Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tumbling Dice

Every so often there's a segment of the Sky cricket coverage that surprises you, and goes some way to justifying the monthly fee - and every so often one of those segments actually makes you think, and can even prompt you to post an article.

I touched on one such moment last year (link) and there was another gem last night. Interestingly the common denominators in each case were that Michael Atherton was on camera, and that Bob Willis and Charles Colville had their mouths taped up and were tied to a chair. ('Bring out the Gimp'...!!)

I know I keep ranting on about Colville but he provides plenty of ammunition for the cricketing blogger to fill some space with, whilst at the same time making some Sky coverage virtually unwatchable. When he's on air you're tempted to turn the sound down and listen to something less grating... Lou Reed's 'Metal Machine Music' perhaps, or some Stockhausen. His banal, simplistic banter demonstrates the most shocking overpromotion of limited talent since John Major became Prime Minister - interestingly both Colville and Major are members of the Surrey CCC committee. You have to presume that Colville has expressed instructions before going on air each day; -"talk to the audience as though they are all nine years old"

Ok, that's the gratuitous rant out of the way - back to the Atherton love-fest...

Athers, Michael Slater and 'Digger' Gower were analysing Australia's victory over Sri Lanka, and in particular the decision by the Sri Lanka brains trust to rest Murali and Chaminder Vaas for the game. Athers gave it tacit approval, but warned that it was a pretty high risk roll of the dice which would leave Jayawadene in a pretty uncomfortable position if Sri Lanka went on to lose in the semi final to, presumably, New Zealand - especially as one (unstated) aim of the move was to ensure that such a match up with the Kiwis took place.

They steered clear of deliberately accusing Sri Lanka of losing the game - a charge that they wouldn't have really been able to make stick, but suggested that Tom Moody probably wasn't too distraught at the final outcome.

Understandably, Slater produced the typical forthright Aussie response - 'always play hard to win every game' and so on, and got ready to talk about the next subject up for discussion. Athers wouldn't let it lie though, and very subtly slid the stilletto into Slater's ribcage by referring to the Australia/Windies game in the 1999 World Cup when the Baggy Green soft pedalled to victory to enhance their position in the next round .

Athers also started going beyond the simple explanations that Murali was being 'rested' by exploring some of the deeper reasoning and psychology behind the move -fascinating stuff.

For someone who has previously faced some of the fastest bowling ever seen, Slater looked pretty uncomfortable being on the receiving end of a couple of Atherton's subtle barbs - at one stage I thought he was going to chuck him into the sea behind them.

Next thing, Fotherington-Thomas had waded in too - catching Slats unawares in a pincer movement so that he looked as uncomformtable as a football hooligan stuck between two maiden aunts on the back seat of a bus. Harry Enfield's 'young man!' sketch came to mind.

Happily peace was restored before Slater was forced to give one of them a slap, but I reckon they probably ganged up on him later in the evening as they shared a bottle of Chablis and some cucumber sandwiches, whilst Slater waded through a slab of Toohey's Blue and wolfed down a '4 & 20'.

Australia are, rightly, huge favourites to win the tournament. They are playing some fantastic cricket and, at this stage, no one deserves to win the trophy more. The one possible chink on their armour is that they do have a huge complex about Murali to the point of it being a national obsession. Elsewhere in the cricketing world, opinion is pretty much split over the legitimacy of Murali's bowling action - but in the land of Baggy Green, it's a 100% vote in favour of 'cheat'. A lot of the Aussies I've spoken to reckon that the record books should show a 'Roger Maris' style asterix alongside Murali's name at the top of the test wickets tree - and I'd guess that they'd rather Kevin Pietersen beat them in the final than Murali.

So if you're Jayawardene why not play on this - roll the dice and rachet up the tension slightly. Forget the guff about Sri Lanka not wanting the Australians to see any of Murali's varieties. They realise that they have one trump card in their hand, and want to get maximum benefit out of it.

It's not unheard of for batsmen to work themselves into a highly stressed state about someone with a suspect action. Peter May made himself very ill over Ian Meckiff, and even a hard-bitten character like Ken Barrington worked himself into such acondition about Charlie Griffith that he had a heart attack and had to retire from the game. Now, I'm not suggesting that Matthew Hayden is going to become a gibbering wreck and curl up into the foetus postion on the wicket when Murali comes on to bowl (though it would make fascinating viewing...) but if there's a seed of doubt in some Australian minds, then the decision to draw attention to it by leaving Murali out may be a brilliant masterstroke.

Of course, like most cricket tactics, it can only form part of the entire canvas of the tournament. Both sides have to get to the final first after all, but if, further down the line, Murali does produce a match-winning spell in the final, remember the mind games that will have preceded it.. and also pray to God that Charles Coville doesn't get the chance to commentate on it.


Tony.T said...

Slatts is a goose. Every Aussie with half a brain knows Australia 'rest' players via rotation when circs allow. It's a legitimate tactic. So too is wangling a result to suit. But a tourny as big as the World Cup should be set up to prevent it happening, especially in the late stages when every game should be played for keeps.

Slatts is definitely the wrong bloke to be in the box when sophisticated commentary is the order of the day. Unless, of course, his job is to be the dumb catalyst (patsy, straight guy, butt o' joke) around which all the smart talk can revolve.

Speaking of chucking, you're right about our obsession:


Anonymous said...

Doesn't matter anyway- The Shree's can't score enough runs, and Australia's batsmen are the best in the world at picking the doosra.

Why's Sky hiring Slatts? We're lucky in Australia, we've dodged that bullet.

Mark said...

Channel 9 and Sky tossed a coin. C9 won, so they got Bill Lawry... Sky got Slatts!!