August 10, 2014

Poor basics have brought down the standard of cricket

Test teams are more competitive these days, but it's probably because the fundamentals of backing up, running between the wickets and catching are being ignored

Are pre-game routines designed to build on cricket's fundamental skills? © Getty Images

The wildly fluctuating series between India and England reflects Test cricket in the last decade. Where there was once domination by West Indies and then Australia, we now have parity, at least among the top five or six teams. Certainly there's a tendency towards home advantage, but as we've seen with India and England, there's very little standing between the top teams.

Is parity better for the game than dominance?

There's no doubt cricket is a more interesting spectacle when there's a genuine tussle, as witnessed in the contrasting Tests played at Trent Bridge and Lord's. Give bowlers some encouragement and the contest can be compulsive viewing.

Unfortunately, parity has come about because the standard of the better sides has slipped a little rather than it being a case of the lesser teams raising the bar. Still, it's preferable having a logjam at the top of the table rather than one standout team followed in the distance by a bunch of also-rans.

Why has parity only been achieved through a dip in standards?

We are constantly told that batsmen are more dominant these days and that fielding standards are better than ever, but the information doesn't match reality. Batting survival techniques have deteriorated. It's power-hitting that has dramatically improved. And while some amazing catches and saves are enacted near the boundary, in the crucial area of the close cordon, chances are too often spilt because simple but critical footwork is lacking. The pursuit of the spectacular has outstripped the desire to master basics.

Much of the pre-game routines are fairy-floss rather than the meat and potatoes that help win cricket matches. One of my main concerns when the idea of international coaches was first mooted was that decisions would be taken to justify a large contract rather than be in the best interests of the player. It seems that many coaches want to leave a monument behind, and consequently there are numerous theories in existence replacing good old-fashioned tried and tested techniques.

It's interesting to reflect on the thoughts of two great practitioners of their art, Australia's Bill O'Reilly and West Indies' Sir Garfield Sobers. O'Reilly once advised a young cricketing hopeful: "If you see a coach coming, son, run a mile." Sobers was even less subtle. When some ill-informed official had the temerity to suggest he didn't have the required qualifications to coach, Garry exploded: "What do you think I got my f#@%&*! knighthood for, singing?"

Sobers deplored the fact that "great cricketers are treated as freaks; admired for their feats but ignored for the way in which they achieved them".

The basics of backing up, running between wickets, catching in the slips, and some to do with ground fielding, are being ignored. There's a tendency to salivate over the latest fashionable theory but gag on tried and tested techniques.

Two classic examples are slip catching and running between wickets. Many chances go down in the cordon because of the failure to initiate the slight turn of the foot that balances a fielder before attempting a catch away from the body. The tendency is to attempt a spectacular catch by simply falling sideways - at the risk of spilling the chance.

Why do batsmen turn blind, not watch the ball leave the bowler's hand when backing up, and insist on running down the on side of the pitch after playing a stroke when that greatly increases the chance of a collision with a partner?

These are violations of simple basics that have brought good results. They should be learnt before a budding cricketer reaches teenage years, and be ingrained in him by the time he reaches voting age.

While many coaches seek fame, players tend to concentrate on methods most likely to earn their fortune. While the former is lamentable, the latter approach is understandable.

No other sport has three vastly different forms of competition, and this complicates the issue of technique, especially in batting. However, Kumar Sangakkara is a classic example of how you don't have to sacrifice the basics in order to succeed in all three forms.

The aim should be to achieve parity by raising the overall standard.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on August 13, 2014, 1:15 GMT

    Ian - Why not parity? A game of musical chairs is more exciting than watching a solo show. Modern cricket is intensely competitive: there are 6 teams - SA, Oz, Eng, Ind, SL & Pak - vying for the top Test spot. Plus WI & NZ are no pushovers. In his "think tank" wisdom, Chappelli even suggested: "why not merge them (Bangladesh & Zimbabwe) to make them a more competitive side?" OMG! That's parity! Most Test matches these days yield a definite win/loss result, compared to the dreary draws of old. Call it the "ODI/T20 effect" of uncertainty, speeding up Test matches. SL prevailed over Pak in Galle in a thrilling ODI/T20-like cliff-hanger in rain! Yes, Sanga is a "classic example" of multi-tasking! The Ind-Eng series saw many twists & turns, changing outcomes on a dime. As The Bard said: "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown"! Since the power shift from the Eng-Oz duopoly to today's India-led cricket world, the game is more inclusive & competitive. A rising tide lifts all boats, Ian!!

  • James on August 12, 2014, 0:36 GMT

    The country that now revises the duration of matches, from first class to schools, and makes them long enough for technique to count, will come out on top.

  • Philip on August 11, 2014, 23:13 GMT

    I have a young relative who has a competitive hobby. She started at under four years of age. She's spent three years at it. It is really only just starting to click. She understands that she's not having that much fun with it now. But she's competitive. She wants to do well in the future. She knows that only technical skill will help her compete. Others have been better than her for most of that time. They are now falling by the wayside though. Hopefully, they will come back or others will come in and boost the numbers and the standard. But at least it is a past-time which is finding results with the traditional learning model - hard-work and discipline - and avoiding the management-speak of quick, easy fixes. There was a time though, in her early days, when different teachers had an eye to making things fun for all. She had fun, but learnt nothing. If this had continued she would have dropped out by now. Long-term high-quality prospects must be considered. They are not to be wasted.

  • Philip on August 11, 2014, 22:16 GMT

    Jarrod Kimber wrote recently on this site "Sports teams love business fads, because people in sports haven't worked in business much, so they have no idea how unimpressive business methods are." He is correct. Yet, cricket in Australia is increasingly run as a half-business. I say half-business, because it can never be a full business. But neither is it fully just a sport. It is neither fish nor fowl, neither one thing nor another. T20, which can be quite fun, is an example of this. It is like so many computer games - however much fun may be had, at the end of the day, how much is being learnt? And yet T20 is the answer to all of our junior development problems or so we are increasingly lead to believe. I have a simple alternative. Kids want to play if they can be good at something. They can understand that one has to work at it. They don't always require instant gratification. And they don't require cotton-wool-smothering to the degree that the modern world seems to demand.

  • Philip on August 11, 2014, 22:05 GMT

    Glad to see the comments from Hammond & Insult_2_Injury (on 11/8). In our area, we are preparing for more T20 in juniors. Good stuff. It'll get the kids in. And most won't get anywhere. They'll just drop out having learnt nothing. Schools cricket? In our region, what schools cricket? Schools play only rubber-ball super-modified cotton-wool cricket - can't even call it cricket - or usually don't play it at all. Our country club has a recent proud history of trying to develop kids, but we struggle against the belief that because we've been winning that's all we're trying to do. That isn't the case at all. We won in juniors because we developed talent. We'd like to do more for more kids, but we don't have the resources. And all we hear are "the retention rate" and "T20". T20 is a cause of some problems - not the answer to all of them. And attracting in new players at the age of 12, 13 or 14 seems to be beyond our region's radar as regards what is possible. It is all management-speak.

  • Shahzaib on August 11, 2014, 18:39 GMT

    I do feel that batting has become easier with the advent of protection, restrictions placed on bowlers and fielders,etc, resulting in a decline in quality. But it has more to do with the mindset of the administrators of the game than the mindsets of those playing it. Let the bowler bowl bouncers, and the batsmen will learn to cope with it, increasing the intensity and the quality of their batsmanship. As far as rankings go, I think the FTP is certainly to be blamed for the logjam. I still think that there are a couple of teams that are a few steps ahead of the rest, but the rest cannot be blamed for a very very lopsided schedule. Unless every team plays every other team on a regular basis, with approximately the same amount of tests as others, the quality won't improve. To see a team struggling in a Test because they haven't played one for nine-ten months, against a team coming off a month break is just painful.

  • Chandru on August 11, 2014, 17:57 GMT

    Poor basics and also more importantly lack of patience in playing test cricket.

  • Steve on August 11, 2014, 17:56 GMT

    In T20s, players can get away with obvious weaknesses as there isn't enough time for the opponents to work on them. Tests are a different matter altogether. In the old days, players had no choice but to work on overcoming technical deficiencies if they wanted a long career. Now a days, it's totally different. The badly failed Indian batsmen will go back to IPL on dullest possible pitches and make both lot of money and runs. All will be well soon. No one will remember much about the Eng tour debacles.

  • v on August 11, 2014, 13:57 GMT

    I agree that todays batsmen are more likely to lose their wicket earlier than those from Ian's era. But to blame techique alone for that is incorrect. Todays players attempt strokeplay more than ever. There is a constant focus on scoring runs at a competitive run rate. Teams are strategically more inclined towards producing favorable results. For players, Test match cricket is still the ultimate competition. But, they would not be prepared to bat hours only to showcase patience if it doesnt benefit their team's strategy to win.

    T20 and 50-50 have definitely affected young players, but it is only part of evolution process. The desire to score more runs, pick more wickets and save more runs will finally drive players to become good cricketers.

  • Geoffrey on August 11, 2014, 9:52 GMT

    I coached an Under 10's cricket team once, I was criticised for focusing on teaching the back and front foot defences first, the parents wanted reverse sweeps and late cuts from ball one. There is a heavy focus in (Australia at least) on limited overs cricket at a young age that does not lend itself to proper batting technique later. The great batsman of the past talk in their biographies about batting for hours and hours in school matches, and learning patience and technique at a very young age. Such opportunities just don't exist in this fast paced modern world of ours. Test match cricket may remain, but proper test match players are as obsolete as an 8 ball over or the back foot bowling rule. They even talk about run rates in test cricket now.