January 26, 2013

Bruised knees, fallen bails - why the fuss?

Surely sudden movements by tiny bits of wood can't be distracting batsmen, can they?

Modern cricketers have many skills. They can sit without flinching while a man with seven nose-piercings carves inky scribblings into their forearms. They can encapsulate the existential absurdity of the human condition in 140 characters or less (including lols, exclamation marks and spelling mistakes). They can autograph a pint-sized bat without taking their eyes off the game they are supposed to be involved in.

And they're very good at standing with their hands on their hips, looking incredulous. England are particularly skilled at this. Watching the Sultans of Sulk in Mohali the other day, I had to admire their polished, poised display of perturbation. In one instant they turned from energetic young sportsmen to a gang of IT maintenance people who'd just discovered that the reason they couldn't get the printer working all morning was that it wasn't plugged in.

I wonder if, in between throwing and fetching rehearsals, they have sulking drill? Ian Bell's peculiar little grimace conveyed so much more than mere disappointment. There was angsty despair. There was a touch of indigestion. There was a hint of latent anger, as though any day now, the peculiar little grimace might be followed by a bat-wielding, box-throwing, glove-chewing, umpire-savaging rampage.

The cause of this display of demonstrative despondency was England's own bandy-legged duke of dead ball, Mr Steven Finn. His egregious patellofemoral habit has placed umpires in a quandary. There's no law against dislodging the minor timber with parts of your anatomy. After all, aside from the accumulation of colourful bruises on Steven's kneecap, no damage has been done. But it just kind of seems wrong.

So umpires have gone with a charge of distracting the batsman, and Finn has used all his warnings. He's been up before Justice Davis on more than one occasion, and this time, pleas for clemency from Alastair Cook were not entertained by the stern magistrate.

But I think there are grounds for an appeal. Is the gentle tumble of a four-inch piece of wood a distraction? What about the raucous spectators? What about the rapid approach of a two-metre tall bowler with hostile intent? In my experience nothing distracts a batsman from the maintenance of a perfect batting stance like the sudden arrival of a fast bowler and his flinging a leather sphere in your direction.

And is it the falling of the bail that causes the distraction? Or is it the realisation that the bails are missing and that the feng shui of the wicket furniture is disturbed that so discombobulates the man with the bat? This has yet to be explained, but it seems that easily startled batsmen, like particularly jumpy meerkats, are in need of protection and if he doesn't want to spend the rest of his career standing half way down the pitch looking disgruntled, Steven needs to exercise greater control over his lower portions.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England