Friday, January 18, 2013

The Gabba Debacle, viewed from where I'm sitting

There'll be a predictable tendency to blame the rotation policy for yesterday's debacle at the Gabba, and I'm certain it contributed to a score line that at one stageread 9-40 after winning the toss and electing to bat, but from where I'm sitting such statistics are very much in the nature of the beast when it comes to contemporary approaches to batting.

My take on this goes back thirty-odd years, when I had the occasional beer and lengthy yarn about cricketing matters with one Kerry Emery, who was a phys. ed. teacher at Heatley High, played A Grade for Wanderers in the Townsville competition and had progressed as far as representing Queensland Country.

It was a time when Wanderers had great difficulty in winning a two-day game, but put them into a fifty-over format and they almost invariably seemed to bring home the bacon. There was an apparent inconsistency there that intrigued me.

Kerry's explanation was that while the Wanderers bowling lineup lacked penetration it was very good when it came to containment, and they had a battery of bowlers who could put the ball there consistently. At the time (and remember there's been a lot of water that has flowed under this bridge over thirty years) if the ball landed there the options open to the batsmen were probably this or that, and it was possible to set a field to cover both of those, so containment was relatively straightforward.

What you've seen over the intervening decades has been an attempt to break out of the strictures that came with containment, and you can trace subsequent developments to the ability of smart observers to come up with ways to tweak the conventional wisdom to break free of restrictions and, subsequently, to rein the batsmen back in, a sort of continual ebb and flow between orthodoxy and innovation.

With this tendency to tweak and innovate we've also seen a move away from the old orthodoxies espoused in the early seventies' coaching manuals, which provided the settings which made containment a la Wanderers Townsville 1983 possible.

That tendency has, I think, been exacerbated with the rise of T20 cricket, which is, in itself, a reaction to the increasingly formulaic fifty over game, particularly that dead spot in the middle overs when the batting side accumulates runs while keeping wickets in hand so they can blaze at the end.

Yes, T20 can be exciting, but we're talking slogfest and technical adjustments that aren't going to be helpful in the longer forms of the game, particularly when the ball starts to do something.

And that, I think, is why we're going to see more scorelines like 9-40 on tracks that offer assistance in conditions where the ball does a bit and the bowlers get it right. Amid the reactions to yesterday's debacle it's easy to forget that Sri Lanka bowled very well from the start, and continued to do so until they eased off a tad towards the end of the innings.

Kulasekara and Malinga delivered a sell of swing bowling that was as good as any you're likely to see, and if Sri Lanka hadn't spelled Malinga at the end of the twenty-first over (with the score on 9-48) you'd have rated an eventual score in excess of 60 as unlikely.

And, it should be pointed out, Sri Lanka lost six wickets in chasing the very modest target.

If you're looking for an accurate assessment of what happened on the field, I'd point you towards the CricInfo match report here and if you're not quite sure about all this rotation business and the need to give some players a break, head over to Brydon Coverdale's article here.

Situations like the one Australia found themselves in yesterday are not a one-off occurrence, and they're not going to be limited to Australia either. Technical deficiences in the batting lineup, helpful wickets, conditions that are conducive to swing, seam, swerve or spin and bowlers who get it right on the day are going to produce similar results, and if you're inclined to suggest that Zimbabwe, say, or Afghanistan or cricketing superpowers like Canada and the USA have never been 9-40 in an ODI, there's a perfect response to that suggestion.

Put Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Canada or the USA up against that bowling in those conditions and they probably won't reach 9-40.

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