Saturday, 15 May 2010

Cricket - Back to the Roots

Earlier this week, I found myself deep in the heart of the Hampshire countryside, in the Meon Valley, on an arranged six-mile walk with my old man. The aim of the trip was to take in some fresh air on a pleasant May day, whilst revisiting some of the locations of the roots of cricket and its historical background.

However, as the afternoon drew to a close, with a pint in hand at a fine old pub called The Bat & Ball at Broadhalfpenny Down, I reflected on how the game has changed so dramatically, and not entirely to my liking.

I arrived in the village of West Meon at The Thomas Lord pub to meet my walking partner for some lunch, before the assault on the legs commenced. Thomas Lord (pictured above), whom the ground Lord's is named after, retired to this village in 1830 and died there shortly after in 1832. Lord is buried at the church in the village, which I visited some years earlier, shortly before my 11th birthday (see pic).

The pub is steeped in history. Scorecards on the walls, old cricket bats and boots and general memorabilia placed throughout. If you ever want to have a drink in an old English cricket-themed inn, which hasn't been tampered with by the likes of Harvester, this is the place for you. The one downfall perhaps, was that the menu (and prices) had been jigged around a bit by a chef who could only be described as hoity toity.

There was even an appearance put in by Wendy of West Meon, the village drunk. Due to the smoking ban, she was ousted to the benches outside, much to the delight of the pub's diners and your scribe.

Enough of the pub. Unfortunately, the pleasant sunny May weather (not Floyd) we had envisaged didn't grace us with its presence. Instead, we got soaked. If it wasn't for my good friend Peter Storm I could have been stumped, to put a good cricketing term to use.

Anyway, the weather didn't spoil the walk too badly at all and after we had dried off, it was off to Broadhalfpenny Down and the pub I mentioned earlier.

Broadhalfpenny Down (a real classic English place name which is up there with Nether Wallop and Lower Slaughter) is home to a cricket pitch dating back to 1756, and The Bat & Ball pub is nicknamed the 'Cradle of Cricket'. As you can imagine, this pub is also full of cricketing memorabilia, very popular and well worth a visit.

Many Englishmen have had deep and considered thoughts on life over a pint, and I the other day was one of them. I on the other hand, was thinking about the life of cricket and how I believe the game should be played, and more to the point, how the game's early developers thought it to be played.

Looking at the pictures on the walls of the pub, seeing gents wearing top hats and tails whilst playing, applauding the opposition generously when fielding, got me thinking. These chaps were playing competitively, getting paid to do so, but there was an air of respect for opponents and umpires. All this could be seen in those paintings. It is precisely that respect that I feel is sadly missing from cricket, not to mention other sports.

You'll be doing well to see a whole team of fielders applaud a batsman score a fifty or a hundred in a professional match today, let alone simply applauding a good shot. Furthermore, the etiquette of a fielding side clapping the opposing batsmen off the field of play first into the pavilion is fading too. If you watch a Test Match or shorter forms of the professional game, you will find the opening batsmen of the next innings charge off the field first to pad up, not waiting or clapping off the outgoing pair.

I agree that the idea of bringing back top hats and tails for today's cricket, seeing Steve Harmison charging in off his long run, looking like The Penguin escaping Batman, is a little far-fetched to say the least. But it is sad that today's professionals, who are meant to set a good example of how the game should be played, are the real culprits of showing a lack of respect for their opponents and umpires.

It stems down from their level to club cricket and youth cricket, meaning every level of the game has been affected.

After my empty pint glass was returned to the bar and I left the pub with the old man, an under 11s practice match had commenced on the famous old pitch across from the pub. We thought we'd do a circuit of the ground, where early forms of cricket were played all those years ago, before returning home.

The thoughts I had in the pub were confirmed, as deliveries watched whilst walking round the boundary just highlighted how the young have taken on the aggressive element of how cricket is now played, and that air of cockiness. One young spinner got down on his knees whilst appealing (which was more like a scream) for an LBW, another charged up the wicket to high five the wicket-keeper and the rest of his team as he ran past the batsman he just bowled. There were even remarks made against the batsman (known as sledging) in an attempt to talk the player out and put him off. And all this was from a group of eleven-year-olds who were a part of the same team having a practice. I dread to think of how they treat the lads from opposing clubs.

Measures have been taken by the cricketing authorities to try and sort some of this out, such as the 'Spirit of Cricket', but the people who really require a lesson in good manners and need to step back for a moment to watch themselves play, are the professionals. They need to be told it's just not cricket.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Razor-Sharp Rodge Outshines Gillette Chums

Roger Federer, the clean-cut king of the court, is still world number one in tennis, and has recently bagged his 16th Grand Slam after winning the Australian Open.

He is happily married to his wife Mirka and has baby twin daughters, who got a mention in his winner's speech at the Rod Laver Arena last month.

Federer is unquestionably a fine ambassador and role model for sport, not only tennis. Yet around him, tales of scandal, infidelity and cheating are surfacing.

Just a matter of a few hours ago, John Terry was stripped of his England football captaincy by manager Fabio Capello, following allegations of an affair with Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend.

I have also been informed of the latest football terrace chant: " Carefree wherever you may be, don't leave your wife with John Terry, his dad deals coke and his mum steals tea, he cried when he missed a penalty."

The image of Federer's fellow frontmen in the popular Gillette adverts, Tiger Woods and Thierry Henry, has taken a battering also.

This time last year, Woods was that fine role model for golf. But since the news of his infidelity last Novemeber, he has lost numerous sponsorship deals and the respect of many more.

Rumours of Tiger's return to golf have only just started to appear now, suggesting we may see him play at the WGC Match Play Championship in Arizona later this month.

There is no 'Fed' in infidelity.

Henry has been accused of cheating too, but this time, on the pitch. I don't mean he got stuck in with some lady during a match however. He was busy ball handling. Oh dear, this isn't sounding any better is it. Try again. Henry's handball against Ireland in the World Cup Qualifiers has got him into all sorts of trouble, which hasn't helped the way the sporting world looks at him either.

Although Federer is made out to look like the stupid one in some of the Gillette adverts, he is the only one of the three in the headlines for all the right reasons.

I for one am hoping that his wife Mirka doesn't soon become a Fed ex.

Friday, 15 January 2010

New Year, New Start – 2010- Get Involved and Move On

Firstly, I hope all you TTS readers had a jolly Christmas break and fun-filled New Year celebrations. Secondly, prepare yourselves for yet another year of action-packed sports entertainment; that’s if the snow decides to shift itself.

There will be highs. There will be lows. Both heroes and villains. Shocking displays of sporting conduct and moments of greatness. TTS will endeavor to bring the action to the floor to stir up debate left, right and centre.

You may be wondering what the deuce the headline of this blog means exactly. Well, it was a piece of advice handed out by the chief speaker at a New Year party I attended in Carlisle. The 2010 message was to “get involved and move on”.

Since then, the speaker has started his year at RMA Sandhurst, where he will certainly be “getting involved”, and probably be “moving on” by marching several hundred miles.

But with sport, it’s also a time to get involved; whether it be participating or spectating. Leave last year’s sporting misery behind us, and move on to bigger and better things. At least that’s what I overheard Rafael Benitez whimper recently.

There is plenty to look forward to, especially if you enjoy watching England’s football team bring their viewers to within an inch of a fatally high blood pressure, with the 2010 World Cup.

Sooner however, The Australian Open is to serve up some tennis magic, as Andy Murray continues his search for a major title. He has been selected on the same side of the draw as Nadal, Del Potro and Roddick, so he has his work cut out.

The finale of England’s thus far successful Test Series in South Africa is underway at The Wanderers, and has already produced a drama or two.

It is precisely this drama I am focusing the debate of this blog around, so without further ado, I will get the ball turning with effect (unlike Paul Harris).

An incident came to my attention just this morning whilst watching a desperate-looking England cricket team try to recover some dignity after their first-innings batting sham in the final Test of the Series.

Graeme Smith, the very much in form South Africa captain, slashed at a wide delivery from Ryan Sidebottom, with the score at 36-0. England fielders thought he got a thin edge, appealed, and then was given not out by Umpire Hill. Strauss called for the review.

It was at this point the almighty kerfuffle started. According to numerous sources, 3rd Umpire Harper received the replay footage from the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), which has the volume feed on low (whereas Sky has it on high volume).

Harper didn’t see enough evidence to give Smith out, and the review was rejected. Don’t forget, the Third Umpires are not permitted to use Snicko or Hot Spot technology.

The fact of the matter was, if you were watching Sky, you could hear Smith snick the ball and should have been given out. Instead, he went on to score his 20th Test century.

Jonathan Agnew’s Twitter page said the following: “SABC: everyone gets same sound feed. They do what they want with it. SKY has it high, SABC comms low. Harper's on 4/10 (has been all series).”

I asked myself, how in the name of sanity could this happen in world class cricket? Then I remembered, oh yes, it’s the referral system.

Those among you with remarkable memories may recall I blogged about the referral system on TTS previously. It comes back to the same conclusion in my opinion. Either use ALL technology available or none at all.

My preference is the latter; before we see Billy Bowden and chums turn into figures not dissimilar to Arnold Schwarzenegger towards the end of The Terminator (see image for details).

Having said that, the referral system has proved umpire decisions to be wrong on many occasions during the Series, having a considerable impact on the outcome of the matches.

What would you rather?

Human errors from umpires, that has been part of the game for centuries, but can lead to a team being defeated by poor decisions.


Lengthy delays adding to an already lengthy sport, which can provide accurate decisions to be made, most of the time (but not all it seems).

I would love to hear your opinions on this, and any other thoughts you feel should be brought to light, so do post comments at the bottom of this blog.

So many sporting events have already happened this year, including the horrific Togolese football team shooting before the Africa Cup of Nations, Phil “The Power” Taylor storming to yet another world title in darts, and two notable FA Cup shock exits from Manchester United and Liverpool.

So keep your eyes peeled to the action and the next installment on TTS.

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