Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Oval Day Two: Some things I pondered as rain washed out the first session

As I headed out on the regular lap around town this morning I realised that I must have known there was going to be a significant rain delay as I set about putting a batch of a regular kitchen staple together.

Someone, I thought, might take yesterday’s comments about the haka and Jerusalem as evidence of significant anti-Kiwi or anti-Pom sentiment in these parts. While I’ll accept there’s a bit of that in these parts it’s not what fuels a rather intense dislike of manipulating things to someone’s advantage by disrupting the opposition’s pre-match preparation.

As a result I spent a fair portion of the time I spent waiting for the start of play musing on a particularly irritating piece of time wasting that may well have cost me a chance of coaching the winning side at the 1996 Queensland Primary Schools’ state carnival and going on from there to ponder some things you’d possibly be looking to adapt if you were coaching a side at international level.

Those musings and ponderations continued through the morning walk, and form the basis of what follows here.

But, first, the background.

Primary School Cricket, back when I was involved (it may have changed in the interim, it’s been a good sixteen years since the events under consideration) might have been played in a fifty over format, but games were cut into two hour sessions. Two hours, lunch, two hours, afternoon tea, then however long you needed to wind things up.

It was also played in an environment where there were definite protocols in place when it came to coaching on the field. Two years before this particular chain of events I’d been chatted, for instance, for telling the twelfth man to take these batting gloves out to the captain, who was batting at a snail’s pace in pursuit of a difficult target, and tell him to get runs or get out.

It was going to be the third time this particular message had been sent out, and a degree of frustration may have had something to do with the fact that everyone nearby was aware of the specific instructions.

But, as The Astute Reader may gather, in this environment there are limited avenues through which instructions can be communicated to the batsmen in the middle. You had slightly more latitude when your team was fielding, but these things were watched and obvious offenders chatted.

In any case, with two hour sessions and limited avenues of communication there’s a definite advantage in maximising the number of overs you bowl in the first session, particularly if you can keep things tight and restrict the run rate.

That means the opposing coach will have fewer overs to work with when he sets out with modified instructions after the lunch break, if you catch my drift.

Crawl through the overs in the first session and he’s got more time to work things so his side throws the bat. Run through them at a fair clip, and there’s less room to work with. Do the maths yourself. Someone who goes to lunch at 2-60 off 30 overs has plenty of time to build a total. If that 2-60 comes off 35 you’re not going to be facing the same run chase, and if it’s off, say, 38 (which was, if I recall correctly, the best any of my sides managed, and I was understandably pleased) you’d definitely fancy your chances batting second.

That meant, when you went through your team preparation you used your centre wicket practice to work on a lively change between overs. Keeper and slips jog to the other end, and everyone should be in place by the time the umpires are in position with the bowler at the top of his run up ready to bowl.

The NQ speak for this was the razzle dazzle. You set out to razzle dazzle the opposition, and you worked on your batsmen to take their time and avoid being hurried when the opposition set out to razzle dazzle you. Take a moment, check your guard, that type of thing. Not deliberate time wasting, but not being hurried either.

That’s Part One of the background. There were a couple of additional factors that applied on the Sunshine Coast in 1996. One was the fact that this was my fourth go at the NQ coaching job, and having coached the winning side in 1992 and missed out in ’93 and ’94 I was hoping to depart on a winning note.

We also had a couple of kids who looked rather good chances for State selection, one of whom was the best prospect I’d sighted in the Bowen Junior Cricket Under 12s, over the twelve years I’d been involved. Maybe not quite as good as Greg Pearce, who went on to Australian Under-17 selection, but the best prospect since Pearcey, who wasn't far off graduating out of the Junior system.

There were a couple of other matters that related to this particular carnival, which was being played over venues scattered across the countryside, rather than in one central location. Constraints imposed by the calendar meant twelve teams were split into four pools of three rather than two pools of six.

Two pools of six meant you were in the Final if you finished on top of your pool. Four pools of three meant you had to win a game against one of the other two sides if you wanted to progress to the quarter finals, and from there things worked on a knock out basis.

We’d duly won our first game, had a day off for an excursion to the beach while the other two sides in the pool played, and got rolled by a Metropolitan side on Day Three. The opposing coach expressed commiserations, since the cross pool knock out bit meant our next game was against Darling Downs, rated as odds-on favourites to win the carnival and, coincidentally, historically rated as masters of the razzle dazzle.

Not the side you’d want to meet in the quarter finals when you’ve got three kids with a fair chance of State selection.

They won the toss, elected to bat, and after I’d gee’d up our boys on the Razzle dazzle (at least thirty-five by lunch would have been the instruction) out they went.

The problem came at the end of the first over.

We had a badged (qualified) umpire looking after the bowler’s end. The batting side provided someone to stand at square leg, and the coach wasn’t allowed on the field during playing time.

So, the end of the over. The umpire calls over and sets off for the other end. Keeper and slips pass him before he’s half way there. They’re in position by the time he gets to the other end, bowler’s ready to go. A quick gee up and we’re on again.

But wait.

The square leg umpire hasn’t quite made it from square leg to the pitch. Everyone stands and waits while he laboriously makes his way out to square leg. He did that for every one of the fifty overs.

By the fourth or fifth the kids in the field were totally off the boil. Flat. Looking to bowl thirty-five in the session we didn’t get to thirty, and ended up chasing more than two hundred in an environment where 150 was generally a winning score. We ended up about thirty short as I reshuffled the batting order to try to get the win and avoid being relegated to the also rans.

That caused problems over the next two games as I tried to give all the kids a go and, simultaneously, keep three of them in contention for State selection. I was copping it from parents to the point where I went up to the State coach to see if there was anything in particular he wanted to see on the final day.

Yes, was the reply. He’d like to see these two kids at the top of the order. We won the toss and batted. One of the two opened, the other went in at Three. The opener (Steve Aitken, from Bowen) went cheaply, Three (Simon Page, on his third trip away, we’d initially selected him as a ten-year-old) got a ton, and ended up making the State side along with the all-rounder who’d batted Three in the run chase against the Darling Downs.

I ended up copping heaps from parents of kids who weren’t getting a bat while Pagey carted the bowling. What was I expected to do? The State coach wanted to see this kid bat at the top of he order, so he was going to be out there until someone from the selection panel said he’d seen enough.

And, when the State side was named that afternoon we’d finished either seventh or eighth, and ended up with two in the State side. Pretty good going for seventh or eighth, I’d have thought.

Just after the side was announced the Darling Downs coach came over to congratulate me on the two selections. They’d taken out the carnival in a hand canter and ended up with a commensurate number of selections. He also suggested we’d been the only side that had stretched them.

That, I think, is a fair wrap, but The Astute Reader can probably understand why these things rankle.

I spent most of the washed out first session last night pondering what you’d be looking to do with a Test side when it came to your approach to the first session on Day One. Was there anything you could draw from that Queensland Primary Schools bit?

As it turns out, yes, I think there is.

If you’re bowling on Day One of a Test you want to bowl thirty-plus overs in the first session. England managed twenty-nine on Wednesday.

At Trent Bridge we managed 26 (England 2-98), at Lords 26 again (England 3-80), England managed 26 at Old Trafford (Australia 2-92) and at Durham we bowled 27, with England crawling to 1-57.

Those twenty-nine on Wednesday had us at 1-112.

Considering the above you might be inclined to think thirty in that first session is a bridge too far, particularly on the basis of that 1-112 and the thought of what might have happened if Warner had managed to stick around a little longer than he did, but consider:

Day One with a new rock should be optimum pace bowling conditions, so you’d figure there’s a definite advantage in getting in as many overs as possible.

The only way you’re going to get to what may be an aspirational rather than anticipated target will be by keeping things bowling and bowling dots. Fetching the ball back from the boundary takes time when the field is up.

Anything defended forward of the wicket will get back to the bowler quicker than a ball that goes through to the ‘keeper, but if it’s been defended forward of the wicket that also means you’ve forced the batsman to play, which is what you want to do with the new ball anyway.

You won’t get to the thirty unless you’ve managed to take wides and no balls out of the equation.

If you’re going to get to the thirty you’ll have to be ready to hit the openers with everything but the kitchen sink right from the time Mickey’s big hand passes the twelve on the clock and the umpire calls play.

And, most importantly, batsmen like to take their time. Razzle dazzle ‘em. Don’t give them time to settle.

If they look like getting away, of course, you can always slow things back a tad, but that thirty in the first session of Day One should go a fair way to ensuring your over rate is up where it’s supposed to be.

All of which makes sense from where I’m sitting.

As far as overnight events go, let’s just take a long read of the press reports and ponder the contents. I seem to recall hearing suggestions regarding further weather interventions over the next thee days, so we’ll need something to keep our minds occupied, won’t we?

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