Literary Cricket

04 Jan

There is a text type for English students to examine: cricket writing. There is a fine tradition of it which, some might argue, is often more interesting than the game itself. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Roebuck is in this tradition.

… It is passing strange that Laxman reserves his best performances for his team’s most feared opponent. Against lesser sides he can look awkward, like a bear trying to perform a jig. At such times he seems inferior to tap-dancing colleagues. Then his mind becomes bogged down with thoughts of his own fallibility and his boots might as well be cased in mud. He has known serenity at the crease but it teases him like a butterfly.

Perhaps it is that he feels comfortable as he walks out to face the Australian machine. Suddenly he can see not a hundred question marks and a thousand ghosts but bowlers aware of his powers and anxious to avoid a repetition. Nothing instils confidence half as well as the respect of opponents. Other nations may have exposed Laxman’s limitations. Australia has discovered his strengths.

Or perhaps it is the feeling of striding to the centre of a field he has conquered before, the scene of previous dazzling innings. Two tours ago the Hyderabadi introduced himself to startled Australians with an astonishing array of cuts and drives that took him past 150. Here was a batsman unwilling to lie down. Last time he produced a more considered hand, chugging along in Sachin Tendulkar’s slipstream, and sweeping past 150 once more as India reached 700. Walking to the crease to face 11 tough Australians must be a lonely business. It must be comforting to be able to remind yourself that two of three past innings have been triumphant.

Not that Laxman’s first few minutes at the crease were easy. Already Brett Lee had worked up a head of steam, while Mitchell Johnson was making the ball leap about off a firm pitch. Meanwhile his partner, Rahul Dravid, was crouching low over his bat in an attempt to find mislaid rhythm. With Indian backs to the wall, the lofty first drop clung to the crease as Lee sent several fierce outswingers flashing past a probing blade.

But Laxman did not long remain in the dark. Stuart Clark was introduced and before long the wristy run collector produced his first sweet stroke, a glide past mid-on executed with a stretch of the arms and a late flip of the wrists. A switch had been pressed and suddenly his batting was bathed in light. A straight drive followed and again the ball rolled smoothly along the turf as it made its way to distant pastures…

That is on yesterday’s second day of the second test India v Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground; while it was a fine day’s cricket I savour Roebuck’s apotheosis of it even more that the event itself… 😉

Another Australian writer, Gideon Haigh, is thought by some to be the best living cricket writer. What do you think? See also the best Indian cricket writing. The best ever cricket writer, most say, was Neville Cardus (1889-1975): an example from the legendary Bodyline tour of the 1930s:

The cricketer who is always scoring double centuries is a pest to the game; he must be done something with, as the Brothers Cheeryble said of Tim Linkinwater. Fast leg-theory has won England the rubber; as Hobbs has said – and he ought to know all about fast leg-theory – it was the strange method and wonderful accuracy of Larwood that reduced Bradman’s average from more than 100 to a respectable 50 or so.

We have all praised Larwood’s achievement. Yet for many of us it has been a mystery how he ‘did it,’ and also how Verity and O’Reilly managed to spin the ball on the second day of a great match on an Australian wicket. For years and years the Australian turf in good weather has been all against the rising fast ball and slow bowler’s spin. Even McDonald could not bump the ball breast high in Australia, and Cecil Parkin, the cleverest spin bowler of our time, was reduced by Australian turf into a more or less up-and-down bowler. It has usually needed the wrist and the fingers of a Mailey to break the ball at Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne in recent years. Last summer, when H.W. Taylor, the great South African batsman, told me we could win the rubber this time, by means of a concerted plan based on fast bowling, I replied that the Australian wickets in the past have invariably broken the hearts of fast bowlers. Obviously he knew a secret; he was playing in Test matches in Australia last winter.

The truth had been revealed in an article by J.W. Trumble, which recently appeared in the Melbourne Argus . Australian wickets today are not what they were: different soil is used in preparing them. The new turf does not ‘produce the polished glossy surface developed by the old Bulli and Merri Creek soil. The ball now gets a grip on the ground. This enables the spin bowler to turn the ball and also enables the fast bowler to “lift” more than formerly.’ Australian turf nowadays is full of ‘bounce’ at the beginning of a match; then, after a constant pounding away by the fast bowler, the soil becomes loose – and then the spin bowler ‘comes in’. If it is a fair question – did H.W. Taylor let our Intelligence Department know that our fast bowlers would find it easier to bump the ball in Australia this winter than in England last summer? Anyhow, the plan of campaign has worked out skilfully; and a strong man was put in charge of it, a captain of cricket with an iron will and a superb disregard of the noise of the Australian crowd.

sp11 Here is an article by Gideon Haigh on that famous series. When I lived in Glebe 1977-78 one of my neighbours was an umpire during that series, George Borwick: “Borwick’s last match was played between Australia and India, played at Adelaide on 23 January to 28 January 1948. In this match, in spite of a century in each innings by Vijay Hazare, Australia won by an innings with Bradman scoring a double century.” I heard a few tales, I can tell you.


We have a real test match on our hands at the SCG! India 7/414, and Tendulkar just scored 100…

And by 4.10 pm: 7/466, overtaking Australia’s total…

4.55: Tendulkar still in! 9/502. Kevin Rudd was just “sprung” on Channel 9 chatting to the Indian team in the stands…

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Posted by on January 4, 2008 in Australia, Cricket, media watch



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