Another day of 'dumb' cricket

Thu, May 11, '17

by ERROL TOWNSHEND

Commentary

Assessing West Indies performance in the last World Cup, commentator Michael Holding -- known for his knowledge, insight and candour -- said West Indies did not play "intelligent" cricket. Given the constraints of modern television commentary, Holding was being polite. I have no such constraints. Too often we lose because we play "dumb" cricket. The decision in the third and deciding Test of the current series against Pakistan to win the toss and bowl is just one more example.

On an overcast morning, with rain in the air, moisture already allegedly in the pitch, there are two competing theories as to what you do when you win the toss in a Test match. One is what I call the "English Colonialist Theory": insert the opposition and hope to get early wickets. This theory is fancied by the English. England is the only Test country where the weather, perennially, makes a significant impact on decisions. Outside of English conditions, this theory has more holes than Swiss cheese. It is predicated on so many "ifs" it should have been discredited and discarded long ago.

First, let us agree on the obvious: a new ball and an old ball will behave differently; either ball will behave differently on a grassy, moist surface as opposed to a grass-less, dry surface.

But this "English Colonialist" theory can succeed only:

IF you have bowlers sufficiently talented, experienced and consistent in line and length to exploit the weather and pitch conditions;

IF the opposing batsmen are insufficiently skillful or experienced to cope with the weather and pitch conditions;

IF you have folks in the team's "brains trust" with doctorates in agronomy who can correctly assess how much moisture is actually in the pitch, where excactly in the pitch, and how long
it will be before the sun extracts the moisture and leaves the pitch as flat as a pancake. Invariably, without these experts, this calculation comes down to guesswork.

So it was on Day One of the Dominica Test. Our inexperienced bowlers were unable to find the right line and length; the batsmen were cautious; whatever demons that were supposed to be in the pitch quickly vanished.

Result: advantage of the toss lost.

The other competing theory is "The Don Bradman" Theory. " If you win the toss, you think once, you think twice and then you bat". ( This applies only to Tests, which is all Bradman knew in his time). It is predicated on a virtually safe premise:that the pitch on the fifth day is going to be worse for batting than on the first day. Outside, possibly, of England, and certainly in the Caribbean, one would be hard pressed to find a Test pitch where this is not true.

There is no IF here.

One would have thought that West Indies new coach, Stuart Law, an Australian, could repeat the "Don Bradman" Theory in his sleep. Presumably, since he played briefly for Australia, he would have attended their excellent cricket academy where the history of the game is taught. But then he also played a lot of cricket in England where he would have been exposed to The "English Colonialist" Theory. One can only speculate that the latter experience would have informed his advice which led to this erroneous -- hopefully not fatal -- decision to win the toss and bowl.

If the Barbados pitch for the second Test is any guide, the Dominica pitch will also deteriorate appreciably. When last seen, Pakistan leggie Yasir Shah was licking his fingers... and he hadn't even eaten his first meal yet!

This holding fast to "The English Colonialist" theory in Tests (but not one-dayers where it can work) is but one of the enduring "dumb" cricket theories which the Wewt Indies cricket community clings to with the passion of religious dogma. Many of these are no more valid than duppy stories. I will cite just two.

1.The Pakistanis have no problem introducing legspinner Shah into the attack after less than 10 overs so he can have the advantage of a hard, still-shiny ball. West Indian captains/coaches at school, club, first class, and Test level are loath to do so. Yet I knew from I was eight years old the value of a hard, still-shiny ball to a spinner! How so? My first knowledge of Test cricket was the West Indies 1950 tour of England. Skipper John Goddard, utilizing the existing Laws of the game, would routinely take the new ball, rub off a bit of the shine in the dirt and hand it to Alf Valentine and Sonny Ramadhin. They were two spinners who, before they landed in England, had played no Tests and only two first class games. The rest is history. These two unknowns, with zip, bite and turn, took 59 of the 77 English wickets to fall and brought West Indies its first series victory in England. At the time, the West Indies had five fast/medium seamers in the squad! Some hardly got a bowl. In English conditions!

2.There is a bowling theory which has much to commend it, particularly in one-dayers: bowl "full, fast and straight", the coaches and captains tell their fast bowlers. Okay. But because of ego, false pride or lack of thinking outside the box, they refuse to adjust the fielders to prevent the batsman doing the obvious, no-risk thing. With a straight bat, batsmen just push or drive the ball straight back past the bowler, between conventional midoff and midon, for four runs. Coaches, captains, and fast bowlers would rather swallow their tongues than post a long-off or long-on on the boundary to reduce the straight drive to a single.They do it only for spinners. Dumb cricket!


ERROL TOWNSHEND, for the past 60 years, has been a sports journalist, coach, manager and selector of cricket teams. He writes from Toronto, Canada.