India March 17, 2012

Are bookies doing it all wrong?

They're putting their money in places no one dreams of visiting

Tuesday, 13th March I’m worried about Gautam. His century was very nice, but it’s not as though he hasn’t done it before or was poised on 99 hundreds or had his mortgage on it at 25-1 or anything. His reaction upon securing three figures was a bit of a jolt. I haven’t seen that much unexpected fist-pumping since the Pope received the news that Germany had knocked England out of the World Cup.

And then there were the verbal ejaculations. Traditionally, this kind of thing is left to the chap with the ball. Ryan Sidebottom is a master of the fist-clenched primal roar and Dale Steyn does that thing where all his upper body muscles go taut and he looks like he’s about to turn into some kind of mutant super hero. Or dislocate his jaw.

So what could have provoked mild-mannered Gautam to join the ranks of the screamers and ravers? His frenzied finger-jabbing in the direction of the dressing room suggested that he’d proved a point to someone. “There you go,” he seemed to be saying, “I told you I could score a century on a flat pitch against a toothless bowling attack in a minor tournament. Take that!”

Frankly, if high scores have this kind of effect on him, perhaps it’s just as well he hasn’t had too many of late.

Wednesday, 14th March A Delhi bookmaker has claimed that English county cricket is a good market for match-fixing because the quaint rural pastime is so low-profile that nobody monitors it. This is a little unfair on the ECB. They have tried to keep tabs on what is going on in the shires but their undercover naughtiness monitors invariably nodded off on the first morning, and when debriefed at ECB HQ, were unable to recall a thing.

Can bookmakers really fix these games? Perhaps. But surely the more important question is what kind of dangerous lunatic would want to bet on county cricket?

A bet should be something to make the pulse quicken, the eyes widen and the wallet twitch. A helter-skelter two-mile steeplechase or a blood-and-thunder game of rugby is worth a wager. But the spectacle of a bunch of has-beens, might-bes and expat South Africans pottering around a field in front of a gaggle of sandwich-munching retired civil servants does not cause the Hughes betting neurons to fire.

Frankly, I fear for the future of illegal bookmaking if their business model depends on encouraging customers to speculate on Slumbershire versus Yawnchester. Give me two cockroaches racing up a wall anytime.

Thursday, 15th March Traditionally, first-wicket down is usually where you put the star of the show, although there are a couple of accepted variations:

1. If your show doesn’t have a star, you might hand the position to a reserve blocker. Selectors enjoy pulling this trick. Remove one of our dogged openers, they chortle and aha, here comes another dogged opener! England tried this sometimes in the 1990s, although it doesn’t work if none of the batsmen concerned are any good.

2. Occasionally, No. 3 is the place you might choose to blood a talented but fragile young strokemaker, particularly if you don’t like him very much.

But if, as seems likely, Shane Watson is to take the third position in the Australian batting order, then we need to rewrite the rules. From now on, three is also the place where former big hitting allrounders go when their work experience at the top of the order is over and they find themselves captaining the team.

For many of us, this is bewildering. Once upon a time, the architecture of the Australian batting order was as solid and enduring as an old market town and when changes had to be made, they were subtle, in keeping with the character of the place. But now it seems the developers have been let loose and anything can go anywhere.

Or perhaps this is the equivalent of the Ajax football team’s tactical innovations of the early 1970s. In Australia’s “Total Cricket” philosophy, any player can play anywhere. Personally I’d like to see Xavier Doherty express himself at No. 4, and I reckon that young Ricky Ponting could do a job in the lower middle order.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England