpired" and such other poison. Keep it to yourself, you old sook.

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