Wednesday, August 21, 2013

THe Oval Day 1: The Niggle and the Damage Done (Or Not, as the case may be)

Having made the point that the difference between the two sides in this Ashes series comes down to Ian Bell it’s worth making again on the back of a better than par performance on Day One of The Oval Test.

It could, of course, have gone drastically wrong, and at 1-11 with Warner heading back to the pavilion it was hard to avoid the suspicion that the nuts were dangerously loose and we were once again in a position where the wheels could fall off.

Watson’s 176 meant they didn’t, even after Rogers went fairly cheaply (23) and Clarke got himself into trouble against the short ball and ended up bowled Anderson, 7. Throw in 66 not from Smith and 18 from nightwatchman Siddle and you’d have to be fairly upbeat about Australia’s prospects.

I’ve been muttering about the injustices of a score line that reads 3-0, but would respectfully suggest the following antidote to any Australian supporter confronted with a gloating Pom.

Give him a chance to deliver his serve, fix him with a beady eye and inquire:

Take out Bell. How good would you be looking then?

Pause, then before he can get a reply in, hit him with:

Actually, take out Bell and Broad and where’d you be then? More than likely four-nil down against a side that’s playing well short of a hundred per cent.

That last point might be stretching it a tad, but this series has been a lot closer than the score line suggests, and much of the difference, once you remove Bell from the calculations, comes down to Broad, who is rapidly becoming a major pain in the you know where.

Which, of course, brings us back to the eternal subject of The Niggle.

Prior to the start of play there was much being made of Uncle Fester’s response to Mr Broad’s remarks about That Catch That Wasn’t.

Lehmann’s suggestion that Australian crowds should give the blond English dude who looks like he could pick up a gig in the remake of Brideshead Revisited (thanks for that one, Jimbo) a constant stream of sledge was being regarded as unsporting (or something) from the Pommie-phile commentariat, largely on the basis of what a few lagered-up occupants of Bay 13 might happen to deliver.

Say what?

This, mind you, comes from people who’d describe the antics of the Barmy Army as a colourless bit of mostly harmless fun.

As The Astute Reader might guess, the conjoined subjects of The Niggle and The Sledge occupied much of Hughesy’s cogitations on the morning lap around town and a fair bit of the conversation after the right on schedule rendezvous with Jimbo at the bottom of Herbert Street.

You might, of course, be inclined to believe Hughesy’s taking these things a little too far, but much of the pre-rendezvous cogitations concerned this article by none other than Glenn McGrath from The Guardian.

Bowlers have the wood on Australians, the headline reads, but a closer examination reveals a rather thoughtful and decidedly analytical piece on the influence of The Niggle when it comes to bowler dominance over particular batsmen.

A glance at that overnight score card shows Rogers out to Swan, which now makes six out of seven innings.

The more you get a batsman out the more it becomes psychological, The Pigeon opines, and he’s right on line, just short of a length hitting the top of off stump.

You want to build the pressure, make sure the batsman knows exactly what is going on, he continues a bit further down, as Hughesy casts his mind back to the short midwicket that automatically went into place when Alderman was bowling to Gooch back in 1989.

Then McGrath delivers the blow that loops things nicely back into the Land of The Niggle: And you do not have to confine the talking to the pitch – you can always say a few things in the media as well. Get commentators and fans talking about it, make it an issue, which is, of course, exactly what Broad was doing with his comments on That Catch That Wasn’t.

Brydon Coverdale’s one of the better cricket journos going around (IMHO) but he doesn’t quite get it right here. Lehmann fires, but misses the point
Instead of trying to rattle the England players, Australia's coach should focus on the issues in his own team, the headline says, which is true up to a point.

Actually, it’s not so much a case of trying to rattle the England players, more an instance of he’s had a Niggle at us, here’s one back. Which, to me is fine. It’s all part of The Niggle.

You’re not trying to rattle anybody. It’s more a case of inserting the grain of sand in the sock and waiting to see if it becomes an irritant.

There are some rather interesting manifestations of The Niggle that sprang to mind as I headed out along the jetty this morning, with, IMHO, the prime international example being, and I know Angry is just going to love this, the All Blacks and the haka.

Now, hang on, Hughesy, someone’s going to say. That’s part of their cultural tradition. You can’t complain about that.

Actually, you not only can, but you should. The same way that you can complain about the dude who has Jerusalem booming out over the P.A. at the start of every day’s play in this Test series. Suggest they give equal time to Down Under or Waltzing Matilda and see how far you get.

Suppose you’re looking to get out on the ground and warm up before the umpires come out. I’m not sure whether this is allowed under existing protocols, but say you wanted to. Warm up, have everyone loose and ready to fire right as the batsmen arrive at the crease.

Maybe you can, but what do you do when this dude hasn’t sung Jerusalem yet? And what do you do, assuming you’re out there and loosening up, when he starts to sing?

Keep going? Yes. Definitely. Have the British broadcasters condemn you as a bunch of upstart colonials lacking in respect for our cultural traditions. Good one. It’s all about making sure these things are working in your favour at the start, that welling of national pride that delivers the final adrenaline rush before the start of play.

Recognize it for what it is.

Just like the haka, which allegedly requires the opponent to stand and show respect in the face of quite obvious and bare faced intimidation wrapped up as cultural heritage.

Think I’m kidding?

How far would this suggestion get?

Fine, you can have Jerusalem. You can have it as your side, or your batsmen take the field. Develop a protocol that says Umpires, fielding side, batsmen, with the appropriate piece of music booming out over the P.A. Under that regime later today at The Oval you’d have Jerusalem followed by, say, Down Under. Tomorrow, more than likely, with England batting, the order would be reversed. Sound fair?

Seriously, how much of a hearing would that get?

It’s time we recognized these things as what they are, fairly blatant little exercises in gamesmanship wrapped up in patriotic bunting, and if you’re going to use them, there should be something in place for both sides.

According to Coverdale It is hard to imagine that Lehmann would have called Broad a cheat had he been in a press conference full of English reporters.

Why not? A press conference full of English reporters will feel quite free to make all sorts of comments about the abilities of the side you’re coaching, and will question anything they see as constituting dodgy practice.

No, it’s all part of The Niggle. And until the other mob stops it, you have to expect the right to respond.

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