Cricket World Cup 2019: Week 1, update #2—Tamper tantrums

The second of an informal weekly (p)review of the 2019 Cricket World Cup – or, as I like to call it, the #Champ10nsTrophy.

Truth be told, #CWC19 needed the England vs Pakistan result. After a couple of one-sided shellackings (expect me to return to that at a future date as part of yet another criticism of the 10-team format) a high-scoring game that went down to the wire and, most importantly, saw the favourites finish in second place, was needed to kickstart the competition.

England shouldn’t worry too much. Neither of the previous two hosts to win the World Cup managed a clean sweep: India lost to South Africa in 2011, and Australia lost to New Zealand in 2015. Neither had too much trouble in lifting the trophy a few matches later.

What it didn’t need was a ball-tampering controversy. Maybe “ball-tampering” and “controversy” are too strong a pair of terms: a couple of English batsmen were noticeably reticent – albeit also noticeably exercised – when given the opportunity to comment on the subject, thereby damping down the flames.

At Trent Bridge the umpires were quick to jump on the signs of proto-tampering and nip them in the bud. To be specific, both sides were warned against throwing the ball in on more than one bounce to the keeper, a well-worn tactic (geddit?) for roughing up one side. Whether they were consistent or not, or whether both teams complied with the direction equally, is immaterial to this discussion.

It strikes me as excessive to prevent teams from engaging in legitimate activity that has an incidental and beneficial side effect. The key point is that throwing the ball in on the bounce is justifiable for non-tampering reasons: the flatter trajectory is faster. Perhaps two or three bounces – which is what the umpires were taking exception to – is pushing it; is there a valid reason, other than an attempt to change the condition of the ball, for such throwing? Could one not argue that it saves time and reduces the sting on the bowler’s receiving hands?

Obviously this all seems to be overlooked when a run out is on the cards: I’ve yet to hear of umpires pulling up fielders who’ve effected outfield dismissals via a bounced throw. Yet even when not aiming for a run out, the the fielding side has a right, nay, a responsibility to save time where possible – as Bumble would say, to get on with the game. (There’s another #CWC19 disappointment: why’s Bumble missing from the commentary box?)

That’s not to say the umpires acted incorrectly. Law 41.3.2, the Law that prohibits ball-tampering, reveals a double standard: one for batsmen and one for everyone else.

41.3.2 It is an offence for any player to take any action which changes the condition of the ball.
Except in carrying out his/her normal duties, a batsman is not allowed to wilfully damage the ball. […]

https://www.lords.org/mcc/laws/unfair-play

How, pray, can one interact with the ball in any way that does not change its condition? Bowling anything other than full tosses will cause it to land and rough up. Catching it will transfer sweat or other substances onto its surface. Batsmen, however, are given special dispensation to wilfully damage the ball in carrying out their normal duties. Why are bowlers and fielders not similarly allowed to effect damage in the course of their normal duties?

Wasn’t the game so much more interesting when Hassan Ali found a bit of inswing? In fact, forget England losing: so far, the biggest surprise of the World Cup has been the lesser spotted Kookaburra swing. Even up the playing field, I say, and let bowlers damage the ball incidentally, if not accidentally.

Cricket World Cup 2019: Week 0, update #1—No, I’m not excited about the World Cup

The first of an informal weekly (if all goes to plan) (p)review of the 2019 Cricket World Cup – or, as I like to call it, the #Champ10nsTrophy.

I have a confession to make. The World Cup starts tomorrow. England have a more than decent chance of winning. Yet I’m not excited.

Maybe it’s the ridiculous round-robin format that will ensure games are still going on not just next month, but the month after next. Maybe it’s the appalling 10-team restriction that ensures that there are no genuine surprise packages, no out-and-out underdogs to root for. After all, the weakest team is probably Sri Lanka – and they’re one of five teams to have won the whole shebang in its history.

Perhaps my ennui is founded in more selfish reasons. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve only managed to obtain tickets for one game. Maybe it’s the fact that the games have been overpriced, at least compared to the 2015 World Cup. Maybe it’s the fact that maximum purchase quantities have been too high, allowing too many people to hoover up, for example, six tickets for each semi-final.

Maybe it’s the geographical isolation from the cricketing centre that does it. Down in darkest Herefordshire, it feels as if the benefits have a long way to trickle down. While the cities have their jamborees, cricket stumbles on here – often only just.

I went to New Road yesterday and it, in some ways, summed up everything that was good about professional English cricket. Tim Murtagh was Murtaghing away to such an extent that you wondered whether the laws of mathematics would bend and let him register more maidens than overs. Tom Helm was showing off the fluidity of action and sharp bounce that reveals why he’s tipped for greater honours.

As Malan and Gubbins (one Test player, one future Test player, surely) rescued Middlesex from 20-2, a German Shepherd at the base of the D’Oliviera Stand (presumably a Worcestershire supporter) couldn’t bear to watch, lying down and panting. Off the field, the queues for tea and cake (£2.50 for a mug and a slice) in the Ladies’ Pavilion signalled their quality and value. The thought of paying, by contrast, upwards of £10 for a World Cup-branded sandwich isn’t exactly filling me with pleasant anticipation.

I’m sure this too will pass. I only hope it passes in time for (my) World Cup Game Day. At least the official song isn’t a total write-off; perhaps I need to heed its advice and just Stand By.

Not The ’Nineteen World Cup

Sick already of the 2019 Cricket World Cup? Less than ecstatic about the five-Test Ashes series to follow? No need to worry. In 2017, I provided a list for Cricinfo of seven games to savour, mostly featuring the England men’s team. By contrast, here’s a selection of seven fixtures that have nothing to do with those behemoth competitions. Indeed, upon careful inspection of the fixture list, one can assemble a compelling and varied personal trip around the country.

28th April: Worcestershire vs Warwickshire (Worcester)
Playing 50-over cricket in April is probably not everybody’s cup of tea, especially the spectators’; nevertheless, options are limited from mid-April to mid-May. This at least ticks the boxes of a) derby game; b) cosy ground; c) close enough to town to hole up in a café (or pub) during the inevitable April-shower delays.

20th-23rd May: Kent vs Surrey (Beckenham)
All eyes will be on the newly promoted Kent to see how the swashbucklers fare against the reigning champions. With the game taking place almost in Surrey’s back yard, local support should be strong for both teams – and the game might just yield an early indication of whether Kent may be able to maintain the recent London monopoly on the Championship.

17th-20th June: Yorkshire vs Warwickshire (York)
It’s pleasing to see another outground come on-line, and York’s Clifton Park will see its redevelopment rewarded with its first first-class game. Those who treasure their trips to Scarborough have no reason to fear, as two games at North Marine Road are also scheduled (starting on 30th June and 18th August respectively). Alternatively, for those of a Red Rose persuasion, Sedbergh School in Cumbria will be hosting its first Lancashire first-class game from 30th July-3rd July.

18th-21st July: England vs Australia (Taunton)
Women’s Test cricket comes around so rarely that any appearance is welcome. It’s a shame that the last two instances were on dull pitches that did little to showcase the range of the players’ skills: it has to be hoped that Taunton will offer up a sporting pitch for the occasion.

21st-24th July: Gloucestershire vs Worcestershire (Cheltenham)
There is something of a lack of derby games in the County Championship this year, with Yorkshire, Surrey, and Warwickshire all in Division One, and Lancashire, Middlesex, and Worcestershire stuck in Division Two. That leaves neighbouring Gloucestershire and Worcestershire to provide something vaguely approximating a grudge match – and happily it’s in the delightful surroundings of Cheltenham College, which claims what must be one of the finest square-leg backdrops in English first-class cricket.

Gloucestershire vs Sussex, Cheltenham College, 2018

8th August: Middlesex vs Surrey (Lord’s)
Of course, there’s no lack of derby games in the T20 Blast. The Oval does T20 rather better than Lord’s, if truth be told, but getting to that fixture on the 23rd would mean missing play on Day 3 of the above Cheltenham game. This will be the seventh and final game that AB de Villiers will be playing for Middlesex (assuming they stay true to form and avoid the knockout stages, he laughs bitterly).

1st September: Kia Super League Finals Day (Hove)
One indisuptable success story for the ECB has been the launch and development of its women’s T20 league. So much of a success has it been, in fact, that from 2020, it will, er, be abruptly discarded. Whatever the merits of that decision, it means that 2019 will see the Final Finals Day for the KSL. One last seaside jaunt, then, to savour the memories, before the Hundred rolls in on the tide.

Needless to say, admission for all seven games would likely cost you in total about the same as an Edrich Stand Ashes ticket. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.