A rich tapesty of bovine excrement
We all enjoyed reading Australia's top secret scrapbook of the self-evident, but as we work our way through Dermot Reeve's Psychological Warfare For Beginners, this week we've reached chapter two, entitled, "My Other Ball's A Teesra..."
Ravichandran Ashwin is threatening England with a new delivery, in the same way that you might taunt a frightened chicken with a packet of sage and onion stuffing. And why not. If you were about to enjoy a whole series worth of bowling at a succession of jittery-looking Englishman-shaped jellies, wouldn't you want to have a little fun with them first?
For Ashwin knows that he casteth his magic beans of fear on a particularly fertile psychological vegetable patch. Just as thespians are not supposed to mention the Scottish play, so the words "slow" and "bowler" have been banned from English net sessions. When England's reserve buttock masseur turned up to the team Halloween party wearing a Saeed Ajmal mask, he was sent home for making Ian Bell cry.
Ashwin isn't the first spinner to try this angle. The tactic dates back to the Bronze Age, when Goliath was so psyched out by an interview David gave to Hebrew Stone Flinger Monthly, in which the little fella talked about a new way of propelling a stone that the world had never seen, that the big Philistine was a nervous wreck by the day of the big match, whereupon he was felled by a straightforward old-fashioned clockwise-swung forehand.
How does it work? Well, with apologies to Sir Humphrey Appleby, it goes something like this. England know that Ashwin probably hasn't got a new delivery. Ashwin probably knows that they probably know that he probably hasn't. But even though they probably certainly know that he certainly hasn't and he probably certainly knows that they probably know that he certainly hasn't, they don't know for certain that there's no probability that he certainly has.
It's all part of the rich tapestry of bovine excrement that forms the backdrop to our great game, and Ashwin deserves a small ripple of polite applause for his efforts, even though it's as superfluous as a contestant in a Shooting Fish in a Barrel competition bragging that he's recently added a night sight to his machine gun. He's playing England, so even if he has a new delivery, which he hasn't, he won't need it.
For their part, the English batsmen have been working on a four-point strategy to address their embarrassing weakness, in order not to look too silly when the spinners come on:
1. Try to dominate the spinner by coming down the pitch early, possibly before he's started his run-up, and glaring at him from five yards away.
2. Put the spinner off by performing a wobbly-kneed dance, a la Bruce Grobbelaar in the 1984 European Cup Final.
3. Sweep, sweep and sweep again. Sweep for your life. Sweep like a Victorian urchin halfway up a chimney, like Cinderella with half an hour, a party to get to and a kitchen to clean.
4. Close your eyes, say three Hail Gattings, have a swing, and hope for the best.
Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England