June 23, 2011

Test cricket needs man-eating tigers

Also: posing with a cuddly WG Grace figurine could improve your cricket beyond all measure
29

It is unlikely that, if asked what single luxury they would take with them to an isolated desert island, many people would excitedly respond: “Oh, well, that’s a tough question, but of all the things in the world, I’d have to go with a copy of the commemorative DVD containing extended highlights of the 2011 England v Sri Lanka Test series. Yes, I would definitely choose that, ahead of other possible luxuries and life-enhancements, such as a vintage gramophone equipped with the complete works of Mozart, or a cast of Rodin’s smash-hit sculpture The Thinker, or a lifetime supply of high-class milkshakes, or a rocket pack like the one that guy flew into the stadium with at the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles in a moment that really should by now have presaged an age of universally available rocket packs for all, or an illustrated teach-yourself-to-pole-vault book, or an Aleem Dar Hair Care Kit, or Aleem Dar.”

It was an autumn-weekend-in-Aberdeen-with-your-in-laws of a series ‒ damp, grey and frustrating. There was plenty of good cricket, but The Weather came away with two wins out of three, and will be disappointed that it did not claim a 3-0 series wetwash, after having done all the hard work in Cardiff before leaving Sri Lanka a tiny window of opportunity from which to tumble to defeat, a window out of which England promptly defenestrated them.

Sri Lanka were never close to forging a winning position in any of the three Tests, against an England batting line-up that, after a couple of years of individual and collective inconsistency, has hit a rare and statistically mind-bending tranche of form. Strauss apart, they were seldom inconvenienced by a game but limited bowling attack. Ian Bell has reportedly commissioned a set of curtains depicting Sri Lanka’s bowlers to make himself feel invincible when he wakes up in the morning. England mostly played well, consolidating their stellar Test winter, but cricket – like most sports, as well as arguments, divorce proceedings and space races ‒ is seldom at its best when only one side has a realistic prospect of victory.

Nevertheless, three important things have been learnt from this series.

1: A six-week 50-over World Cup, followed by another six weeks of Twenty20 in the IPL, is not ideal preparation for a Test series in England.

Sri Lanka’s bowling always looked wafer-thin, and England’s in-form batting juggernaut duly gobbled it up like a hungry child munching its way into an ice-cream. This left the tourists depending heavily on their four experienced top-order batsmen. Of the two who played both warm-up games, Tillakaratne Dilshan left the IPL early and prospered, and Thilan Samaraweera, who is not most IPL owners’ idea of a dream DLF-Maximum-blasting batsman, did well enough; but Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, who arrived in time only for the second warm-up game, in which they both failed, each reached 30 only once in six attempts, and, despite the former eventually finding his game in his outstanding match-saving final innings of the final Test, each recorded his lowest series average for several years.

Perhaps they failed to make technical and mental adjustments to their games, perhaps they were suffering physical or psychological fatigue, perhaps it was merely coincidence, perhaps it was all of the above, but a key factor in Test series nowadays often seems to be which side’s players arrive at the start line less knackered.

2: All Test matches should be played in giant underground bunkers.

Rain is boring. Almost all cricket fans agree that a cricket ground with giant tarpaulins all over it and a grumpy-looking groundsman in a waterproof jacket peering at the sky is less interesting to watch than a cricket ground with cricketers on it, playing cricket. Umpires cannot be trusted not to use any marginal dimming of the light as an excuse to scuttle everyone back to the pavilion so they can check their emails, finish their game of online Scrabble, or practise their karaoke.

The giant underground bunker would, of course, remove the weather from the equation. But it would have other benefits for the spectator as well. Crowds at Tests around the world are often barely discernible, but the acoustics of a giant underground bunker would mean that even a few hundred spectators could create a decent atmosphere. It would also help with over rates. If the authorities could threaten players and umpires with being locked overnight in a giant, and ideally haunted, underground bunker if they did not complete their allotted 90 overs in a reasonable time, I am convinced that we would swiftly see a return to a brisk 1950s tempo. (And to make sure, there should be an ICC-trained man-eating tiger in a cage just beyond the boundary rope. The computerised door of the cage should be programmed to open automatically whenever the over rate falls below 15 per hour. No one likes being eaten by a tiger. This scheme would be 100% successful. As well as helping out an endangered species.)

Of all the potential Test-improving innovations being trialled – pink balls, floodlights, a Test championship, supermodel umpires, rocket-powered bats, the development of Sehwagium (a new chemical element derived from Virender Sehwag’s DNA, which, when ingested, gives a cricketer a remorselessly cavalier approach to batting) ‒ it beggars belief that playing all Test matches in giant tiger-infested underground bunkers has not even been discussed.

3: Stuart Broad needs to learn to take wickets again.

His Test bowling career is in a slump. He has taken more than two wickets in a Test innings only once in the last 18 months, and after playing a decisive role in the Ashes victory of 2009, and an important one in the drawn series in South Africa that followed, he has since been marginal to England’s continuing successes.

It was often said in the past that Broad did not know what type of bowler he was trying to be – was he a McGrath-style prober, nagging away like a deeply regrettable girlfriend, or a hostile paceman armed with fire, brimstone, a range of wicket-taking options, and some volcanic vocabulary to back it up? At the moment he is neither. Many pundits suggest that Broad generally bowls too short. In his two best spells in Test cricket – his Ashes-winning five-wicket blast in the first innings at The Oval in 2009, and his 4 for 43 in the Durban second innings to help Graeme Swann bowl England to victory the following winter – he took seven of his nine wickets either bowled or lbw, and another to a mistimed drive, and all were top-seven batsmen in two of the world’s stronger teams.

Of course, this does not mean that, were Broad to bowl every ball on a full length, he would slice through any top-class batting line-up like a hot chainsaw through a tree made of butter. But he is probably more likely to do so than he is when banging it in at a brisk but seldom bone-shuddering pace.

Broad took up bowling relatively late, and had a rapid ascent to the international team. Perhaps a spell in county cricket honing his craft and rediscovering his penetration – and getting some regular batting ‒ would help him complete his journey to becoming a world-class Test allrounder. Perhaps not. A little under a year ago, I was convinced that Alistair Cook needed a spell in county cricket to re-find and refine his game. I stand by that. If he had had that spell in county cricket, he would definitely have averaged over 200 in the Ashes. Without question.

Extras

A fascinating Test in Jamaica will reach its conclusion tomorrow. India remain favourites, after a nostalgia-fuelled century by the ageing master craftsman Rahul Dravid, a throwback innings on a throwback pitch. Dravid’s career has seemed to be in decline, but in his one Test since posing for a photo with my cuddly woollen WG Grace during the World Cup, he has averaged 76. In his previous 46 Tests over five years, he had averaged 39. You cannot possibly argue with cold, hard statistics like that.

[Any other Test players concerned about their form are welcome to rent WG Grace for a photograph at a cost of just £9995 per hour.]

[Disclaimer: posing for a photograph with a cuddly WG Grace is not guaranteed to ensure long-term cricketing success.]

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

  • Weijske on June 26, 2011, 16:55 GMT

    I'd like to poke WG Grace like a voodoo doll. And what exactly is Dravid doing to WG? Goodness gracious.

  • Anonymous on June 26, 2011, 11:14 GMT

    Loved the part about the WG Grace Doll at the end, especially the fine print. You, sir, are a legend.

  • Pinak on June 25, 2011, 6:36 GMT

    Andy u remind me of the great PG Wodehouse all the time. Why dont u attempt to publish like him? I am sure my kids will take ur name with the same awe, and ur publisher will take over wisden.

  • Tony Pasternak on June 24, 2011, 18:37 GMT

    To the most Royal of cricket bloggers: On your next trip to Calgary (surely imminent as we are getting some other Royals here for the Stampede) , we offer you to suit up for the Glenmore CC in a 50 over game? (We can pretend it's a Test)

  • S K Iyer on June 24, 2011, 15:19 GMT

    I cant decide which is better - the underground bunker idea or the trained-tiger idea; we seem to need both desperately that I am beginning to pray for both!!! And, Andy pleaszzzzzzzz........use your influence and ensure Broad is there to bowl, when the Indians arrive......pleaszzzz...some top guys in our line-up need him to achieve their personal milestones so they can quit soon and make way for some real young talent (no, no, not just Rohit Sharma and Cheteswhar Pujara, I assure you...)

  • Christy on June 24, 2011, 6:01 GMT

    " ICC-trained man-eating tiger in a cage just beyond the boundary rope" - better bring Lalit Modi and ask him to lure test teams to an alternative cricket tourney if they bowl less than 90 overs a day - ICC will make the cricketers jump thru hoops and bowl 100-overs a day !

  • Milind on June 23, 2011, 23:23 GMT

    Andy, in quest for social equality you should charge different amounts for those who play IPL and those who dont!!

  • Anonymous on June 23, 2011, 21:53 GMT

    What lessons can you get from the tests. Everyone knew SL did not had the full bowling attack for the tests. In one days and T20 they will. Now England will realize the true potential of SL players.

  • PJKAKA on June 23, 2011, 20:25 GMT

    I never realized Dravid had actually hit 39 (well, 38 and 170 odd days) until I saw this photo. He looks like a middle aged man posing with WG Grace (an incredibly athletic middle aged man at that).

    From 2002 to 2006, Dravid was without doubt, India's finest batsman. He won us more matches than even Sachin. Its great to see him hitting the strides again after that phase.

  • Fruits n Nuts on June 23, 2011, 20:22 GMT

    do a video blog, its not fun to read you in worlds and paras anymore ;) any batsman will prefer to be boooed by a Barmy army than getting framed in your article in an un romantic way

  • Weijske on June 26, 2011, 16:55 GMT

    I'd like to poke WG Grace like a voodoo doll. And what exactly is Dravid doing to WG? Goodness gracious.

  • Anonymous on June 26, 2011, 11:14 GMT

    Loved the part about the WG Grace Doll at the end, especially the fine print. You, sir, are a legend.

  • Pinak on June 25, 2011, 6:36 GMT

    Andy u remind me of the great PG Wodehouse all the time. Why dont u attempt to publish like him? I am sure my kids will take ur name with the same awe, and ur publisher will take over wisden.

  • Tony Pasternak on June 24, 2011, 18:37 GMT

    To the most Royal of cricket bloggers: On your next trip to Calgary (surely imminent as we are getting some other Royals here for the Stampede) , we offer you to suit up for the Glenmore CC in a 50 over game? (We can pretend it's a Test)

  • S K Iyer on June 24, 2011, 15:19 GMT

    I cant decide which is better - the underground bunker idea or the trained-tiger idea; we seem to need both desperately that I am beginning to pray for both!!! And, Andy pleaszzzzzzzz........use your influence and ensure Broad is there to bowl, when the Indians arrive......pleaszzzz...some top guys in our line-up need him to achieve their personal milestones so they can quit soon and make way for some real young talent (no, no, not just Rohit Sharma and Cheteswhar Pujara, I assure you...)

  • Christy on June 24, 2011, 6:01 GMT

    " ICC-trained man-eating tiger in a cage just beyond the boundary rope" - better bring Lalit Modi and ask him to lure test teams to an alternative cricket tourney if they bowl less than 90 overs a day - ICC will make the cricketers jump thru hoops and bowl 100-overs a day !

  • Milind on June 23, 2011, 23:23 GMT

    Andy, in quest for social equality you should charge different amounts for those who play IPL and those who dont!!

  • Anonymous on June 23, 2011, 21:53 GMT

    What lessons can you get from the tests. Everyone knew SL did not had the full bowling attack for the tests. In one days and T20 they will. Now England will realize the true potential of SL players.

  • PJKAKA on June 23, 2011, 20:25 GMT

    I never realized Dravid had actually hit 39 (well, 38 and 170 odd days) until I saw this photo. He looks like a middle aged man posing with WG Grace (an incredibly athletic middle aged man at that).

    From 2002 to 2006, Dravid was without doubt, India's finest batsman. He won us more matches than even Sachin. Its great to see him hitting the strides again after that phase.

  • Fruits n Nuts on June 23, 2011, 20:22 GMT

    do a video blog, its not fun to read you in worlds and paras anymore ;) any batsman will prefer to be boooed by a Barmy army than getting framed in your article in an un romantic way

  • njr1330 on June 23, 2011, 15:43 GMT

    '...deeply regrettable girlfriend...' Is there any other kind?!

  • Lord Emsworth on June 23, 2011, 14:38 GMT

    Amidst the Pole vaulting, Shewagium, and Aleem Dar hair cream humour Mr. Zaltzman actually made 3 very home-hitting astute observations: The wafer thin SL bowling being gobbled up, Sanga & Mahela's run freeze, and Broads what to bowl dilemma. Think if Shewagium is real..It would bring back the crowds to Test cricket. The last time I physically saw Test cricket I was sitting on the by the side of the SSC grounds in S/Lanka with a couple of dogs watching on critically while a rat snake slithered by hoping the dogs would aid his suicide bid.

  • Ricky Ponting on June 23, 2011, 13:56 GMT

    Can I borrow the WG Grace for a week? Me and all my team members need it.

  • Jim on June 23, 2011, 13:53 GMT

    So, if Sanga and Mahela had played one more practice game in England, would they have performed better? They had 8 innings to play and if they played well in only one innings, being world-class batsmen themselves, they have to blame only themselves, not IPL!!

  • Jim on June 23, 2011, 13:48 GMT

    Even if there had not been a six-week world cup and six-week IPL, Sri Lanka would never have taken 20 wickets of England in a test match. They still might have lost that Cardiff match with all the preparation done beforehand. Sri Lanka played well not to lose next 2 matches and England could not take 20 wickets too sometimes. If not for the weather, they might have. But Sri Lankans need to improve, world cup and IPL can never be an excuse for their poor bowling attack and their show.

  • Verinder Singh on June 23, 2011, 12:44 GMT

    "he a McGrath-style prober, nagging away like a deeply regrettable girlfriend" IS the Greatest cricketing analogy ever made. Nearly choked on my ITSU grilled chicken rice bowl. Andy - gonna book tickets to see you at Ed Fringe; any chance your prime focus will be on the Great Game?

  • abhishek manocha on June 23, 2011, 12:40 GMT

    I am sad that you didn't tell the world the truth of the matter here: that power of cricket gods is flowing from me to wollen WG Grace (W2G2) to Dravid. And I am not doing any sarcasm. And shame on you Andy, you are fooling the innocent soul for some quids, pennys, dollars whatever. How's the picture with W2G2 would give them any better cricketing strength then. Wake up guys, Andy is folloin ya

  • The real kp on June 23, 2011, 12:39 GMT

    Would WG Have chosen IPL over England?? Probably yes :)

  • abhishek manocha on June 23, 2011, 12:33 GMT

    Andy, are you serious about that man-eating tiger thing? I am in circus business.

  • MikeD_442 on June 23, 2011, 11:24 GMT

    Always love reading this blog. One of the best reads on the net. Andy is a great writer and a great comedian.

    One minor quibble though. Too harsh on Aberdeen. Our fine city is silver, not grey. .

  • Jackiel on June 23, 2011, 11:19 GMT

    I'm a real fan Andy but habits die hard when it comes to Bell and you can't bear to let go of portraying him as the mighty mouse. He was a very young cricketer in 2005. But he has moved on and so should you.

    As you are man for statistics why are you including Bell in the inconsistent top order line up that has only recently become consistent? Cook has put his game right after a poor summer in 2010. But Bell's progress is uninterrupted since his 140 in Durban 2009, average 91.46, 15 matches 6 centuries. Even if we start his record coming back into the side in summer 2009 (he got a 50 and all important 72) he averages 69.

    England's batting line up demolished Australia before they demolished Sri Lanka. Were they all poor bowlers?

  • GS on June 23, 2011, 10:32 GMT

    Andy Saltzman is without doubt the funniest chap writing for Cricinfo, and probably anywhere in the world on the subject of Cricket.

    Second is clear daylight, with the rest of the competing herd of scribblers a distant third.

  • Rahul J on June 23, 2011, 10:23 GMT

    this one is a classic!!!! :) Having ingested the chemical Sehwagium, andy wrote in superb form, driving and hooking at will!

  • androidb on June 23, 2011, 10:14 GMT

    Andy . . That photo surely has reaped great results ,Irfan pathan should definately take a photo with that woolen doll ..... But i think you should lower the price ....

  • Faridoon on June 23, 2011, 9:00 GMT

    I think we should also connect a sensor on the crease to detect no-balls and run-outs and activate the tiger cage door. No room for such discretions in the modern game.

  • ss on June 23, 2011, 8:44 GMT

    i would like to pose with WG ........if i can average 76 from now on i can get into a test team!

  • Mohans on June 23, 2011, 8:25 GMT

    Thanks for Nice and hilarious article. Board is like Bajji, more batsman than bowler. Stats on Dravid’s last 5 year reflects the quality of bench strength in Indian team.

  • Jagy on June 23, 2011, 7:32 GMT

    Can i pose with WG just to get into my local club. I guess price would be much less for that :-). (no offence to WG's midas touch).

  • Swaroop on June 23, 2011, 6:22 GMT

    Can I buy the cuddly WG Grace somewhere? My backyard cricket batting average has plumetted from a Harbhajanesque 17 to a Venkateshprasadian 7.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • Swaroop on June 23, 2011, 6:22 GMT

    Can I buy the cuddly WG Grace somewhere? My backyard cricket batting average has plumetted from a Harbhajanesque 17 to a Venkateshprasadian 7.

  • Jagy on June 23, 2011, 7:32 GMT

    Can i pose with WG just to get into my local club. I guess price would be much less for that :-). (no offence to WG's midas touch).

  • Mohans on June 23, 2011, 8:25 GMT

    Thanks for Nice and hilarious article. Board is like Bajji, more batsman than bowler. Stats on Dravid’s last 5 year reflects the quality of bench strength in Indian team.

  • ss on June 23, 2011, 8:44 GMT

    i would like to pose with WG ........if i can average 76 from now on i can get into a test team!

  • Faridoon on June 23, 2011, 9:00 GMT

    I think we should also connect a sensor on the crease to detect no-balls and run-outs and activate the tiger cage door. No room for such discretions in the modern game.

  • androidb on June 23, 2011, 10:14 GMT

    Andy . . That photo surely has reaped great results ,Irfan pathan should definately take a photo with that woolen doll ..... But i think you should lower the price ....

  • Rahul J on June 23, 2011, 10:23 GMT

    this one is a classic!!!! :) Having ingested the chemical Sehwagium, andy wrote in superb form, driving and hooking at will!

  • GS on June 23, 2011, 10:32 GMT

    Andy Saltzman is without doubt the funniest chap writing for Cricinfo, and probably anywhere in the world on the subject of Cricket.

    Second is clear daylight, with the rest of the competing herd of scribblers a distant third.

  • Jackiel on June 23, 2011, 11:19 GMT

    I'm a real fan Andy but habits die hard when it comes to Bell and you can't bear to let go of portraying him as the mighty mouse. He was a very young cricketer in 2005. But he has moved on and so should you.

    As you are man for statistics why are you including Bell in the inconsistent top order line up that has only recently become consistent? Cook has put his game right after a poor summer in 2010. But Bell's progress is uninterrupted since his 140 in Durban 2009, average 91.46, 15 matches 6 centuries. Even if we start his record coming back into the side in summer 2009 (he got a 50 and all important 72) he averages 69.

    England's batting line up demolished Australia before they demolished Sri Lanka. Were they all poor bowlers?

  • MikeD_442 on June 23, 2011, 11:24 GMT

    Always love reading this blog. One of the best reads on the net. Andy is a great writer and a great comedian.

    One minor quibble though. Too harsh on Aberdeen. Our fine city is silver, not grey. .