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April 5, 2012

England in Sri Lanka 2011-12

Field of Monocotyledon dreams

Jarrod Kimber
Lahiru Thirimanne makes a brave attempt at taking a bat-pad catch, Sri Lanka v England, 2nd Test, Colombo, P Sara Oval, 3rd day, April 5, 2012
Absurd field placings are what can be best about Test cricket  © Getty Images
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Cricket is one of the few sports on earth that relies heavily on a non-humanoid living organism to shape the outcome of the game. The main playing area is actually alive. Every Test match is dictated to by a plant life form that bleeds. Cricket is part sci-fi and part gramnivore.

This is something that should never be forgotten, especially when you’re in some drunken conversation where someone calls cricket boring. “Oh, is your favourite sporting endeavour played on a Monocotyledon surface that evolves independently as the game progresses?”

When the pitch is like this it makes captains use weird field placements. Using three slips and a gully as a form of attack is largely useless on pitches like this. Both captains have had to improvise. Ever since Andrew Strauss had two short midwickets I’ve been waiting for either captain to use three, or even four. The ultimate Graham Gooch field. It’s not happened, but other odd fields have.

Sri Lanka had three slips and a gully at one stage, but they were spread out so far from each other they couldn’t hold a polite conversation. It was about as close to regulation as they tried.

The most mental fielding position had to be the short silly backward point off the Sri Lanka spinners. It’s the position you put the guy in the team everyone hates, and then just sit back and wait for the spinner to drop marginally short so the fielder could be pinned.

But in both Tests I’ve enjoyed Sri Lanka’s 7-2 field for the spinners. Watching Trott refuse to take any risk other than a reverse sweep against Randiv at Galle was probably my highlight of that Test. It wasn’t pretty, but it was hard, and both sides had to hold their nerves.

7-2 and 8-1 fields cop a bit of flack as a defensive tactic, and they can be. They are also what is best about Test Cricket. A captain who will improvise, a bowler who is bowling to an absurd plan and a batsmen who is trying not to do something stupid. It’s proper sport. All of this while short leg, dual short midwickets and a leg slip wait for a mistake and three sweepers dance to the music of the band.

These kinds of fields force batsmen to improvise, take chances, be bold, or hold their breath until it’s over.

KP decided to dust off the switch hit. This angered Dilshan.

There are some who think the switch hit is against the spirit of the game. There are others who believe 7-2 fields are against the spirit of the game. If you look hard enough, someone probably thinks the toss is against the spirit of the game.

I’m not so worried about the spirit of the game, or whether it exists at all. I just like it when cricket bends itself to adapt to different situations.

Cricket is not like a banana; it has not been perfectly created to fit into your hand. Due to the tactics, surface and structure of the game it’s in continual evolution. It can’t be stopped by players or officials. Cricket just changes. Some of these changes are bad, some good and some odd. This Test will not be like the next Test, nor the one after, nor the IPL. Even with switch hits.

Most sports don’t mutate as fast or often as cricket. Most sports aren’t played on a constantly mutating living surface.

Jarrod Kimber is 50% of the Two Chucks, and the mind responsible for cricketwithballs.com

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Posted by cr srinivas on (April 6, 2012, 18:21 GMT)

great article, nice comments. if this article was any longer, it would be legendary...finally I see some comments that do not trash Tendulkar, BCCI, IPL, India, God..oh sorry I already said Tendulkar:) maybe we are evolving as a species:)

Posted by Kevin on (April 6, 2012, 16:27 GMT)

Are you accusing test cricket of being like 'watching the grass grow'? Oh dear. And they have been doing this for nigh on 200 years. Imagine: 22 players + 2 umpires (not to mention assorted other peripherals)= 24 persons X 5 days = 120 man-days per test match. How high would the the Monocotyledon have grown in 2,000 Test Matches?

Posted by Kathy on (April 6, 2012, 8:26 GMT)

yeah, right! and those three sweepers remind me of demented polo-ponies, galloping back and forth, back and forth, chasing an elusive ball. More seriously, I'm still waiting on one of you cricketing websites to put out an article on the making of a cricket pitch, with or without the outfield. Different types of grass, etc., depending on the part of the world you're in ... it must make a difference to the character of the pitch. And soil types. We're all aware that weather is important, but not what is underfoot. This is a suggestion - how about it?

Posted by muhammd touseef on (April 6, 2012, 6:46 GMT)

oh absolutely. cricket is mental game. field setting has great impact on result. in my view ponting was one of the best field placer

Posted by pasha on (April 6, 2012, 4:34 GMT)

Interesting read. To take the argument forward, humans have mutations built into them, which helps them evolve. This is important for the survival of the fittest. I wonder if test cricket will turn out to be fit enough to survive in a new age.

Posted by John the Just on (April 6, 2012, 1:32 GMT)

Brilliant article. The pitch is what makes cricket so different from other sports. The pitch is different in EVERY game. The pitch also changes DURING the game—"played on a Monocotyledon surface that evolves independently as the game progresses", as Kimber so cleverly writes. And over five days, there's the weather too. It's the world's greatest sport.

Posted by Matt Carley on (April 5, 2012, 23:55 GMT)

Really great article.

Posted by kg on (April 5, 2012, 21:24 GMT)

Cricket is game theory in motion. starts with a baseline strategy with expected payoff. the game starts and these payoff are updated which dictates new strategies. And there's a million of them. what nature deals conditions the strategy and the expected payoffs, both before the game and during it. I guess what you wanted to say is that as nature (pitch, ground, umpire's mood, drs' mood) changes, the game evolves (i.e an evolutionary game unfolds). ok, i get it. great article.

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