March 15, 2014

All hail Ashley Giles

He's attempting to to introduce English cricket into the 1990s

"No, my darling, a doosra cannot be a full toss" © Getty Images

It's all over. By guiding his team to a series-deficit-reducing triumph in Barbados, Ashley Giles has seen off his coaching rivals, and the betting market for the next England coach shows old Wheelie as the overwhelming favourite, with Oprah Winfrey, Harry Styles, Michael Gove, Field Marshall Haig and Kaiser Wilhem II all trailing at massive odds.

And in the wake of his triumph, the new coach-elect has made a bold pronouncement on behalf of English cricket: it's time to accept the doosra. After some years on its high horse, it seems that English cricket has decided to climb down, although to be frank, everyone else had forgotten it was up there:

"Didn't you use to be taller, English cricket?"

"Yes, it was because I was sitting on that horse."

"Oh yes, the horse. I'd forgotten about that. Why were you up there again?"

"To be honest, I can't really remember."

Of course, sometimes you have to take a stand. But if you take a stand, and then decide later that actually you were a bit silly to take a stand and stop taking a stand, then people tend not to take you seriously when you next take a stand. Unfortunately, English cricket stands its ground more often than a cantankerous donkey with hoof ache.

The traditional English approach is to invent a sport, invite other people to play it, then almost immediately start to complain that the other people are ruining it. These other people generally belong in one of two camps: people who didn't go to Eton and Johnny Foreigner.

Being inherently conservative, English cricket adopts the default conservative position: that everything we hold dear is under imminent and perpetual threat. Our game is always on the brink of barbarism and only the chaps at the ECB can save it.

English cricket doesn't have a problem with ideas; so long as they are not new ideas. Consequently, the list of threats to the integrity of the game that have, down the years, caused the cheeks of Yorkshiremen to flush red with indignation and the jowls of MCC members to wobble in thunderous complaint is a fairly long one:

Professionals in a chap's dressing room
Professional captains
Women in the pavilion
Fast Australian bowling
Fast West Indian bowling
Paying cricketers a decent wage
Coloured clothing
Day-night cricket
Reverse swing
The doosra
Central contracts
Franchise Twenty20 cricket
Kevin Pietersen

Eleven years ago the ICC ruled that a bowler was allowed to bend his arm by 15 degrees. Furthermore, tests showed that all bowlers bend their arm when delivering the ball. But true to type, English cricket has ignored the evidence and stuck to the rule that if something looks a bit like chucking then it is chucking. End of discussion.

Yet things aren't always as they seem. The earth, it transpires, is not flat after all. The moon doesn't disappear every morning. Shane Warne is a lot less orange in real life than he appears to be on TV. Thanks to the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, science and all that, we don't need to rely on folk wisdom, rules of thumb, or superstition. We can analyse our game, discover new truths, invent new tactics, adjust the rules, and move on.

So we should welcome Ashley's attempts to bring English cricket into the 1990s. But having declared the doosra to be okay, his next challenge this summer will be far tougher: persuading the Test Match Special commentators that for professional broadcasters, a consistent inability to pronounce multi-syllable Sri Lankan names should be a source of embarrassment, not amusement.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here