August 5, 2007

Put a sock in it

The nonsensical chatter from behind the stumps is not "part of the game". Batsmen are entitled to a bit of peace and quiet when they are out in the middle



Gift of the gab: Prior can talk the talk, but he hasn't quite walked the walk © Getty Images

I'm no Sherlock Holmes but I think I've cracked the great jelly bean mystery. However, in keeping with the conventions of thrillers, you'll have to read to the end to find the guilty party.

Judging by the evidence so far, England now believe international wicketkeepers are there to be heard and not seen. This adds another misleading myth to the many that abound about wicketkeepers, including the most erroneous one of all about batting being the first consideration when choosing a keeper.

Instead of admonishing Matthew Prior for his poor footwork, England coach Peter Moores defended his gabby gloveman by asking that the stump microphone volume be lowered so that less of his inane chatter is heard on television. As a former wicketkeeper Moores should be telling Prior to lower his personal chat volume and raise his standards.

It's true that a wicketkeeper needs to ensure the fielding is lively, but he should do so by setting a good example and contributing to the team thought process, rather than talking a lot of drivel. The fact that a constant stream of inanities is now seen as "part of the game" is an indictment of the numerous sheriffs who supposedly control the game, as well as those who indulge in this practice.

The more talk that is allowed on the field the more likely it is that something personal will be said. If a player is verbally accosted at the wrong moment there is the likelihood of fisticuffs on the field and in the current emotionally charged atmosphere, with a decider looming at The Oval it would be better if Moores told Prior; "You are here to be seen and not heard."

It is an indictment of Prior's footwork that he has already allowed more than three times as many byes as his predecessor Chris Read in two fewer innings. If you think this comparison is unfair, then Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who isn't exactly twinkle toes behind the stumps, has only allowed 27 more byes than Prior in three times as many innings. At least Dhoni is smart enough to keep relatively quiet behind the stumps.

The India versus England series has been exciting, with loads of good bowling, a wonderful mixture of aggressive and determined batting, and no shortage of drama. It has been extremely watchable because the two curators so far have provided pitches that have given every player a chance to display his skill. Too often a pitch favours either batsman or bowler but this time the balance has been perfect, which has complemented the skills of two pretty evenly matched sides.

What would happen if the non-striking batsman started chatting to the bowler as he was about to commence his run-up? There would be a hell of a fuss and it would quickly put an end to on-field chatter being a one-way street

The administrators should take note of the standard of play in the first two Tests. It has been exciting because of the nature of the pitches and because the ball has swung consistently, therefore testing the batsmen fully. This has resulted in first-innings scores that leave both teams with a chance of victory and plenty of time to chase the win. These are exactly the results the administrators should be trying to replicate every time they write a law or issue an edict. If an edict should come from this series, it is one that says: "We've had enough of the endless and mindless chatter on the cricket field."

It is not "part of the game". Batsmen are entitled to a bit of peace and quiet when they are out in the middle. What would happen if the non-striking batsman started chatting to the bowler as he was about to commence his run-up? There would be a hell of a fuss, and on-field chatter would quickly cease to be a one-way street. I don't understand why batsmen haven't resorted to this ploy already.

England is hardly the only team that indulges in this irritating tactic but by suggesting the microphone volume be lowered, Moores is adding his name to the list of people who condone on-field chatter. The fact that Prior has succeeded an equally gabby gloveman, Paul Nixon, means mindless chatter is now entrenched as an English tactic.

So far this enthralling series hasn't been spoiled by any on-field shenanigans. Hopefully that will remain the case and the great jelly bean saga will prove to have been nothing more sinister than the England players throwing sweets at their wicketkeeper in an effort to shut him up.