Pat Murphy interviews Chris Broad, John Emburey and more, 1996

Has the game got worse?

NORMAN GIFFORD

Born 1940. Worcestershire 1960-1982; Warwickshire 1983-1988; Sussex coach/cricket manager 1989-1995; Durham coach 1996-. 710 first-class matches; 15 England caps.

It's so much more competitive now, and you can't expect it to be otherwise with all that extra prize money and prestige being dangled in front of the players. The extra emphasis on winning made me a casualty at Sussex. Winning a trophy gives you breathing space - look at Kent after winning the Sunday League last year - otherwise people say you're a load of rubbish. When I first started, you weren't expected to win anything, and as long as Worcestershire did OK in the two local derbies against Warwickshire, you didn't get much grief. I think the standard of wickets overall could be better and that's tied up with the emphasis on winning. They aren't conducive to the long-term development of cricketers. I'm also saddened by the reluctance of batsmen to walk any more. When I began my career, you walked if you knew you'd hit it, but now they leave it to the umpire. The emphasis on medical care and fitness is much greater now and the fielding is fantastic. Look at Trevor Penney: you can consider a batsman/fielder like him as an all-rounder. The players deserve the extra money now because of all the media pressure that's on them, getting their techniques dissected every day on the box. I wish the younger ones would talk more about the game, though. There are exceptions - like Jamie Hall at Sussex and Warwickshire's Andy Moles when he first started - but generally, they don't stand at the bar and drink in knowledge as well as beer, like we used to. Perhaps they spend too much time in a car, travelling to games.


JOHN EMBUREY

Born 1952. Middlesex 1973-1995; Northamptonshire coach 1996-. 499 first-class matches; 64 England caps.

The behaviour of players on the field has changed enormously in my time. All the hand-slapping and "high fives" have got out of hand. I noticed it in particular when I came back into the England side at Old Trafford last year, yet I still preferred to slap people on the back and say "well done" instead of risking a hernia with all that "high five" stuff. I get well paid to do my job and we should tell ourselves we're only doing our jobs when we do well, it's nothing out of the ordinary. I don't approve of close fielders shouting "well bowled" when someone is pitching the ball outside the off stump and the batsman isn't being troubled. It's unprofessional if you aren't bowling at the stumps or troubling the batsman in some way. I don't like to see players on match days walking around in public wearing shorts or T-shirts - that to me suggests a lack of pride in one's profession. Whites or blazers are respectable and show a respect for the job. The four-day game is a big plus for England cricket, but there are still too many under-prepared pitches. Too many matches are finishing prematurely due to poor wickets and that's not helping to develop spinners. I made my first-class debut in the era of uncovered wickets and that allowed greater variety: you had to bowl at different speeds, a different line and length according to the conditions. You had to learn how to bowl, but now spinners lack variety. The first-class game is less friendly than it was and captains are often responsible for that. Too much emphasis on winning. The media doesn't help. If you can't relax off the field because of the close attention of the media, the players are tensed up and aggressive and they take that out on the opposition on the field of play. But I believe that coaching is now more imaginative and thorough. There's more preparation involved and someone like Bob Woolmer was tremendous at getting his players to relax and to think more about their game. Dermot Reeve has carried that philosophy on at Warwickshire and they are now way ahead of other clubs in terms of talking out a game plan and at stretching their players, making a team of average players a highly successful unit. Other clubs, note.


EDDIE HEMMINGS

Born 1949. Warwickshire 1966-1978; Nottinghamshire 1979-1992; Sussex 1993-1995. 518 first-class matches; 16 England caps.

One of the big plusses is that at last proper wages are now being paid, so that you don't have to worry so much about getting work in the winter and you can go abroad and try to improve your cricket, without going broke. I've got two teenage sons who have professional ambitions in cricket and they can see an attractive career there. The fitness levels and fielding are far better. The running between the wickets is fantastic now: when the ball goes to third man, they're all thinking, "Is there two to him?" One-day cricket is a big plus and players ought to be grateful to that for bringing cricket to a wider public. It's exciting, it stretches you mentally and the public love it, so let's not be snooty. I like the increased media awareness about cricket and I think the TV coverage is beneficial, apart from the action replays affecting umpires' decisions. The game was fine enough without that artificiality. But I like the talk and speculation about the wicket before the game starts - and the rest of us can just smile and listen. The product is now being marketed as positively as it was in Australia in the early eighties, and about time too. It means more money for the top players and that's something for the ambitious youngsters to aim for. Some of the young players are too complacent, though. They expect their sponsored cars on the first of April, instead of having to earn them. The same goes for the first and second eleven caps. I don't see enough players enjoying themselves on the field as they used to - more slagging off than cracking jokes. Money matters, I suppose. For the same reason, sportsmanship has declined in my time. Sad - you're only cheating your fellow pros. I believe pitches nowadays don't help bowlers to learn their trade. They were far more accurate when bowling on flat wickets. Patience has gone from the Championship game. Batters don't wait for the bad ball; they're looking to score all the time, taking risks, messing with their techniques. In my last three years at Sussex, all I did was bowl line and length, and the batters got themselves out. And bowlers aren't patient enough now - they don't seem to want to bowl three or four maidens in a row, lulling the batsman. They think that keeping it tight is boring; too many of them want close fielders round the bat, rather than thinking the batters out. Let the batsmen struggle, don't make it easy by putting all those slips in, leaving gaps all over the place.


CHRIS BROAD

Born 1957. Gloucestershire 1979-1983 and 1993-1994; Nottinghamshire 1984-1992. 340 first-class matches; 25 England caps.

At county level, the game is still run by amateurs; all those corporate hospitality people don't know about first-class cricket and its particular problems. I don't think playing standards have dropped in my time, and I'm pleased that the counties can now have only one overseas player registered. When I started with Gloucestershire, they were playing Procter, Sadiq and Zaheer, which didn't exactly help in the development of home-grown talent. The quality of wickets still concerns me - as you'd expect from a batsman - and it's hampering the prospects of unearthing bowlers of variety. Where are all the swing bowlers? Poor pitches mean bowlers don't have to work all that hard for success, but they get found out at Test level. The extra hype from TV is good for the game. I like all that coloured clothing razzmatazz; it shows the game is starting to move with the times and attracting different people. I don't think more cricket on TV is harming English cricket - crowds for Premiership soccer matches are up every season, even though there is so much of it on satellite TV now. My nine-year-old son has lots of cricket heroes and I'm sure that's because he watches them on television. Every sport needs its heroes. I am sad, though, that all the beneficial changes to cricket seem to be coming from whizz-kids in the southern hemisphere. Why can't England, the so-called home of cricket, move with the times and come up with some progressive ideas? At Lord's they just seem to sit back, rake in the money and don't develop a radical enough approach to safeguard the game.


JOHN CHILDS

Born 1951. Gloucestershire 1975-1984; Essex 1985-. 375 first-class matches; two England caps.

I suppose the generation gap is a problem - or in my case, the double generation gap. I do miss talking as a team about cricket at close of play. These days, the Essex youngsters go smartly back to our hotel, get their gear on and head for the liveliest place in town. That just leaves me and Graham Gooch to mull over the game and its pleasures over a quiet beer. I still enjoy county cricket a great deal, although the absence of walking and the extra harshness is a bit sad. Like Goochie, I find the fielding rather taxing now, and when I bat and have to face the likes of Wasim Akram or Allan Donald, that can be a little embarrassing. It's times like that when I envy the slow bowlers of yesteryear, whose job was solely to take wickets. They must have got more fun out of it in those less stressful days. All that sliding and throwing off-balance in the field is thrilling to watch, but I know I'd end up in a heap with a torn muscle if I tried it. Having said that, I don't think the quality of close catching is as good as it was when I started. Blokes like Keith Fletcher and Sadiq Mohammad made it look so easy, whereas today there seems rather more fuss. Perhaps they copy what they see on television; there certainly seems to be a lot of hysteria whenever a wicket falls in a Test match. The longer I play, the more aware I become of what the game involves and I do still cherish it. Lulling a batsman out of the crease and getting him stumped gives me so much more pleasure than slapping hands in the middle. I'm sad to see craftsmen like Eddie Hemmings retiring. How can the spinner survive? It has to be in pairs, and that's why I've been lucky with Peter Such at Essex. He's a similar cricketer to me - a specialist, who hasn't stunned anyone with fielding or batting skills - but loves the spider/fly aspect of slow bowling. For me six for 60 has always been preferable to keeping it tight and getting four for 35, and I would hate to think that flight bowlers will soon be gone from the game.


GEOFF COOK

Born 1951. Northamptonshire 1971-1990; Durham director of cricket 1991-. 460 first-class matches; seven England caps.

The most disappointing area of change is in the quality of pitches and the level of what is deemed acceptable now. That started with the covering of wickets and today the four-day games are being played on surfaces that are cynically prepared. Deduction of points seems draconian, but is the only way. I feel sorry for the umpires, who have to get the initial investigations under way. Umpires have a hell of a job nowadays, because pressures on their own careers make their lives harder. So much stems from cash considerations and the need to win. That reflects the society in which we live. I wouldn't like to be a county captain nowadays because of the demands of the players, the club and sponsors. Players are far more ambitious earlier in their career than they used to be, and they become disenchanted earlier, so that rumours of transfers to other counties get stronger. Soccer-style sackings of coaches and captains are more prevalent in cricket and I was very sad to see what happened to Norman Gifford at Sussex. He's a great man of cricket with a youthful, positive attitude to the game still, and you just can't dispense with such experience. The game is much less sentimental; it's a case of survival of the fittest. It's much more hard-nosed on the field, and the camaraderie isn't there any more. From a skills point of view much has changed in my time. When I started as an opening batsman, the swinging ball was something that had to be faced early on from the likes of Peter Lever, Ken Shuttleworth and Chris Old. Now it usually doesn't swing until it's about 30 overs old. The areas in which batsmen score are now so much wider, compared to the days when you'd play though the V, through the covers or between mid-on and mid-wicket. Now batsmen play with greater virtuosity, partly through necessity because of the brilliant fielding and greater insight from captains into their field-placing.


BOB WOOLMER

Born 1948. Kent 1968-1984; Warwickshire director of coaching 1991-1994; South Africa coach 1994-. 350 first-class matches; 19 England caps.

The players of today are every bit as good as they were when I first started, but in a different way. Sports science is still in its infancy, but the players I've dealt with are very receptive: they're becoming more aware of what they're doing. The current crop are 50 per cent fitter than any of those I started with, but the intensity of international cricket now is huge. One-day cricket has decreased the life expectancy of an English professional and increased injury problems. It's an exciting spectacle and hasn't altered techniques detrimentally, they just play differently. At Test level the game is being stifled. It's very difficult to play at such high intensity without showing emotion, and the introduction of a match referee has neutered the umpire's influence. The huge media coverage has blown up emotional responses to more than they really are and the standard of umpiring doesn't help. There aren't enough high-quality umpires coming through, the standards needed haven't kept up with the times and that leads to mistrust in the game.


ROBIN MARLAR

Born 1931. Cambridge University 1951-1953; Sussex 1951-1968. 289 first-class matches. Cricket correspondent, Sunday Times 1970-1996.

What really annoys me is that the players don't have the command of the essential aspects of the game. You have bowlers who don't swing the ball, just bang it into the ground, spinners who don't turn it and just stop in their delivery stride, no bad-wicket experts in batting, no deftness in batsmanship because of the absence of uncovered wickets and using a plank of wood rather than a light bat. I do think batting has become more difficult because of the growth of extremely nasty fast bowlers who have formed a frightening challenge to the art of batting. The fast bowlers are taller, fitter, bouncier and it's very hard to score quickly when the ball is aimed between the left chest and left eye. The introduction of the helmet encapsulates that - a very stark event in cricket history. Coaching in English cricket is appalling. So many mediocrities are appointed to these jobs, and they're content with mediocrity. Why haven't we produced another world-class swing bowler since Ian Botham? The Test and County Cricket Board is a mess. It has to be reorganised like any other corporate activity. Any organisation that develops as much paperwork as the TCCB is in trouble. Committees are a form of non-organisation. The whole thing should be centralised like it is in South Africa, where Ali Bacher as the Board's managing director is publicly accountable, making quick decisions. At least he's decisive, for good or ill. All these county chairmen aren't qualified to talk about important issues concerning the game in England. But they do!

Pat Murphy joined the BBC in 1974 and is now BBC Radio's Midlands sports correspondent. He is the author of numerous cricket books including The Centurions and The Spinner's Turn.


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