Sunday, 14 July 2013

Through thick and Finn

Let’s be honest, this test match Steven Finn bowled an absolute load of dross. The two-in-two with the new ball on Day One aside, he was a bystander as Anderson tore through the Aussies, and when called up to bowl, helped push the game Australia’s way with two horrendously bad momentum swinging horror spells as firstly Agar in the first dig, then Haddin in the second cashed in. After dropping a tricky but makeable catch, the lanky paceman looked bereft of confidence and for all the world like he’s getting the heave-ho for Lord’s next week. The only saving grace was at least that someone else called Finn had an even worse day than he did (too soon?)

But I feel sorry for Finn. Things weren’t made easy for him. First up, the pitch did him no favours. Comfortably England’s quickest speedster (sometimes touching 90mph – at least if you believe the speedgun), Finn turned up at Trent Bridge hoping for a quick, bouncy deck and was faced with a slow, low graveyard. England have obviously decided that preparing pitches for spin and seam will give them the best chance of winning this series, which while it brings Anderson and Swann to the fore, pushes Finn right to the periphery. This obviously played into captain Cook’s mind when waiting until the 29th over of the second innings to give Finn the ball – by which time the rock hard new ball that Finn would clearly favour had been reduced to putty, hardly giving Finn the best chance to show off his skills. Add to that the noticeable lack of confidence in Finn from Cook (that spell only lasted three uneventful overs), and with his tail down on a slow pitch with a soft ball, it’s no wonder that Finn disappointed.

One area that Finn can’t excuse however is his use of the short ball. While Ashton Agar played what could well be the innings of his life, Finn helped get him on his merry way by feeding him a variety of long hops and other freebies, giving Agar time and room to swing hard and dispatch the ball with ease. As previously said, the pitch was far too slow for Finn’s “natural” game of banging it in short (note – Finn is far better when he bowls back of a length rather than trying to bounce every ball) which meant that he had very little chance of taking the wicket that would have spoiled everyone’s fun, and was only giving Australia vital runs at a crucial time in the game. While it must be tempting as a six foot plenty giant to try and hit the pitch as hard as he can, it clearly was not the way forward, and Finn needs to be a lot quicker to move to a plan B – or indeed go to a plan B at all.

Despite having a poor test match, Steven Finn is undoubtedly a fine bowler, and has the ability to get some of the world’s best batsmen out. He’s quick, he’s tall and he bowls from very tight to the stumps meaning that any test batsmen should be on their guard when facing him. What is a real shame though is that England aren’t really backing him at the moment. They fiddled around with his run-up to make him bowl right over the stumps, and when he started kicking them over, they fiddled around with it again, which has only served to take a touch of pace away from him. They ask him to continually bowl short in the “enforcer” role that isn’t really his natural game, and they provide him with pitches that clearly don’t suit. The captain doesn’t even give him a bowl until his main asset of the  new ball has been softened, giving him next to no chance to succeed - and even if he does start taking wickets, he’s moaned at for not ‘bowling dry’. Finally, it’s clear that England would prefer the runs of a batting-bowler such as Bresnan over Finn’s scratchy defence, even though Finn’s worked so hard at his batting that he even has a test fifty to his name. Finn almost certainly won’t play in the next test given the question marks over his selection coming into Trent Bridge have only got larger, and given likely conditions for the rest of this series, it may be until the Ashes roadshow jumps on a plane in November to Brisbane when he’s considered again. Despite not having a good game here, Steven Finn remains a very good bowler who could easily break all kinds of bowling records for England in test cricket. The only hope is that the odds are a little more in his favour next time.

Friday, 12 July 2013

To walk or not to walk...

"I always walked... as soon as the umpire put his finger up" - Geoffrey Boycott

Last year I wrote something about the spirit of cricket. There'd been a bit of a furore in a county game after Murali Kartik Mankadded Alex Barrow, with half of the cricket community calling Kartik a disgrace, with the rest sticking up for the Surrey twirler, arguing that he was well within his rights to run-out the non-striking batsman. Where the grey area lay was over the much spoken about 'Spirit of Cricket' - the Mankad is allowed in the laws of the game, but strictly forbidden in cricket's all-important code of conduct that attempts to ensure the sport is played in a sportsmanlike fashion. The Spirit of Cricket used to be an understanding between sides that they'd play the game in the 'correct' manner, but was officially written into the Laws of the Game as a preamble in 2000, telling players "cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this Spirit causes injury to the game itself". Wise words indeed.

So to Stuart Broad, who refused to walk after a clear edge behind at a crucial point of the first Ashes test. Broad will argue that the umpire didn't give him, but what of the much vaunted Spirit of the game? Broad knew he was out, the fielders knew he was out, but the umpire didn't, and Broad remained. While in the spirit of test cricket Broad should have walked, the laws of the game state that the umpire's decision is final, and as Aleem Dar didn't raise his finger, the batsman is not out.

All of this spirit of cricket stuff is very murky, with players happy to apply it when it suits them, and happy to sneak a fast one when the umpire isn't looking. Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin, as captain and wicket-keeper respectively  took it upon themselves to castigate Broad in their self-appointed roles as guardians of the spirit of cricket, yet both have decidedly shaky records when it comes to respecting the spirit. Clarke even took to Twitter during the last Ashes series to apologise for the exact same 'crime' of not walking when given not out, writing "I want to apologise for not walking off the ground when I hit the ball - emotions got best of me". Would he accept that same apology from Broad at the close of play?

The argument that's been doing the rounds on Twitter is that 'what goes around, comes around' - that these things even themselves up over time. Broad was given not out at a vital time in the test today, but what of Ashton Agar yesterday, who was also given not out stumped controversially before making his remarkable 98? Or of Jonathan Trott, given out by DRS when the umpire's decision was perhaps incorrectly overturned? Is the idea of cricketing karma enough to justify knowingly standing your ground when you know you've hit it?

For me, it all comes down to umpiring. The difference between, for example, Broad's dodgy edge and a fielder claiming a catch when he knows he didn't catch it (step forward Dinesh Ramdin) is that a fielder puts forward an appeal knowing it is not out, whereas Broad simply stood his ground to wait for a decision. It is not the batsman's role to give himself, or anyone out - it is the decision of the umpire, who on this case thought him not out. And with all the spirit of cricket in the world, if the umpire doesn't give you out, you don't have to go anywhere.

The spirit of cricket is a nice thing to have in the rules, it's a very vague statement which probably stops David Warner attacking people with his bat and allows cricket fans to look down their noses at fans of other sports and demonstrate how superior the 'gentleman's game' is. But while the "unique appeal" of cricket is nice on paper, in reality every team on the planet attempts to push the laws as far as they allow, and that's just the way of the modern game. Contrast, of course, Australia's reaction to Clarke's apology in 2010/11 where he was castigated for daring to say sorry for not walking, to the Australian agony and anger at Broad doing the same thing today. Every now and again cricket will throw up these unusual pieces of poor sportsmanship, but is this any different to a footballer scoring when he knows he's offside or a scrum pushing before the balls gone in? If the officials don't find fault with it, there isn't much anyone can do. While I am looking forward to Australia's new role as moral arbiters of the sport, I'm also looking forward to them relinquishing the role when their next batsman refuses to walk. The onus shouldn't be on the players to make the decisions, it should be on the umpires, and spirit or no spirit, that should be the way it stays.