The Concrete Test

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Rewarding Success

Are Ireland minnows any more? Despite losing some of their best players to England – understandably lured by the desire to play Test cricket, they still manage to produce good cricketers. They have beaten England and Pakistan and this week added the scalp of the West Indies after chasing down a target of over 300.

They should have won more comfortably than they did, but with an easy victory in sight they had a wobble. Theyʼll learn from it. Well, they will if the International Cricket Council (ICC) give them the chance to.

One of cricketʼs greats Michael Holding wants Ireland to be fast tracked to Test Match status. They need it if they are to develop. Letʼs not forget that it took decades for the West Indies to turn from outclassed minnows into one of the most dominant sides cricket has ever seen.

Convenient Memories

India were terrible at first and South Africa were not in the same class as England and Australia. New Zealand were awful too at first. And the swash-buckling Sri Lankans were no different. They too had a rocky start – look at them now. Two of the greats of cricket are in their swansong. Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara will go down in history as greats – not just of Sri Lankan cricket, but of cricket.

So letʼs ignore the convenient memories that focus on Zimbabwe and Bangladesh – the most recent additions. They still need time to learn and adapt to Test cricket and Ireland will too. Thatʼs no reason to deny Ireland the chance to grow. If cricket is to appeal beyond its traditional support base it must give the ʻlesserʼ nations a seat at the big table.

Ireland is cricketʼs most important test of that currently. Do we want to see another Netherlands? The potential was there to develop Dutch cricket less than a decade ago. A sensational victory against England in the Twenty20 World Cup in 2009 demonstrated that there was talent in Dutch cricket. They developed in that format, but not in the longer ones.

The Netherlands lost their ODI status last year after holding it for 8 years. Canada lost theirs too, but the biggest surprise and waste was Kenya, which had held it since 1996 – the same year they surprised the mighty West Indies. But none of these nations got to take the next step – nor were they developed for it. They still havenʼt been. The price was stagnation and then regression.

This must not happen again with Ireland. Almost five years ago we spoke exclusively to one of Irelandʼs stalwarts – still – Ed Joyce. His thoughts on Irish cricket were illuminating and coming very soon!

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All-rounder

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 15th 2014)

Records

Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck scored a brace against Srečko Katanec’s Slovenia at Wembley tonight. That brought his international tally to 13. Of the current England squad Welbeck and former Manchester United team-mate Wayne Rooney are the only players in double figures. Welbeck is a full 31 goals behind Rooney, who tied the great Jimmy Greaves for third place on the all-time scorers list for England tonight.

Welbeck matched Ipswich Town’s Paul Mariner, Tottenham Hotspur duo Bobby Smith and Martin Chivers with his brace. He may also tied one other – the least known of the quintet, but the only one to have once held the scoring record – Nottingham Forest’s Tinsley Lindley. Shamefully, despite being an icon in and out of the sporting arena the multi-faceted Lindley was buried in an unmarked grave in 1940. A campaign to honour the shamefully neglected all-rounder resulted in a headstone marking his final resting place being unveiled in March 2014.

Long Overdue

An appreciation of this neglected icon of English sport is long overdue. Lindley scored at least 13 goals for England in internationals between 1891-96. His record was beaten by Steve Bloomer and then equalled by Vivian Woodward. Later Sir Tom Finney broke their record and was equalled by Nat Lofthouse. Jimmy Greaves and then Sir Bobby Charlton broke it again and Lindley was forgotten about.

But Lindley was an all-round sportsman. Not only was he an effective striker, mainly for Nottingham Forest and England, but he was a talented rugby player in his youth and played First Class Cricket for Cambridge University and Nottinghamshire, although he didn’t play many matches. Lindley was also a barrister and later judge too – a genuine all-rounder on and off the field of play.

An Unwanted Distinction – Archive

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 17th 2009)

Fearsome

As West Indies captain Chris Gayle contemplates his third failure in a row amid accusations of disrespecting both this tour and Test Match cricket as a whole and the media storm that it has caused, he may spare a thought for his countryman and fellow West Indies international Leslie Hylton. On this very day (54 years ago Hylton secured an unwanted piece of cricket history at the cost of his life.

Hylton was a fearsome fast-bowler in his prime and not a complete mug with the bat. His first class record for Jamaica was not bad – in 40 matches he scored five half centuries with a best of 80, took 31 catches and 120 wickets at a reasonable strike rate and average. He never took ten wickets in a match, but claimed five victims in an innings thrice in first class cricket, but never in Tests.

Rich Potential

Hylton made his début in 1927, aged 21 and called time on his career as the world descended into the chaos of the Second World War. His first Test Match was in Bridgetown, Barbados, in January 1935 against England – all six were against the same opposition. After the West Indies had been dismissed for a paltry 102 that would have been considerably worse without George Headley’s 44, Hylton took his chance.

Although the Bridgetown wicket was clearly a bowling track, his first innings figures were sensational – 7.2 overs, 3 maidens 3 wickets for 8 runs. Wily England skipper, Bob Wyatt declared on 81 for 7. The West Indies also declared and England won by four wickets. Hylton took one wicket in the second innings.

In the second Test in Port of Spain, Trinidad, he took 2 for 55 and 3 for 25 as the West Indies won by 217 runs to level the series. The great Learie Constantine, who was later knighted and then ennobled took 3 for 11 in the second innings as England collapsed to 107 all out.

The third Test in Georgetown, Guyana was drawn, but Hylton produced his best analysis in Test Matches 4 for 27 from 13.2 overs, but that was bettered by Eric Hollies – the man who denied the great Don Bradman an average of 100 in Test Matches – who took 7 for 50 in 26 overs, which was his best too.

Hylton was wicketless in his eight overs in the second innings – the first time he experienced that sensation in international cricket. It happened again in both innings of the fourth Test Match at Kingston’s Sabina Park ground – the one and only appearance that he made at his home ground.

However, he had the consolation of the West Indies winning by an innings and 161 runs to take the series – their first series win, which was secured at the fifth attempt. Hylton’s only meaningful contribution in the match was to catch Walter Hammond for 11 – one of Constantine’s 3 wickets for 55 in England’s first innings – the only catch he took in international cricket.

Decline

After his explosive start to Test cricket, in which he troubled an impressive England line-up that included one of the finest batsmen England ever produced – Hammond – Hylton faded towards the end of the series and was not selected again until the 1939 tour of England. He played in the first Test Match at cricket’s headquarters and took a wicket in each innings, but England won easily by eight wickets.

Opener Arthur Fagg was Hylton’s final victim in Test cricket in the first innings of the Old Trafford Test Match, bowled for 7. The brief international career of Leslie Hylton ended with 0 for 18 from 6 overs in the second innings. His final figures in Test cricket was 16 wickets for 418 runs from 965 balls. He made 70 runs from 8 innings, twice being undefeated. But the figures didn’t tell the whole story. He was an intimidating prospect to face in his prime.

A Marriage made in Hell

Leslie Hylton will never be forgotten, but unfortunately for him not for his cricket. He retired aged 34, having maintained his bachelor status – something both he and his wife Lurline would have good reason to wish he had preserved. Three years after he hung up his boots they married, but his spouse fell for the charms of notorious womaniser Roy Francis. Lurline had gone to the USA to learn dress-making and while there fell for Francis, but Hylton was told of the affair and on her return confronted her about it.

Eventually, she not only admitted it, but flouted it. “I’m in love with Roy,” she was alleged to have said. “My body belongs to him.”

She then pulled up her nightdress to expose herself to her husband and emphasise that she had cuckolded him. Hylton grabbed the gun from the window-sill and shot her seven times, killing the 40 year-old, before calling the police. This is Hylton’s version of the fatal events, yet he undermined his own defence in his trial.

Loss of Control

His trial counsel Vivian Blake presented a credible defence that the former fast-bowler had been provoked, even presenting a letter to Francis from the deceased to the jury. “My beloved, I’m realising even more than I did before how much I love you,” she wrote. “I am going to force my man’s hand as soon as I can.”

Blake argued that Lurline’s actions were sufficient to cause any reasonable man to lose his self control. There was a strong case of provocation, but Hylton absurd claims that he meant to kill himself returned to haunt him – he had shot her seven times, meaning that he had to reload and shoot her again.

Recommendation

The law eventually moved on. such circumstances would almost certainly result in a lesser degree of guilt, possibly resulting in a manslaughter conviction. Back in the 1950s it was murder and that meant only one sentence – it was two years before the Homicide Act introduced stricter guidelines to the use of the death penalty.

Even without that the jury found Hylton guilty of murder with a strong recommendation for mercy. That could only have been due to the provocation – powerful mitigation, but not an excuse. However, the jury’s recommendation was ignored by the judge who sentenced Hylton to death and mercy was not forthcoming from the colonial authorities either.

On May 17th 1955, the 50-year-old Leslie George Hylton made history. He was hanged at St. Catherine’s in Kingston, Jamaica. He has the unwanted distinction of being the only Test Match cricketer ever to be executed. Keen to avoid scandal Wisden – the cricket almanac – published an obituary that failed to mention this fact. It has subsequently been corrected.

 

Embracing Technology – Archive

 

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 26th 2013 and modified on May 27th 2014)

Impartiality

There are only twelve élite umpires now and eight of them are ineligible for the Ashes series. That’s ten Test Matches to be officiated between the four remaining umpires. Put simply the mathematics and logistics of this simply don’t add up. Umpires are human and therefore fallible. It stands to reason that if only a few of them are available they will be more prone to making mistakes. The current system also begs the question of why two thirds of the élite group come from England or Australia – the reason they are ineligible – and what is being done to resolve the problem?

Simon Taufel had a distinguished 22-year career as an umpire. He is now the International Cricket Council’s High Performance Manager for Umpires. But he is Australian, begging another question. If the eight élite umpires from either England or Australia cannot officiate because they come from one or other of the competing countries, how can it be justified for Taufel to manage the performance of an Australian umpire?

New Challenges

Among the matches that he umpired was the unfinished match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 2009 when terrorists attacked the Sri Lanka team’s bus. Some felt the umpires were left to fend for themselves. “That day did change me personally”, Taufel said last year. “I learnt a lot on that day and it helped me focus on the priorities of my life”.

International cricket has not returned to Pakistan since that match in Lahore despite the impassioned pleas of then captain Younis Khan and also Misbah ul-Haq. It has had a terrible effect on Pakistani cricket, both for players and the cricket-loving nation.

Invasive Coverage

Taufel recently delivered the MCC’s Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture. It was a thought-provoking talk. “The investment by television companies in extra cameras, high-speed frame rates, computer software programs and military infra-red technology, plus high definition broadcasting has certainly given the spectator and participants a lot more information – there is no doubt we now have a lot more ‘arm chair’ experts in cricket”! Taufel said.

The scrutiny is intense and errors are amplified in a way previous umpires never had to face. “Today, everyone umpires the game by watching television”, Taufel continued. “The invasive nature of this broadcasting has a double edge to it – it does put more pressure on players and umpires. Not too much now happens on a cricket field that is not captured by a camera, a microphone or piece of technology. This has the ability to bring out the best in the game and also the worst”.

It also highlights umpiring errors with the consequence of causing erosion of confidence in the umpires. Before replays from every angle decisions, including errors were accepted. It was perhaps a more sporting era where batsmen were expected to walk if they got an edge, for example, especially one as blatant as the one Stuart Broad got to Michael Clarke in the first Test Match.

Technology and the Corridor of Absurdity

The Decision Review System (DRS) was established to eliminate howlers from the game. For some it’s a skill – judging when and how to use challenges, as two unsuccessful reviews mean that you cannot make any further challenges even if there is a blatant error by the umpire. While there needs to be some control to deter frivolous challenges, they can be lost on umpire’s call.

This allows a corridor of absurdity where the review shows that the umpire’s decision was actually incorrect, but because it was within the umpire’s discretion to have got it wrong a challenge is lost, which can lead to a wrong decision later being subject to review. It seems unfair that challenges are lost on umpire’s call. A potentially fairer result would be to be uphold the umpire’s original decision, but not cost the reviewing team a challenge, or get rid of umpire’s call altogether.

The Australians plainly hadn’t mastered how to use DRS well, but Aleem Dar’s failure to spot the clearest of contacts was just such a howler that DRS was designed to prevent. His umpiring partner failed to help him out and Broad brazenly stood his ground, taking advantage of a glaring howler. To some Broad was entitled to stand his ground – for others it breached the spirit of the game – In short, was cheating.

Australia had wasted their reviews, so they were powerless to challenge an appalling decision by an élite level umpire. Broad stayed and took advantage, perhaps changing the outcome of the Test Match. Clarke graciously accepted defeat, but such decisions have no place in sport. Errors are one thing but glaring howlers are hard to take. Everyone wants the correct decision to be made. In this case it plainly wasn’t and under the current system, there was nothing that could be done to correct it. Doesn’t that defeat the very point of DRS?

“Every movement of the player is under the microscope (on and off the field) and every movement of the umpire is also under intense scrutiny”, Taufel said. “There is at least one camera on the umpire all the time, every ball, watching his every move and facial expression, waiting to capture his decision for all to see (and be replayed as many times as the director sees fit)”.

It should be pointed out that Dar gave a brilliant decision on Jonathan Trott in that match, which the technology got wrong as it wasn’t switched on – he doesn’t get enough credit for that – but the Broad decision will be replayed many times especially in Dar’s head. The howler wasn’t corrected. There must be a better way.

 

Unexpected Views

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 1st 2013)

The Bigger Problem

There’s no doubt that overseas add to the quality of English cricket. Some of the greats played for English counties. Sir Richard Hadlee, Sir Vivian Richards, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner to name but a few from the 70s onwards, but even now they have a role. Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Brian Lara and others have contributed too. Next season Surrey will be captained by South African skipper Graeme Smith.

The issue as former England captain Andrew Strauss believes is quality. “If they’re sufficient quality,” he said. “I don’t think there are enough out there that would want to now with IPL [Indian Premier League] and all that sort of stuff. I don’t think more overseas players is the way forward really. I think there are a lot of good players out there and I personally think if we played less cricket, then the standard would improve as a result because preparation would be better – bowlers would be more rested and able to bowl closer to a hundred percent.”

His solution? “Somewhere around the twelve game number is not a bad thing and I think there is an opportunity to restructure the game in terms of blocks of four day cricket and one day would help in the preparation as well, so those are the things that are being looked at the moment and hopefully we’ll get a better system come the start of next season,” said Strauss. It didn’t happen.

Blocked or Assisted

Meanwhile are young players being blocked or assisted by overseas players? Chris Woakes was on the verge of breaking through when we talked to him – for England that is. “Overseas players make English cricket stronger, but there shouldn’t be too many,” he said. “The academies will help the standard of English cricket to get stronger. I think that two genuine overseas players is plenty. I learned a lot from Chris Martin. He is a massive influence on me to talk to and to learn from his experience. Ashley Giles and Allan Donald have helped me a lot.”

ʻKolpakersʼ is a controversial issue that we’ll cover again shortly, but top quality overseas players is another matter. “Like I said, I think two overseas is enough because you can help a lot of the young English players apart from the hardened professional who are playing cricket,” Murali Kartik said. “You see sometimes players try to play a lot and as long as they have something to bring you don’t have any problem with it, but if you have got too many.”

The Concrete Test

Meanwhile, Woakes is a concrete test of the issue. He was a talented young player. At the time there was an overseas player and no limit on ʻKolpakers.ʼ He still emerged. “If a guy who’s qualified for England is good enough he’ll come through,” Owais Shah told us. “Of course they will [benefit from playing alongside the best foreign players]. They learn from the best players. You can always learn from anyone even if you are a reasonably good player you can learn from him.”

Shah believes there is a continuing learning curve. “You can learn little bits from everyone else. You can learn off bad players – some of the mistakes they make, you can make sure that you don’t make that mistake. You’re always learning.”

But what about Woakes? “Overseas players can help, but too many could spoil it,” Woakes claims. “We need to find the right balance or they could block young English players like me from coming through. I want to continue making progress. I think I can become a genuine all rounder and bat at number seven at least.”

And he did emerge. The 23-year-old has represented England in one-day-internationals and T20s. His former Director of Cricket Ashley Giles is now England’s manager in the shorter forms of cricket. He rated Woakes highly at Warwickshire, but was an outspoken critic of ʻKolpakers.ʼ

Meanwhile, Kartik holds a very surprising view given that if he had his wish, it would put him out of work. “I personally would like to see a state where you don’t actually need overseas players,” he said.

 

Reaping Rewards

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 5th 2013)

Simply the Best

There can be no doubt that South is by far the best team in the world. The Proteas dominate the new rankings. They crushed Pakistan by 211 runs. Dale Steyn, deservedly the top-ranked bowler in the world, was not the scariest according to Misbah ul-Haq, but his devastating bowling in the first innings was the best Misbah had ever seen.

Steyn took the Man of the Match award for a superb bowling performance that won the match with an innings each left to play. Pakistan capitulated meekly to Steyn, who took 6 for 8 – a performance that helped AB de Villiers establish himself as not only a wicket-keeper batsman, but the best in the world. De Villiers became the only wicket-keeper batsman to hit a hundred and take ten catches in the same match – actually he took eleven to equal Jack Russell’s record.

Jacques Kallis began this Test Match with 13,048 runs in Test cricket, but that included a Super Test (World XI), so bizarrely when he reached 35 The New Wanderers crowd gave him a rousing round of applause. He had become the first South African to hit 13,000 runs in Test cricket – only Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar have more. With Dravid and Ponting retired and Tendulkar a shadow of the player that made him the greatest batsman of his era, Kallis, still performing at the top level may eventually break both Tendulkar’s runs tally and centuries record too. He heads the list of Test all-rounders currently.

Domination

Hashim Amla started the First Test in second place in the World Test rankings, just one point behind Michael Clarke. The Australian skipper had had a phenomenal 2012 – that Amla stayed just a point behind after Clarke’s year is a testament to Amla’s prowess. Amla knew that a decent performance would see him elevated in the rankings and match a feat last achieved by Australia’s all-time great, the recently retired Ponting – of heading both the Test Match and One-Day-International rankings.

Ponting achieved that feat in 2007. Amla’s 37 – a poor shot by his standards in the first innings – and unbeaten 74 in the second innings lifted him eight points clear of Clarke. Amla is just 5 points under 900. It is the first time he has topped the Test Match rankings.

Although Misbah ul-Haq broke into the top ten for the first time in his career, in tenth position on 733 points, with Younis Khan and Azhar Ali occupying 11th and 12th positions, the signs are ominous for the tourists. De Villiers is in 4th position on 844 – his unbeaten 103 helped – and Kallis, who top-scored in the first innings with an even 50, is in 7th. Inspirational captain Graeme Smith who became the first man to reach the mark of a hundred Tests as captain, at the New Wanderers Stadium is currently in 13th position in the rankings just seven points behind Misbah.

Peerless

The Proteas have two players in the top ten all-rounders category. Kallis tops the list with 410 points and third place Shane Watson’s injury woes meaning that he won’t bowl if selected for Tests, Kallis is secure from any challenge from that player. The second South African on the list Vernon Philander is in 8th place on 236 points. Kallis has more than double the points of 10th placed Mitchell Johnson.

And they are no slouches with the ball either. Steyn continues to head the rankings have topped 900 points. Ominously for the Pakistani batsmen Philander is in second place with 857 and Morne Morkel is in 9th spot. Only Saeed Ajmal cracked the top ten for Pakistan. He is in 5th place with compatriot Abdur Rehman – he didn’t play in the First Test – in 12th and Umar Gul in 19th. Despite topping the all-rounder rankings Kallis does not feature in the top 20.

The current rankings merely confirm the glaringly obvious – South Africa is the best team in the world in every facet of Test cricket.

 

 

Protectionism

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 1st 2013)

Controversial

England recently surrendered top place in the ICC rankings to South Africa. Among the players now representing cricket’s top team is Rory Kleinveldt. The 29-year-old is no stranger to controversy. Last year he was withdrawn from the T20 team after testing positive for marijuana. He conceded that he had behaved ‘irresponsibly.’ Kleinveldt made his Test début last November. He is playing in the First Test against South Africa at the Wanderers now.

However, we reported on another controversial situation almost five years ago. Kleinveldt played in England for Hampshire, being eligible as a ʻKolpakerʼ – named after a handball player who won the right to be treated as a home-based player despite not being German by not being eligible to represent his country. ʻKolpakersʼ were able to renounce that decision and be available to represent their country afterwards, but they couldn’t flip flop between being a ʻKolpakerʼ and representing their country.

ʻExploiting the Situationʼ

It was seen as a means of flouting the rules limiting the number of foreigners a county could play. Leicestershire made full use of them and it was argued that it was a means for older players who were no longer in contention to represent their countries to supplement their income by using a regulation the England and Wales Cricket Board had tried hard to close. Others were seen as mediocre players who would not benefit the youth strategies of English cricket.

The ECB challenged the use of ʻKolpakers,ʼ but the original Kolpak ruling was not responsible. It corrected an absurd situation that was preventing a Slovakian hand-ball player from plying his trade in Germany, when Slovakia was on the verge of joining the European Union which would have given Kolpak the right to play professionally in Germany.

The cricket issue was lumped in with Kolpak’s situation when it simply did not apply. The ʻKolpakersʼ were really utilising the Treaty of Cotonou which was a trade agreement which applied to the signatories that included African and Caribbean countries. The ʻKolpak cricketersʼ utilised it to claim that they could sell their labour in the European Union too. Some English counties leapt at the opportunity to sign these players – many of whom were South African.

Differing Opinions

The England and Wales Cricket Board wanted clarification from the European Union Commission, believing that ʻKolpak cricketersʼ were blocking the emergence of England eligible players, which they wanted the counties to concentrate on. While some saw that as part of their role – Middlesex’s Director of Cricket, Angus Fraser for example – others didn’t.

First of all the ambition for the club is obviously to be a club that is consistently pushing for domestic honours and be a club that is consistently providing England with cricketers, so they are the dual role for the county – obviously try to win domestic competitions, but also to produce England cricketers,” Fraser told us exclusively four years ago. “f you’ve got a good overseas player that really takes some time to work with the younger players, then he can be invaluable. At Middlesex we were very fortunate when I was young we had Wayne Daniel and Desmond Haynes, who were extremely good.”

The End of the ʻKolpak Cricketer Era is Nigh

Quality is the real issue. “You do get some overseas players now and they’re flitting in and flitting out and have no chance to form any kind of relationship with those players,” Fraser said. “It is harder now. It is important that the overseas players do take a role in the development of younger players.”

Former Middlesex and England batsman “I don’t think there should be a number on them,” former England cricketer Owais Shah said at the time. “I think if you’re an England player – if a guy who’s qualified for England is good enough, heʼ’ll come through. If you’re trying to say there’s too many Kolpakers, I don’t really have a problem with it.”

Nevertheless, the ECB did. They sought clarification from the European Union Commission. It ruled that the Treaty of Cotonou (2000) was not a freedom of labour agreement, but a freedom of trade one. In other words, Cotonou did not give the ‘Kolpak cricketers’ a licence to play as home-based players. The era of ‘Kolpak cricketers’ was coming to an end.