Dancing in the Dark: A Day/Night at the Test

The Eric Hollies Stand was full of vestments, but the West Indies never had a prayer. The third day of the first day/night Test match in England featured a steady fall of wickets, never a flood but a drip-drip of edges, misses and misjudgement. Nineteen West Indian wickets fell, with eight batsmen dismissed twice in a day, as the quality of the England attack never wavered. James Anderson was as skilful as always, his control over line, length and movement thoroughly examining the wonky techniques of the West Indian top order. Late in the day, Stuart Broad produced one of those spells, where his knees rise in his run-up, he runs through the crease powerfully and the ball seems to pick up pace off the pitch. The comprehensive castling of Shane Dowrich was an impressive way to pass Ian Botham as England’s second highest wicket taker. Ben Stokes bowled with pace and control, and Toby Roland-Jones moved the ball whilst bowling an aggressive length. Moeen Ali complemented the seamers well, his work with Saqlain Mushtaq visible in his control and his modified quick-stepping run-up.

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That England won comfortably, wickets shared round following runs from Joe Root and Alastair Cook, is hardly surprising. The real interest was in the format – a floodlight final session and a pink ball throughout. In the end, it had little impact on the result. Kemar Roach’s testing spell on the first evening was the only passage of play that seemed influenced by the alternative conditions. It rained on the second evening; on the third, the gulf in class rendered the conditions irrelevant. The consensus seemed to be that the pink ball held up reasonably well on a normal Edgbaston Test pitch, and that the appeal of day/night cricket attracted a larger crowd, including many attending their first Test.

For the spectator – I watched the third day from the Hollies Stand – the experience was an interesting one. The pink ball was initially a little tricky to pick up in the afternoon light, only really becoming visible when it slowed down. One ball from Anderson early in the day hit Kieran Powell on the thigh pad; the ball appeared, bright against the whites, as it had fallen from the batsman’s pocket. Part of this was undoubtedly due to my position side on, but the ball was definitely clearer to the spectator later in the day.

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The Hollies Stand, aside from being side on the action, is also an odd social space, good fun as long as you don’t want to watch the cricket too closely. As Andy Bull noted, it has something of the airport departure lounge in its attitude to socially acceptable drinking at any time of day. For all its fabled atmosphere, it seems oddly detached from the cricket. When Stuart Broad was on a hat-trick, the roar that accompanied him to the crease was a wonderful example of why the England players love playing at Edgbaston, engaged and passionate. But much of the time it was loud because it was full of drunk people, not because it was uniquely supportive of the England team. The insipid West Indian performance hardly helped, but a disregard for etiquette such as only leaving your seat at the end of the over doesn’t create an attachment to the events on-field.

It was interesting to see that the pace of the day seemed in sync with a day Test – the singing and banter peaked around half past six, the raucous final session of a normal day at the cricket over before tea. You had to remind yourself that there were forty overs left to play. Edgbaston chose to keep the breaks as “lunch” and “tea”, but, ignoring semantics, it might be better to reverse the length of the sessions. Lunch felt too long too soon; tea a rush to get some hot food for the night session. Perhaps the reluctance to extend the second break was linked to the numbers of people who left before or during twilight, when the novelty failed to keep people in the ground.

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They will be sad to have missed it, because the novelty, the marketing draw, was genuinely special. I sat grinning at the sight of players in white on a twilit cricket ground, the lights making play possible, but merely enhancing the shades of an English summer’s dusk. The bright early-internet “e”s of the Edgbaston lights shone against the pastels of the sky, dark clouds on pink and orange. The evening is usually the best part of a summer’s day and watching cricket from half past six to half past eight was a treat

I agree with Mark Nicholas’s suggestion of extending play to half past seven as a matter of course, perhaps even an hour further if a pink ball is used. Playing at night, under completely artificial light, as with the last few overs at Edgbaston, seems a novelty too far – the lights required and the size of the ground made it feel like a car park at night. T20 can be neon in the night, its colours and the white ball stand out in totally artificial light. The players’ whites seemed overlit at Edgbaston. I would love to see a midsummer test, using a pink ball and playing until nine o’clock. Floodlights would be needed, but would augment not dominate. It would never get totally dark, and would be a wonderful centrepiece for a summer of cricket, particularly if it was, say, the first test of an Ashes series at Lord’s. Cricket has long played with ideas of modernity – a cricketing solstice would be both novel and linked to deeper traditions of English summer, Lord’s an appropriate setting for a meeting of pastoral time and the reclamation of the night.

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The real reason for the day/night Test, of course, is that Test cricket needs to change if it is to have any kind of long term future. All this twilight is perhaps a rather heavy-handed metaphor for a game retreating to the shadows, looking back on what used to be. That it is the West Indies playing, a team both overshadowed by its predecessors and let down by administrators both in the region and at the ICC, only adds to the gloom. The irony is that for all the effort that has gone into making day/night cricket possible and playable, it is ultimately a cosmetic change – quite literally. Tinkering with television schedules and an aesthetic shift only influence so much. A one-sided match was a reminder of the challenge faced to make Test cricket competitive, meaningful and attractive.

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Stroke of Genius: review

If you’re reading this, you’ll know the picture. You’ll probably know it by the name of its subject: Victor Trumper, for the image and the man have become melded in the cricketing imagination, reduced and enlarged to encompass each other. It shows a cricketing Vitruvian man, the batsman extended to his limits, balanced and bursting with potential energy. The front foot is raised, poised to land, a step committed to, but with all the possibilities of success and failure as yet unrealised. The crease is a yard behind his back foot, the abandoned abode of the cautious.

Gideon Haigh’s wonderful new book, Stroke of Genius, is a history of an image, charting the creation and influence of “Jumping Out”, George Beldam’s iconic photograph of Trumper. It is not simply a biography of the man, because the image has consistently changed in meaning since Trumper’s death. Moreover, it is a history of how cricket has been seen, how a game which is inherently difficult to watch has had to be brought closer to the spectator, in a process which is still ongoing. It is also a history of how cricket, and sport more generally, has contended with its inherent tension between aesthetics and achievement – how, or how many?

One of the reasons for the appeal and wide dissemination of “Jumping Out” is its malleability; posed outside of a match, it is contextless and therefore far more flexible than an image of a “live” moment. Trumper becomes an ideal cricketer, representative of “how the game should be played”. During his lifetime, this exposed the tensions between amateur and professional, but over time, Trumper became a symbol of prelapsarian innocence.

The lack of match context reflects the conditions in which the image was created – the photograph had to be carefully staged. The photographer, George Beldam, was himself a first class cricketer, and dismissed Trumper in a match not long after taking another series of photographs of Trumper. There is a hint of the modern bowler, armed with the knowledge of a batsman’s technique thanks to the demystification of technology. It is not the only suggestion of today’s relationship between camera and cricket. Beldam’s first cricketing photograph was of his uncle batting in the garden. Beldam’s uncle was notorious for never accepting the word of whoever was umpire, and so the photo captures the exact moment he is struck on the pad. It looks exactly like a modern freeze frame (it only needs the stumps to be superimposed), and the removal of doubt, the technological judgement, is similarly modern.

Beldam’s ability to capture cricketers in action, however posed, also allowed the study of technique to develop. Two leading batsman, CB Fry and Ranjitsinhji, set the standard for aesthetic batsmanship, with Ranji’s exoticism and Fry’s careful study announcing a shift to visual appreciation of batting, tied into the new revelations of photography. Trumper was crucial to this. Previous stars of batting like WG Grace had been notable for the volume of runs and the stamina required to score them. Trumper was notable for how he looked. This trope was to reappear when Bradman began to dominate the game. Bradman was regarded as cold and mechanical, lacking the exuberance of Trumper – usually based on “Jumping Out”, Trumper’s visual legacy. Bradman himself compared the two men, writing that “Trumper got one century every 9.8 innings, where I obtained a century every 3.4”. Well, quite…

Bradman’s batting was often seen as a product of its age, batting Fordism as opposed to Trumper’s fin de siècle vitality. This is particularly notable in the mythologizing of writers such as Neville Cardus, whose suspicion of modernity led him to eulogise the “Golden Age” of Trumper and co. Yet this is misleading. “Jumping Out” is a deeply modern image. To begin with, it was taken at The Oval, seen then and now as the “people’s ground”, far more accessible to a mass audience than exclusive Lord’s. Moreover, the ground was accessible in a practical sense, served by the new tube and tram network, and surrounded by the buildings of the city – the famous gasholders and factories, foundries and breweries. Trumper himself grew up as a street cricketer, breaking Sydney windows. “Jumping Out”’s amateur elegance came from an urban background, and was set in an urban setting. This was a long way from the pastoral reverie of Cardus.

The composition of “Jumping Out” is also striking. Trumper’s swing was often interpreted as the carefree elegance of the “Golden Age”, as compared to Bradman’s mechanised manner. But the image fits more comfortably with modern art than with traditional cricketing imagery. Many of Beldam’s photographs capture the details of technique. But “Jumping Out” goes beyond that, technology enabling the capture of the aesthetics of batting. Beldam’s photograph brings to mind the new range of modern art depicting sport as an aspect of modernity, overlapped with industry and advertising, and loaded with motion. The looming “Sporting Life” banner hints at Robert Delaunay’s 1913 L’Équipe de Cardiff; the blurred crowd foreshadows Jean Metzinger’s 1912 Au Véledrome. As a moment of sporting stillness, it prefigures Harald Giersing’s Sofus Heading of 1917. Victor Trumper, bourgeois Australian, becomes avant-garde at the crease. As Haigh puts it, Beldam pre-empted the “whole grammar of athletic motion and of mass spectacle” in the modern sporting image.

With hindsight, we see that Trumper is not the antithesis of professionalism, but rather part of a tradition of batting that blends prodigious output with aesthetic charm. As CB Fry’s wife, Beatie, wrote, Trumper was “a poet of cricket”, but “his timing has the exactness, rhythm, and fit of the oceangoing ship’s piston-rod”. As both “poet” and “piston”, Trumper reached the heights of athletic prowess, memorable for style and for efficiency. Beldam’s photograph was crucial to this, establishing a visual shorthand for the aesthetics of good batting. It is this that Haigh traces so successfully – how an unchanging, iconic image can be used to symbolise so many different things. Haigh traces the afterlife of the photograph carefully, but also does the important job of emphasising the conditions in which it was produced and recentring its contemporary interpretations. In doing so, he reclaims the modernity of the picture, drawing it out of nostalgia and linking it firmly to the present.

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The Appeal of Pakistan

On the 24th of June, cricket was a long way from the mind of most Brits. The country had voted to leave the European Union, political norms were unravelling and the hostilities and divisions of the campaign were bringing social tensions to the surface. For weeks, the country choked on a surfeit of news. Those cursed interesting times were here. Sporting escape seemed distant. The England football team were dumped ignominiously out of the European Championships by Iceland. Some one-sided one-dayers against Sri Lanka were pretty irrelevant.

The visit of Pakistan offered little hope of distraction. Rather, it seemed likely that the bitter public mood would curdle a series so often soured by unpleasantness. The return of Mohammad Amir was likely to increase the acrimony. We got lucky. England and Pakistan played out a fine series in good spirit. Cricket provided not only a distraction from the uncertainty of national fate, but, in Misbah’s Pakistan, an example of how a team can both be moulded by and transcend social conditions. Their stoicism and unity, as well as exuberance in victory, won many admirers. A team that left England in disgrace in 2010 now attracts appreciation.

Pakistan have always attracted fans in England for the quality of their cricket, from the huge hundreds of Zaheer Abbas to the pace and skill of Wasim and Waqar. They have always been proudly different, unashamedly rejecting English convention. But this has also been accompanied by tension. Liberals might like the way Pakistan rile the old guard of English cricket or see them as an alternative to tedious English conservatism. Pakistani otherness has always been a crucial part of their perception in England, both in terms of appreciation and suspicion. The flip side of admiring the supposedly “exotic” is a sense that “they” are not like “us” – a feeling that then underpins arguments like the “Tebbit test” which question loyalties. Moreover, this exoticism can be couched in terms of that suggest an unthinking approach – think of all the pieces praising the supposedly childlike enthusiasm of the Afghan cricket team, portraying them as cricketing noble savages.

We must remember that this is a changing world. I travelled from Oxford to Worcester for Pakistan’s tour match. The train journey through the Cotswolds seemed little different to Edward Thomas’s famous poem of a century ago. But get to Moreton-in-Marsh, the quintessential Cotswold town, and there are signs in the train station in Chinese. The old certainties of Britain are shifting, something the Brexit campaigners crudely played on. Cricketing geopolitics have shifted as well. England are financial winners, but are still from certain about the brave new world. Pakistan are losers, mainly due to the seep of broader geopolitics into cricket.

This is the world in which Misbah must lead. The appeal of his team still lies in their difference to England, but not in the traditional ways. This is not a team built on the mastery of mysterious skills or individual match winners. Rather, they are an old-fashioned side, and their appeal to the neutral in part lies in nostalgia. Pakistan are still a unique team, but in a quite different way. In an age when everyone has to bat like Shahid Afridi in T20 matches, they are no longer futurists. Their batsman bat steadily, their keeper chips in unorthodox runs and catches well, their bowlers bowl to take wickets or to a set plan. It is old school, and it works, especially in the UAE.

Misbah is the calm leader and the trendsetter. In the twenty-first century, professional athletes aren’t meant to play into their forties. He puts the needs of his team before any personal desire to retire. He plays within himself. He understands the social conditions in which his team plays. He may not be a funky captain and only a sporadically explosive batsman, but he knows that Pakistan’s success is rooted in a conservatism dictated by conditions. They play few tests, all of them outside Pakistan, stymied by a dysfunctional board, and with the weight of corruption and tragedy on their shoulders. Yet Misbah has taken them to the brink of being the best team in the world.

I was lucky enough to watch Misbah’s chief lieutenant, Younis Khan, in the nets at Worcester. He yelled at himself after each mishit ball, demanded that each throw be just as he required, pushed himself harder and harder. There were doubts about him after three tests of erratic batting in this series. Never doubt Younis. His double hundred at The Oval was a punishing innings, bloody-minded and willed into existence. There is a strange style in Younis’s technique, an intensity in all that movement, a glimpse for the viewer of all the effort that goes in. The beauty is in the struggle, in the defiance and in the pride.

The old-fashioned discipline of Misbah and Younis seems to have rubbed off on the most successful of Pakistan’s batsmen, Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali and Sami Aslam. They all have different techniques, but accept the traditional test match basics of watchfulness and accumulation. They are not un-Pakistani for this – think of the late, great Hanif Mohammad – but don’t fit the model of a modern batsman. They have shown that patience can and should still be a virtue.

Even Yasir Shah, twice Pakistan’s match winner, is not a mystery spinner, but relentlessly accurate and subtle in his variations. He is not Saeed Ajmal or Saqlain Mushtaq; for all his exuberance, he is a orthodox but very skilful bowler. The fast bowlers are similarly traditional in their bowling virtues and batting and fielding vices. Rahat Ali and Sohail Khan both bowled like the type of English seamer not seen so often these days, and Mohammad Amir, lacking the extravagant movement and youthful excess of his previous incarnation, utilised the conditions skilfully and bowled accurately to plans when they suited him less. Only Wahab Riaz was a real wildcard, useful on flat modern wickets. His spell on the fourth afternoon at Lord’s was an outrageous exhibition of reverse swing and he made crucial breakthroughs at The Oval.

Perhaps we should not fetishize Pakistan’s traditional ways too much. Pakistan fans would doubtless like to see a team able to compete well in the shorter formats of the game. There the game has rather evolved away from them, not helped by the failure of players like Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad to fulfil their potential. The team doesn’t just exist to give neutrals pleasure with their retro air, like reverse “calypso cricketers”.

The pared down style they have adopted does, however, offer an interesting insight into the meanings of sport. Osman Samiuddin, the pre-eminent modern Pakistani cricket writer, once wrote that Younis Khan’s career was

“not even a career as much as some great and ongoing cosmic experiment – or perhaps exploration – into mankind. What becomes of us when our ideals begin to curdle into compromise? What becomes of us when we cannot reconcile our contradictions? What happens to us when we acquire authority? In what ways do we build and break trust?”

It might be said that this Pakistan team poses similar questions. Like great literature, sport can force us to ask difficult questions. Misbah’s Pakistan team poses many, about the relationship between the individual and the nation; the meanings of home, diaspora and identity; the ability to transcend our time and place. Of difference, of change, of excellence.

Where Pakistan go next, it is hard to say. This team may break up when Younis and Misbah retire, the attrition of playing away from home all the time taking its toll. Who knows when cricket will return to Pakistan, or where it might retreat from next. Perhaps we should expect the unexpected. But this summer has given us a timely reminder of what cricket can mean to people, and how carefully we must consider about it. Think of all the meanings and emotions in those Lord’s press-ups. If you need a moment of escape, unpick that image for a bit – all the history, all the symbols, all the personalities. That will be Misbah’s legacy – the richness and intelligence with which he has imbued the game.

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Back to the Future: The Construction of James Anderson

Dasun Shakana is not a man who often struggles to hit a cricket ball. In January, he scored 123 off 46 balls in a domestic Twenty20 match, striking sixteen sixes. In his T20 career, he’s hit 58 sixes in 35 games. He had made a hundred against a callow Leicestershire attack a week before this innings. But this was different. This was his first Test innings, at Headingley, against England. His captain and his team’s outstanding batsman, Angelo Mathews, had been dismissed off the previous ball, so disorientated by the ball’s movement that he declined the review that would have reprieved him.

Shanaka was facing James Anderson, a man who, with Mathews’ wicket, had moved to sixth in the list of Test wicket takers. Anderson, perhaps the bowler more suited than any in the world to bowling on a seaming wicket in the murk of a Yorkshire spring. Anderson, who manipulates a cricket ball like few others, bending it with and to his will. Shanaka did well to hit his first delivery, a classical outswinger, luring the drive and snaking away. Unfortunately, the contact he managed was a healthy outside edge, the fatal snick that Anderson has induced from so many.

Shanaka did the same thing the next day. There’s no shame in that. Anderson is deservedly England’s highest Test wicket taker, with a happy knack of dismissing the very best repeatedly. His success against Sachin Tendulkar is well known; similarly, he has often had the better of Michael Clarke in the innumerable recent Ashes. Anderson is regarded as a “skilful” bowler, often as faint praise. That is, he makes the ball do pretty things without always getting the rewards, and struggles on pitches and in climates that don’t help him. In reality, it is his skill that allows him to succeed in a range of conditions. He was superb during England’s win in Australia in 2010-11, showing his control and mastery of reverse swing through the series. His dismissal of Michael Clarke in Sydney, on the penultimate afternoon of the series was one of the finest spells of bowling, reversing the ball both ways before luring Clarke into one of those characteristic nicks.

Similarly, he has been exceptional on England’s recent tours to Asia, notably during England’s win in India in 2012-13. Again, his exemplary control and use of reverse swing transcended difficult conditions. He has been excellent in the UAE on England’s last two visits as well. Despite this, he is often regarded as somewhat overrated, to the extent to which his excellence needs repeating. If anything, he is underrated, to an extent that might not become apparent until England need to replace him. That he has not matched Dale Steyn for pace and potency is understandable – few from the history of the game can. To paraphrase Shane Warne on Tendulkar, Steyn is first, daylight second, Anderson third. Anderson has probably suffered from the paucity of quality fast bowling over the last decade or so. He is not part of an epoch, but instead faces constant comparison with Steyn, his only real rival.

Like Steyn, Anderson has been at his best with a red ball, but he didn’t start out like that. He was plucked from obscurity to play in an ODI tri-series in Australia in 2002-3, where he bowled a spell of 10-6-12-1 in Adelaide, and made a memorable impression at the 2003 World Cup, including four wickets against Pakistan. His swinging yorker to dismiss Yousuf Youhana, as he then was, hinted at what was to come. A Test debut against Zimbabwe, marked with a five-for, followed, before several years in the wilderness. Michael Vaughan never seemed to fully trust him, and he was eclipsed by the rise of Simon Jones and Steve Harmison. Anderson also suffered with injury, and as a result, England’s bowling coaches, first Troy Cooley and then Kevin Shine, tinkered with his action. Anderson seemed to play little cricket, bowling endlessly at cones, trying to remove any idiosyncrasies.

He came through the process, emerging as England’s main fast bowler in 2007. Whether the tinkering helped, what is most noticeable now about Anderson is the smoothness of his action. It is fine-tuned but natural, repeatable but allowing for subtle changes of position on the crease and in the wrist. If you are lucky enough to see him bowl live, watch the follow through. It is short, controlled, measured to help the delivery but not to exhaust the bowler. It is an action grooved to perfection, able to propel the ball at pace but with remarkable ease.

Anderson’s current action gives a clue to his success. He is the great survivor, the man who has come out of Andy Flower’s regime intact. One criticism of Anderson is that he has only taken so many wickets because England play so many tests. This ignores the fact that he has had to stay fit and selectable through that time. He has bowled a staggering number of deliveries in a short space of time, a workload that few fast bowlers have had to manage in test matches. Coupled with the intensity of Flower’s coaching – undoubtedly successful, if hard to maintain – and regularly being part of a four man attack, Anderson has coped with an enormous strain. Being able to stay fit and in form through the last six or seven years has allowed him to take a large number of wickets. That he was able to is remarkable.

Anderson is also worth celebrating for more than his longevity. He is a beautiful bowler to watch. His action is not only admirable for its efficiency. Look at a picture of Anderson in his coil, winding up to bowl. It is a moment of pure sporting aesthetics, like an Ian Bell cover drive, what CLR James called the “perfection of form”. When I wrote about swing bowling for Cricinfo, I compared it to Natalia Goncharova’s Cyclist, an image of motion and potential energy. Jarrod Kimber also looked to art when describing Anderson recently, writing that “that ball is making shapes that HR Giger or Zaha Hadid would kill for. His bowling trajectories should be hanging in some modern art museum or spray-painted on walls”. For his grumpy demeanour and fondness for a sledge, Anderson remains in touch with the aesthetics of sport. It may not be as consciously honed as the impeccable technique of a textbook batsman, but the sinuous paths of his deliveries, the taut energy of his action, elevate his bowling in the memory.

This art has survived the attentions of the bowling coaches, but their tinkering has another side. Easy as it is to bemoan the attempts to change Anderson, it is important to recognise he has had advantages that few other bowlers have had. He has survived so well in part because he has been kept medicated, remunerated, nourished and protected as well as any cricketer ever. He is a very modern cricketer in the sense that he is a genuine athlete, benefitting from a twenty-first century attitude and twenty-first century treatment. But, whilst he may have dyed his hair red at the beginning of his career, Anderson has never been a revolutionary. What all the training, all the tuning, all those advantages, have created is an old fashioned English fast bowler. He undoubtedly belongs in the tradition of Larwood, Trueman, Statham and others. He looks over his left shoulder and moves the ball away. He has a Northern abrasiveness, an action like a bolt of silk unfurling, swing, seam, accuracy. It is appropriate that he is England’s leading Test wicket taker because he ties a history together. He is the modern athlete and also successor to a tradition. He was built by coaches, not summoned from the mine, but he embodies a heritage and keeps old skills alive.

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What If and If Only

The sad news of James Taylor’s retirement due to a heart condition has cast a shadow over the start of the English season. Spring should be a time for optimism and bright beginnings, not elegies and endings. Taylor’s retirement is particularly untimely given his recent success for England – a career that, for all his domestic runs, had failed to live up to its evident promise was finally coming good. He had made runs in Sharjah and Durban, against high quality spin and pace. He had captained England in Dublin last summer, and made a fine one day century against Australia. Now his dextrous batting, belied by those Popeye arms, and his elastic short leg fielding, a highlight of the winter just gone, are just memories, tinged with the melancholia of what might have been.

Counterfactual history is often, rightly, scorned by historians as simplistic and misleading. It avoids the structural and overemphasises the individual. But whilst it might be bad history, it is also beloved of sport. Nothing gets fans going like the question, “what if?” Perhaps it’s because sport still focuses on the individual over the social, players’ careers offer a structure for speculation, and matches are marked by clear results. What could have been different? What if that chance had been taken? What if they’d picked him instead? What if she hadn’t been injured?

Cricket’s history is full of players who never achieved what they seemed capable of, for reasons tragic and not. Think of those left unselected by chance or by circumstance, from Andy Gateaume – one Test innings, 112 runs, never picked again – to Barry Richards and Mike Procter, banished from Test cricket for the racism of the nation they represented. There are those who flickered and faded, like Vinod Kambli, the man who could never be Tendulkar, or Ajantha Mendis, who was left a sphinx without a riddle once his variations were deciphered. Others, like Taylor, have suffered from the vagaries of health and fitness. Lawrence Rowe, the Jamaican virtuoso, made a Test triple century, but, in a magical realist twist, was allergic to grass. Mohammad Zahid was a Pakistani fast bowler of almost mythical pace, but only played five tests due to injury. Finally, there are those are tragically denied a career by death. The late Phillip Hughes, the tubercular wunderkind Archie Jackson, and the numerous cricketing victims of the world wars, their runs left unscored, their wickets untaken.

Unrequited talent always invites introspection, and cricket, a sport prone to nostalgia at the best of times, can often colour these careers with both gloom and glory. Replaying the memories of what might have been becomes a way of coping with the looming uncertainties of the future. The past offers comfort, and seems to offer answers, even if only in the form of impossible alternatives. The memories of unfulfilled talent  are often changed through hindsight as well – would Simon Jones’s signature wicket, Michael Clarke’s off stump detonated in the Manchester sunshine, remain quite so iconic if he had gone on to play more than just a single Test after it? These moments remain sharper for their unfortunate scarcity.

However, the counterfactual is not simply a trigger for memory. Sporting fandom works through unbridled optimism, and the question “what if?” supplies that. If they’d scored, we’d have won, so we can win next time. The counterfactual is hope against hope, a reassurance that it could be different, that next week we’ll turn up and see a win. It’s a salve against the pain of defeat or of loss, of profligate players and those you’ll never see again. It’s a coping mechanism, a simple way to process what has happened. What if, and if only…

None of this will be much comfort to James Taylor right now, and I wish him the best of luck for now and the future. Cricket fans will look back on when they saw him play differently now, and some might think of what might have been, the runs he might have scored, the games he might have won. Imagining a different future helps in the here and now. But perhaps we should channel some of the disappointment and melancholy into thinking about what we did see. We can allow the sadness to illuminate our memories.

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Doosra Détente: Where Next For England and Pakistan?

Three grainy images encapsulate the last thirty years of cricket between England and Pakistan. Mike Gatting and Shakoor Rana, jabbing fingers aligned, frustration and affront written across their respective faces. Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe jubilant, their whites lit brightly against the Karachi night, the National Stadium fading to black. Mohammad Amir, popping crease bisecting his delivery stride, watched by Salmat Butt, the captain’s eyes wandering, seemingly guiltily, towards the bowler’s feet. Accusation; victory against the odds; skulduggery.

These themes run through the rivalry, for both sides, creating  rancour unrivalled in many cricketing contests. Pakistan see beating England as a statement of postcolonial belonging, a triumph of the nation-team over the arrogant English. England see playing Pakistan, especially away, as an onerous task, one bound up with frustration, discomfort and disrespect. As Ian Botham said, Pakistan is the “sort of place every man should send his mother-in-law to, for a month, all expenses paid”. Touring the UAE might seem less stressful off the pitch, but playing conditions remain challenging.

The history of England versus Pakistan is often overshadowed by other contest – the weight of history and politics that hangs over Pakistan’s matches against India, and England’s love of the sibling rivalry that is the Ashes. But, for England in particular, playing Pakistan might be more important than any other sporting contest. England may love the Home Nations rivalries of rugby and football, the antagonism of playing the French, the historical charge of meeting Germany or Argentina, but none matter as much to the nation today as playing Pakistan.

The animosity that accompanies the matches has built up steadily, the accumulated sediment of sixty years of controversy. From Pakistan’s almost instant success, winning at the Oval in 1954, inspired by Fazal Mahmood’s bowling and Abdul Hafeez Kardar’s captaincy, barely a Test series has passed without an untoward incident of some sort. On the 1955-6 tour, a group of England players essentially kidnapped Idris Baig, a Pakistani umpire, nearly causing a diplomatic incident. On later tours to Pakistan, Tests were disrupted by political unrest – Pakistan picked an influential student leader, Aftab Gul, for the 1968-9 Lahore Test, whilst he was on bail, and who went on to represent Salman Butt at his spot-fixing trial.

The relationship soured for good in the 1980s. Pakistan won in England in 1987, and England’s tour that winter saw the infamous Gatting-Rana clash, Chris Broad refuse to walk, and each England player receive a “hardship bonus” at the end of the tour. Rana had previously incensed Jeremy Coney when New Zealand toured, and Imran Khan’s calls for neutral umpires seemed increasingly necessary. Gatting’s response – “does Maggie [Thatcher] back down when she’s given no choice?” – suggested a hardening of English attitudes towards Pakistan. Home umpires were the catalysts of the next dispute, when Aaqib Javed clashed with Roy Palmer when Pakistan toured in 1992. That tour escalated into mutual recrimination, with accusations of ball tampering.

In the twenty-first century, Moin Khan’s time-wasting, Shahid Afridi’s pitch-scuffing, Inzamam’s forfeiting, and Butt, Amir and Mohammad Asif’s spot-fixing have all lead to the further deterioration of the relationship. Add in mutters about bowling actions, crowd trouble, and political instability, all of which have cropped up before, and the situation seems practically irreconcilable.

Moreover, the geopolitical situation has deteriorated further. One of the reasons that Pakistan versus England should be taken more seriously as a sporting rivalry is that it is one of the few that exists based on the defining questions of the century so far, what has been loosely termed the War on Terror. Perhaps only the footballing rivalry between France and Algeria has the same post-colonial tension, morphing into new questions about national identity. This is not to argue that England playing Pakistan should be seen as somehow representative of some specious “Clash of Civilisations”; rather, as Mike Marqusee argued in 1994 (!) – the Pakistani cricket team is often used, especially by the English media, as a sporting shorthand for Islam, perpetuated through negative stereotypes. The vocabulary – “volatile”, “excitable” – the suggestions of untrustworthiness and suspicion of religiosity, casually elide, as Marqusee noted, the Pakistani cricket team and Pakistanis, especially British Pakistanis.

It is notable then that there were three British Pakistanis in England’s original touring party – Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Zafar Ansari. Moeen and Rashid are from Birmingham and Bradford respectively, home to two of the largest British Pakistani communities. Ansari’s background (Hampton; Trinity Hall, Cambridge) is recalls a different generation of England cricketer, but his father is an academic, who specialises in British Muslim identity. Perhaps a clue to détente lies with them. They are not ambassadors, and have no duty or special task to perform. But Moeen in particular, open about his faith and close to Saeed Ajmal, who other England players have denigrated, suggests that a working relationship might be possible between England and Pakistan.

For the series not be marred by controversy would be a major step. Both teams would of course love to win, but perhaps something of a “hard but fair” attitude might prevail. There is historical baggage that the contest will never be able to shake. But the possibility of moving beyond a strictly oppositional relationship, the logic of the Tebbit Test, and mutual recrimination would be a huge positive. At a time where many British Muslims face suspicion, a broader acceptance of complex identities could be reached.

A multiracial national team, reflecting multiracial clubs across the country, is a sign of a new England, hopefully one less irascible towards its supposed other. British society still has a long way to go, and international sport rarely provides a healthy atmosphere for national reconciliation. But the nation would benefit with a more fraternal relationship with Pakistan on the cricket field, a recognition of past faults and of common identity over misunderstanding and ignorance.

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Capturing the Spirit: Cricket in Popular Culture

“…a revolution conducted according to the rules of cricket is an absurdity”.                  Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon

What can the work of a Hungarian communist exile tell us about cricket? Arthur Koestler might not seem like a likely source of wisdom about the game. Darkness at Noon, his best known work, is a powerful critique of political power, but a guide to thinking about cricket? The sole line doesn’t even seem to make much sense – of course, the laws of the game can’t tell you about revolution. Of course popping creases and proletariats don’t mix.

But look a little deeper. The absurdity is not that cricket and revolution make a surreal mix; rather, they are diametrically opposed. The rules of cricket are the opposite of a revolution – hence, to combine the two is ludicrous. Koestler is using cricket as shorthand for what he calls “the nineteenth century’s liberal ethics of ‘fair play’”. Cricket symbolises what the revolution is opposed to, what must be overthrown.

Using cricket to signify liberal, bourgeois values is not an uncommon trope, especially in an English, or in Koestler’s case, European, context. The enduring idea of cricket in popular culture is as pastoral, staid and moral. It is a game of the village green, with breaks for tea, played with a certain spirit of social harmony and honourable conduct. In fiction, film and television, cricket is an easy symbol for representing a certain mindset and milieu. As Raphael the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle says, “Nobody understands cricket. You got to understand what a crumpet is to understand cricket”.

In recent years, this has begun to shift, and this is not a universal cliché. But it lingers in the subconscious of the non-cricket fan, and it influences the game as experienced by those who would consider themselves knowledgeable. Many would bristle at this suggestion – surely those who follow, watch and play the game know better than those who are strangers to it? In reality, cricket’s place in the popular imagination shapes our understanding of it more that we would like to admit.

Cricket fans bask in the imagined themes of morality or modernity, often unwilling to engage with the structural flaws that these may obscure, afraid to critique popular misconceptions about the game. They should recognise their own willingness to perpetuate them, and we should attempt to understand why those with only a vague conception of cricket think about it certain ways. What should we take forward into new, exciting opportunities and what should we jettison as regressive and limiting? We can and should encourage discussion, in a way that produces depth, nuance, and maybe even art.

This is not a comprehensive attempt at listing cricketing references in culture, or an attempt to sift them into neat categories. Rather, it is an appeal to think about the meanings that have been ascribed to the game. Many allusions may defy cliché, and we should be aware of them, ready to wilfully complicate our conceptions of the sport. A lot of explicitly cricket-themed work is interesting and different. Shehan Karunatilaka’s novel, Chinaman, about a Sri Lankan spinner – mysterious in more than his bowling – is a good example. But where cricket hovers, loosely formed, on the edge of the imagination, we might ask, to paraphrase C.L.R. James, what do they know of cricket who nothing of cricket know? If the spin is positive, those who feel they know cricket are far too content to accept stereotypes uncritically.

***

Those who write and talk about the game regularly raise the idea that cricket is somehow unique and superior among sports for its conduct, values and ethical integrity. This “Spirit of Cricket”, an amorphous idea based around respect and responsibility, is frequently raised, but little understood. It was only recently codified, in the form of the Preamble to the Laws, a brief summary of its ethos, written by Colin Cowdrey and Ted Dexter, two former England captains, and introduced in 2000. The Preamble is slight – a collection of platitudes and common sense, covering what is already defined as cheating by the Laws, and references to ideals of fair play and good conduct.

The idea of the “Spirit of Cricket” as understood by the public is far broader, encompassing play that is considered unsporting and behaviour that might be “ungentlemanly”. It is probably best encapsulated by the phrase, “it’s just not cricket”, for something that is considered to be unacceptable, even if not unauthorised. The phrase has been stretched beyond useful definition or meaning, into the realms of parody. It is hardly a useful tool for sanctioning behaviour, or underwriting a code of ethics.

There is, however, a wide public knowledge of the phrase, a sense that cricket is, as Koestler suggests, synonymous with fair play. The problem with this is that a historical sentiment is hard to define and harder to apply. Cricket’s perennial bouts of moralising are a product of this confusion, the attempted use of a public perception as an ethical code. When, during the Trent Bridge Test of 2013, Stuart Broad’s fine edge hit Brad Haddin’s gloves and looped to Michael Clarke at slip, his decision to allow the umpire to make a decision as to whether he had hit it was perfectly legitimate. He did not question the decision, or “advance towards the umpire in an aggressive manner whilst appealing”, two contradictions of the Spirit, according to the Preamble. Clarke arguably broke both of these, yet Broad was pilloried as a cheat by everyone from the English tabloid press to Richard Dawkins – Australian antipathy being a given. Broad acted within the Laws; whether he acted within the Spirit is unclear. He certainly was seen to break the Spirit of Cricket as the public imagine it. No batsman would stand his ground on the village green.

Similarly, when, the following season, Jos Buttler was run out by Sachithra Senanayake whilst backing up – a “Mankad” – many denounced the Sri Lankan spinner as a cheat. That his action had previously been scrutinised may have added to the controversy, but his act was entirely legal. He had even given Buttler the non-compulsory “warning” – an unwritten rule seen as part of the spirit of the game. This didn’t stop Alastair Cook, Buttler’s captain, criticising the run out as a “pretty poor act”, a curious denunciation of an entirely legal dismissal. This leads to an odd position: can the Spirit can override the Laws?

Ben Stokes’ recent dismissal at Lord’s, where he was given out obstructed the field having stopped a throw from Mitchell Starc from hitting his stumps, whilst simultaneously taking evasive action, is another example of this inconsistency. Many felt that Steve Smith was wrong to uphold his appeal when it became clear that Stokes would be given out; others felt that Stokes was out under the Laws, and therefore Smith was entitled to his appeal. Once again, the Spirit, in its unwritten form, and the Laws were seemingly opposed.

***

These contradictions, knots in the fabric of the game, result from the fact that cricket exists as much in the imagination as on the pitch or paper. We rarely remember matches as they were, or the behaviour of the past as it was. Even in an era of instant access to scorecard databases and video archives, the past is fragmented and illusory. Our understanding of the game is influenced by how, when and where we experienced it. Moreover, our interpretations are not simply based on cricket as it exists. Fictional representation plays a role, in the understanding of the layperson, as much as the fan.

When Broad stands his ground, or Buttler wanders out of his, our reaction is one influenced by the same novels and programmes as the casual follower who sees the incident on the evening news. In an English context, this is overwhelmingly the narrative of rural fair play and bourgeois idyll that Koestler uses. On television, the detective dramas Morse and Midsomer Murders have both used cricket as a quintessentially English pastime, timeless and tranquil, sharply contrasted to the brutal homicides of Middle England. Cricket as Arcadia can be seen in P.G. Wodehouse’s novels. Wodehouse was a cricket lover, and, in the character of Mike Jackson, he creates a cricketing archetype: public school sporting prodigy, decent chap, adventurous without being dangerous. Cricketing excellence is just part of the make-up of the ideal pre-war British man. Mike plays a game that trains young men for imperial service, sport as a means, not an end. The Spirit of the game is part of his moral instruction.

Cricket can also be a mark of harmless eccentricity, the mark of an obsessive. In the 1938 Alfred Hitchcock film, The Lady Vanishes, two cricket fans, Charters and Caldicott, are distracted from helping to find a missing woman on a train across Central Europe by their determination to return to England to see the last day of a Test match. Cricket consumes the fan, distracting and fixating them. But cricket’s followers, in English popular culture at least, are never dogmatic or fanatical. In the long-running television series Doctor Who, the fifth incarnation of the Doctor might be an all-powerful, time-travelling alien, but he dresses in a traditional cricket jumper and a Panama hat. He might be fighting evil across the universe, but he appears innocuous, eccentric and distracted. But he is a moral figure, fighting for good.

***

The fan’s fondness for the popular perception is, however, not necessarily a good thing for the sport. Cricket in England, and perhaps elsewhere, is too in love with the idea of fair play and morality. It induces conformity, where the challenging talent and driven professionalism of a figure like Kevin Pietersen questions the limitations of what a cricketer in England can be and achieve. Pietersen may not have intended to be, but was an iconoclast, challenging the imagined traditions of English cricket, ones which popular culture had done much to develop.

Moreover, by claiming that cricket is moral, socially inclusive and cordial, systemic flaws are disguised. It is estimated that 30 to 40% of recreational cricketers in England are non-white, but only 6% of professional cricketers, mostly from a South Asian background. In 2013, 29% of professional cricketers were privately educated, compared to 7% of the population as a whole. Women’s cricket is still seen as secondary, ignored on its own terms and patronised on others. These problems are intersectional, but English cricket’s nostalgic fantasies do not help tackle them. The pastoral visions of a past England, perpetuated in the popular imagination, elide social divisions and inequalities – as the historian G.M. Trevelyan had it, “if the French nobility had been capable of playing cricket with their peasants, their chateaux would never have been burnt”. Class identity is a challenge to cricketing amity, injustice can be glossed over on the pitch. Mike Jackson is seen as a paragon, not a member of a privileged elite. As such, modern inequity can be ignored, cricket’s mythical social salve supposedly rendering unequal opportunity irrelevant and invisible.

This vision of a rural England, populated by public school boys ready to fight for empire, as in Henry Newbolt’s famous cricket poem, Vitaï Lampada, is also incompatible with modern Britain. Do we really expect the England cricket team to reflect a pastoral fantasy? English cricket is still haunted by the language of the Tebbit Test. The construction of English cricket as based on the morality of empire is irreconcilable with progressive reform. The spirit of the game, nostalgia, and the harmless eccentricity is often the sum total of cricket in the popular imagination, and cricket fans are often too keen to accept this as an accurate, flattering portrayal. We should reject it. Cricket will never be imagined as it really is, but we should attempt at least to make an attempt to represent the range of the sport, and resist projecting smug exclusivity.

***

Cricket has long since transcended the Anglocentric understanding of it. It is now a global sport, with followings outside the traditional heartlands, flickering on multiple screens on multiple channels across the world. Television and the internet have found new markets, and proved a welcome reconnection from those who missed the game. In many ways, the sport has transcended both the colonial and postcolonial. Interest in the games is no longer limited to the former reaches of the British Empire. Moreover, the success of the West Indies and Pakistan, among others, was constructed as an extension of independence and post-colonial identity. The globalisation of the game, however, has removed many of the traces of empire from the game’s geopolitics. Whilst the imperial legacy still haunts England, more than many other countries, the game is now another global sport, freed from its colonial moorings. But, in some places, problematic traces of its origins remain. Outside of its heartlands, the idea of the Spirit of Cricket still embodies the game.

This is apparent in some representations of the game in American popular culture. In Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning 2013 novel, The Goldfinch, cricket is used as both globalised spectacle and arcane ritual. The characters watch ESPN “with the sound off, no sport in particular, anything and everything that came on: cricket, jai alai, badminton, croquet”. Cricket becomes both obscure and accessible, part of an easily available global carousel of sport. But, for Tartt’s characters, it remains mysterious. One, Boris, a enigmatic, rootless figure, had “ridden a camel, he had eaten wichity grubs, played cricket, caught malaria, lived on the street in Ukraine…” The game remains something un-American, which can only be experienced properly outside the border, or by those born to it. Of course, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are aware of its inscrutability. The crumpet, like cricket, is impenetrably British, evoking tea and class, the pastoral and the traditional. Boris has probably eaten one though.

One exception to this is Netherland, Joseph O’Neill’s terrific 2008 novel about cricket in post-9/11 New York. It is strictly too cricket-orientated to count as a popular conception of the sport, and O’Neill is an avid cricket fan. But it is interesting for the way it works cricket into a story about an authentically American immigrant experience. It speaks of an attempt to take cricket out of enclaves and integrate it into a traditional model of the “American Dream”. For O’Neill, cricket can be aspirational. But perhaps we should not be surprised that efforts to spread the game in the USA outside of expat communities have been largely unsuccessful. Cricket is usually irredeemably foreign. Once again, the popular perception is limiting. For the American sports fan, the idea of the “Spirit of Cricket” deciding important plays seems odd – part of the staid nature of “baseball on Valium”. Moreover, cricket’s main linguistic contribution to American English is the phrase, “just not cricket”, the idea of liberal fair play that Koestler would be familiar with.

***

Of India, there is often a perception, especially outside South Asia, that the culture is suffused with cricket. From Ashis Nandy to advertisements, cricket is considered a default setting of Indian life. One idea that has recently arisen is of certain types of cricket as linked to modernity. If the era of Tendulkar was inextricably linked to liberalisation, the age of Dhoni, Kohli and the IPL is indicative of a new cricket and a new India. Western journalists have used the IPL as shorthand for modern, BRIC-economy India. It intersects with popular culture in the shape of Bollywood team owners, and as prime time entertainment. It is the apotheosis of globalisation, a conclusion to the transition from being merely postcolonial. To use the historian Dipesh Chakrabarty’s phrase, it is “provincializing Europe”.

But again, it is worth considering if the illusion obscures the reality. Does the IPL of the imagination, the glorious festival of cricketing innovation and pageantry, distract from the sometimes sordid underbelly of the tournament: the corruption, fixing and conflicts of interest? Can the idea of the game as moral and fair coexist with that of the IPL as a symbol of modernity? Does it similarly conceal the problems within it?

The English mythology of morality and social cohesion on the village green has been remarkably enduring. It has survived Bodyline and Packer, match fixing and rebel tours. It is likely to remain through the age of Srinivasan and Modi, amongst the alphabet soup of T20 leagues. The problem is when, to challenge the limited image this presents, we reach for an alternative picture. Can the hypermodern, the gold-padded excess of the new forms of the game, really be the only alternative? And is there no room for fair play in the brave new world itself?

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The Artisan Batsman

Nowadays, William Morris is associated with wallpaper and fabric, the stately foliage of middle class homes. Few remember his commitment to revolutionary socialism, best embodied in his novel News from Nowhere, where he imagines life in a post-revolution Arcadia-on-Thames. For Morris, his work, and that of his fellow artists of the Arts and Crafts movement, was a representation of his political ideals: that work had been disconnected from pleasure, and that a link needed to be re-established, drawing inspiration from nature and the joy of craft. Technology need not enslave us; instead they could liberate us to create the useful and the beautiful. For Morris, form and function melded – practicality did not preclude artistic value. In Morris’s utopia, we are all artisans.

When I watch Ian Bell bat, I think of Morris. The pleasure in a Bell innings does not come from how many he scores, or how quickly. Instead it comes from watching someone engage with a craft they have mastered, a skill they are able express beauty through. Bell’s cover drive is the exquisite handiwork of a craftsman. For some, Bell’s elegance is indicative of his position within the England team: a luxury batsman who adds aesthetically without defining games. Yet Bell’s skill is an explicit repudiation of that idea. Watching him, and a select few others, you realise that batting does not need to be defined by either image or results. It can be like Morris’s “work-pleasure”, where the two are mutually dependent, not dichotomous. It would be ludicrous to see a man with fifty first class centuries as uninterested in runs, but Bell’s innings tend to be defined by more than the cold accountancy of runs accrued. Twenty20 has made the batsman’s wicket disposable, creating the throwaway innings; a batsman like Alastair Cook, for all his admirable willpower and ferocious concentration, makes scores, innings defined by their total. Bell’s innings have a crafted longevity, a power to lodge in the memory. In New Age terms, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

The limits of Bell were often revealed in the limited overs formats – that he is England’s highest one day international run scorer reveals more about English shortcomings that Bell’s career. Some players seem to embrace the finite nature of the short formats – MS Dhoni is a masterful calculator of permutations as batsman and captain. Bell, however, seemed limited, rushed. Like a journalist stuck writing business reports, he longed to go gonzo. Bell was at his best when given space to fill, defining games like at Durban in 2009 or Nottingham in 2011. Similarly, he played his part in saving tests at Cape Town in 2010 or Auckland in 2013. His annus mirabilis of 2013, where he made three match-deciding hundreds in the Ashes, was a classic example of Bell, with time and space available to define a match, crafting innings of the highest quality, both in terms of aesthetics and team success. He did not embrace the challenge of the situations in the manner of a Steve Waugh-type figure, revelling in difficulty. Rather, he transcended it, fashioned innings with his usual elegance, free from constraints of time. A test match is a broad canvas, and Bell, batsman as artist has the ability to fill it.

Bell’s batting has an easy beauty, the classical technique of the coaching manual. It is not the spiky flair of a Pietersen, or the languid economy of a Gower. He even gets out in approved ways, bowled top of off or caught behind. Rod Marsh famously labelled him a “good nicker” – et in Arcadia ego. Dismissal is the problem for any batsman trying to craft an innings, hence defence is as much part the art as attack. Whilst Bell’s elegance is not challenging to appreciate, he does pose interesting and difficult questions about what we want from sport. To reverse the old cliché, is it how, not how many? Is a cover drive out of context enough, valuable for its aesthetics alone? Perhaps – it lifts the sport out of jingoism and competitiveness – but it’s no way to judge a batsman’s quality. Moreover, here we can return to Morris. Functionality and aesthetics need not be separate. David Foster Wallace, writing about Roger Federer, spoke about the “kinetic beauty” of a high-quality sportsperson, combining sporting success with the graceful control of the human body. Bell’s batting is the honed skill of an artisan, dedication to the perfection of form and function. Inevitably, his striving will sometimes fall short, his run production will be less prolific than the mechanised technique of a Cook or Tendulkar. But in an age of data and the disposable, we should be thankful for Bell’s dedication to Arts and Crafts batting, match-winning scores compiled with care and flair

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The Unquiet Ones: review

In recent months, cricket in Pakistan has been defined by two returns. Most significant was the visit of Zimbabwe and the first international cricket played in the country since the attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009. When, as in Pakistan, the national team is seen as an extension of the ship of state, its return from exile is deeply symbolic and highly charged. Pakistan can dare to hope for normalcy. The other return is that of Mohammad Amir to competitive cricket after his five-year ban for spot-fixing. Amir is Pakistan’s prodigal son, his searing talent making him the heir apparent in the great tradition of Pakistani fast bowling. However, his tale is more cautionary than Boy’s Own, that of a sporting Icarus who ventured too close to the other great threat to Pakistani cricket, match-fixing.

Despite these twin flickers of light in the darkness, Osman Samiuddin’s new history of cricket in Pakistan starts in the pitch black of terror. Since the 2009 attack and 2010 scandal, the national team’s condition has been one of loss and exile. Displacement has not always been joyless – the crowd at Edgbaston for the one day international against South Africa in the 2013 Champions Trophy was as lively and passionate as I have seen in a British cricket ground, a sea of white and green flags, facepaint and horns, women and children cheering their heroes even in defeat (despite a Misbah fifty, of course). But diaspora is never an enviable condition. Separation cannot breed optimism.

Even before Zimbabwe’s hesitant tour, Osman Samiuddin’s book, The Unquiet Ones, will have been a fine consolation for Pakistani cricket lovers. Samiuddin is perhaps the finest recent chronicler of Pakistan cricket, whose seminal “haal” article attempted to understand the Pakistani ability to spark batting collapses by using ideas about Sufism to extend the idea of “the zone” in sport. His book follows shortly after Peter Oborne’s Wounded Tiger, another similar history, and whilst they cover much of the same material, Oborne’s style is more encyclopaedic, whilst Samiuddin’s is more essayistic. The Unquiet Ones is arranged as a broadly chronological series of essay-like chapters, including a range of extended match reports, profiles, and political and social context. Samiuddin writes beautifully, and has a fine eye for illuminating detail. For example, in 1956, after President Eisenhower watched a turgid day of Test cricket in Karachi played on a matting wicket, he commented to President Ayub Khan that he “thought cricket was supposed to be played on grass not on the mat”. Ayub was mortified, and international cricket has not been played on matting in Pakistan since! Other gems include the discovery that Mushtaq Mohammad was the first man to play the reverse sweep – to Fred Titmus’s horror – and that Aftab Gul, a prominent student leader, was picked for the national team to appease protestors, and later played a first-class match whilst on bail.

Like Oborne, Samiuddin focuses on several key individuals in the development of Pakistani cricket. The progenitor for both is Abdul Hafeez Kardar, whose patrician manner and unbending will, was crucial in establishing Pakistan as a competitive cricketing nation, much aided by the skill of Fazal Mahmood, who combined matinée idol good looks with a mastery of bowling on matting wickets. Samiuddin is particularly good in his depiction of Imran Khan and Javed Miandad, the two cricketing leaders of the 1980s. Imran is characterised as “never knowingly defeated”, a man who refused to admit he couldn’t be a great fast bowler, that the World Cup couldn’t be won, that he couldn’t be a political force. Imran was and is never still, always forcing more out of himself and others. Javed Miandad was similarly driven towards improvement, but for him, it was a “quest for izzat, an amalgamation of honour, respect and repute”. Miandad was driven by a sense of grievance, a determination to right wrongs against himself and his nation. Like Imran, he drove the team into belonging and success. Javed’s famous last ball six in Sharjah epitomised an age – as Samiuddin puts it, “that one shot was like a mince grinder in reverse. Into that burst went every strand of the transformation Pakistan had undergone over the preceding decade and half… [and] on the other side came out one solid lump of a golden age, the most golden age, in fact, Pakistan has ever had”. Through money, TV rights, player power and administrative reform, Pakistan was placed to achieve more than ever before, driven by the wills of Imran and Javed.

Imran Khan’s political exploits should perhaps not be surprising. The interaction between cricket and society is particularly strong in Pakistan.  Political influence has always been felt, and the successes and failures of the cricket team have reflected the state of the nation. Samiuddin focuses less on the ideological meaning of the team than Oborne, but comprehensively discusses the seepage of corruption into the sport in the form of match-fixing. The final chapter is perhaps the finest, tying together Pakistan’s fast bowling culture and match-fixing in the figure of Mohammad Amir. As Amir attempts to return, the potential is there for him to reinvigorate Pakistan and fulfil his promise. Wahab Riaz reminded the world of the thrill of Pakistani fast bowling during the World Cup quarter-final against Australia, with a brutal spell, an artillery barrage of bumpers targeting Shane Watson. It was, perhaps inevitably, in vain. But its reception was indicative of Samiuddin’s description of the Pakistani fast bowler as an anti-establishment hero. The fast bowler is Byronic and quixotic, a product of history and environment, master of the tape ball and keeper of the flame, which has passed from Fazal Mahmood to the present, through Sarfraz Nawaz and Imran Khan, Wasim and Waqar. In Samiuddin’s words, it is “emotion, adrenalin, impulse, exhibitionism, drama” – surely Shoaib Akhtar to a T. Bowling fast is escapism and it is struggle, against exile and the fading of hope. Fast bowling is to fight, to rouse the unquiet. In Pakistan, it is more important than ever.

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The English Condition

As another summer of cricket in England begins, so little seems to have changed. The County Championship has started; club cricketers dig out the mouldering kit in the loft; the Ashes loom as the defining feature of the season. English cricketing tradition, the pastoral legacy of Hambledon, remains strong. The Test against Australia at Lord’s will be a bellwether of success. Something likely to be forgotten is the disastrous World Cup campaign. England will try to escape from failure by fleeing into nostalgia.

Two crucial figures in this mythologised past are Denis Compton and Brian Johnston. Between them, and in very different ways, they came to define the post-war era of English cricket, and their legacy still influences the present day. Tim Heald has written biographies of each, now reissued by Dean Street Press, and they give a terrific sense of the men. Compton was the golden boy, the man who made Britain feel better about itself during the gloom of post-war austerity with his feats of sporting derring-do. Johnston became the voice of cricket on the BBC, offering a light-hearted frivolity to commentary and enshrining Test Match Special as a national institution.

For two men who became pillars of the cricketing Establishment, however, their backgrounds were very different. Compton was born in North London, the son of a painter and decorator for whom sport was a route out of relative poverty. Johnston was schooled at Eton, before going up to Oxford, where he was a member of the Bullingdon Club. Compton’s talent as both a cricketer and a footballer was soon evident, and he joined Middlesex and Arsenal respectively. In some ways, his dual careers impacted on one another – in later years, his cricket was impeded by a chronic knee injury brought about by the hefty challenges a winger receives – but he achieved genuine acclaim for both. His service during the war, playing first class cricket during a posting in India, meant that he was past his best as a footballer come 1945, but his cricket ascended to a higher plane. Initial poor form contributed to a period of depression, but his thrilling performances against the touring South Africans reinvigorated both him and the cricket-watching public. In a time often remembered as drab, Compton’s vigour and thrilling strokeplay enthralled and entertained. He attracted sponsorship – including, famously, the hair product Brylcreem – and female attention. He was, in modern terms, a celebrity and a superstar.

Johnston’s fame was less striking, and came later in life, but also helped to define a sense of English cricket. After an unsatisfactory stint working in the family coffee firm in Brazil, he served in the Genadier Guards, where he was awarded the Military Cross. After the war, he found a job at the BBC after a chance encounter with a fellow Old Etonian, and made a name for himself as a raconteur and light entertainer. It was his work as a cricket commentator on both television and radio that made him a household name, and helped to create a distinct form of the art. The Test Match Special air of light banter, nicknames and cake-eating derives from “Johnners”, and his attempt to make commentary indistinguishable from a group of friends talking at the Test match. Cricket was fun, and to be treated as such.

Heald handles his material well, and has spoken to the families of his subjects, creating thorough and even-handed accounts of their lives. He has an eye for interesting details – Johnston’s crossed cricket bat tattoo, or Compton’s friendship with Zia-ul-Haq, the Pakistani president. Perhaps the main flaw is an Anglocentrism that is perhaps to be expected given the subjects. But being surprised at Compton rating Fazal Mahmood as one of his toughest opponents – and describing him as a “largely forgotten Pakistani medium pacer”! – suggests a narrow focus on English domestic cricket and the Ashes. Moreover, whilst Compton’s role in the D’Oliveira affair is discussed well, both men’s affection for apartheid South Africa is rather brushed over as a product of time and place. John Arlott and David Sheppard’s principled opposition shows that there was a place for principled opposition by both players and journalists.

Both these flaws run deep in the nostalgic desire for English cricketing arcadia. It would be unfair to criticise Heald too harshly for them. It is interesting to consider why Dean Street Press has chosen to rerelease these particular biographies. They are both excellent, but Compton and Johnston are historical figures for younger generations of cricket fans. Compton especially is a figure from a golden age, imagined in sepia tones. Heald does a good job of restoring perspective, but the English cricketing condition is one that looks backwards. A couple of months ago, England crashed ignominiously out of the World Cup. Unless they understand that the answers to cricket in the twenty-first century do not lie in the nineteen-fifties, they will do so again in four years’ time.

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