Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Arm ball - should be renamed away- (or in-) swinger.

"That one went on with the arm..."

This is what commentators say when the off-spin bolwer bowls a seam-up delivery with backspin that swings away from the right handed batter in the air and bounces further away after landing (or when a leg-spin bowler does the same delivery and the ball swings and seams into the right hander).

Arm ball - what's that supposed to mean?

Why is the delivery going 'with the arm'. The point about an effective 'arm ball' is that the arm movement is exactly the same as for the spun delivery - the difference is not in the arm but the hand/ fingers.

And surely the arm is not going in the same direction as the ball anyway, indeed how could it? since the ball curves and angles away - whereas the arm goes in a smooth circular trajectory.

Pooh! - 'arm ball' indeed. Why not call it what it is? - an away-swinger (for the off-spinner to the right handed batter) or an inswinger (for the left-arm orthodox finger spinner to the right handed batter.

After all the so-called arm ball is bowled pretty much the same way as the classical swung delivery fram a seam bowler - side-on action, seam angled towards the direction of intended swing, back-spin on the seam...

Swing it is.

Spin versus turn - Annoyingly misused terms in spin bowling number 2

It maddens me when commentators say 'spin' when they mean 'turn'.

They sometimes say things like: 'Panesar isn't spinning the ball today' Or 'Vettori isn't getting any spin from this pitch'.

They mean turn, not spin. Obviously the bowlers are *spinning* the ball, because the slow motion replay shows the ball spinning.

Well - not always, because sometimes spinners bowl vertical seam delivery such as an 'arm ball' where the ball spins backwards (instead of side to side); or a fast delivery where it may or may not spin slowly, but not enough to make it turn.

But the spinning ball doesn't always turn off the pitch - it may fail to grip the surface, for all kinds of reasons (the ball may not land on the seam, the seam may be too worn, the pitch may not allwo grip etc).

Let's get it straight: spin is what the ball does in the air; turn is what it (sometimes) does after bouncing.

Off-spin and Leg-spin - shurely shome mishtake?

Terminology may get so entrenched in sports that there is no chance of changing usage - but some names can so misleading as to confuse the neophyte.

For example, in baseball a pitcher's surpise slow delivery (which looks like a fast ball) is called a 'change-up'. Yet you would expect a change *up* to be a faster delivery, wouldn't you? It certainly confused me when I first began to grapple with baseball.

The same paradox or illogic applies to the definitions of off-spin and leg-spin. You would expect an off-spinner to be spinning and turning towards the off side, in the sense that you would expect the ball to turn to the off-side after landing. Well wouldn't you? But of course that is wrong.

An off-spinner is defined as a ball that *pitches* on the off side and turns to the leg side. However, this is rubbish, because an off spinner may well be pitched on the middle stump, or even on the leg stump.

Where a ball hits the pitch varies, according to the bowler's tactical plan, and within the constraints of his accuracy; but it will always turn to the leg - if it does turn.

So why did it get the wrong name? Beats me, but I guess it is too late to change.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Provoking a batting collapse - a possible "set piece"?

As Ed Smith notes in his excellent book Playing Hard Ball: the batting collapse is the biggest catastrophe in test match or four-day cricket.

A batting collapse is the main way in which the fortunes of a match can be reversed very suddenly and irrevocably.

The terrifying momentum of a batting collapse derives from the element of positive feedback. Positive feedback is when each increment of change tends to lead to further change in the same direction.

In a batting collapse each wicket that falls brings a new batter to the crease (and new batters are at their most vulnerable) and - what is more - a worse batter than the one who has been dismissed. Therefore it gets easier and easier for the bowling side to keep taking wickets; harder and harder for the batting side to stop the serial fall of wickets.

All of which makes it hard to understand why so little attention appears to be devoted to the tactics of batting collapses. The response to en emerging collapse appears to be left-up to the players on the field; who look to be improvising tactics with varying degrees of assistance from the captains.

Yet surely it would make sense to plan for batting collapses - so that batters are instructed how to bat and what to aim for; and even more so that fielding captains have plans ready for perpetuating a batting collapse.

Bowling sides should have a set of pre-determined plans about how to initiate *and maintain* an incipient batting collapse: which bowlers will be used in what order, what will be their role, what field settings are most helpful, optimum rate of overs, the psychology of inducing 'mental disintegration' among the incoming batters etc.

Initiating a batting collapse should be approached as a 'set-piece' - like taking a corner or a free kick in football - by deploying smoothly rehearsed sequences selected from a pre-determined repertoire.

Equalizers in cricket

Bad weather has just denied England victory in the Lords test today. This is a good example of the way that random factors - such as rain and light - act in cricket (especially test match cricket, over five days) to equalize teams, and create a falsely narrow gap between their performances.

Cricket has many such equalizers which give unpredictable advantage.

The first is the toss, which can give the weaker side significant assistance (of course the toss is equally likely to help the stronger side, but that would only increase the margin of a result, not the direction).

The pitch is another equalizer, since its condition changes somewhat unpredictably throughout the course of a match.

Injuries during a match also tend to equalize for the same reason as the toss - injuries to the better side may enable the worse side to win against the odds.

Poor quality pitches are well-known equalizers, since low scoring matches are intrinsically closer, leaving a bigger role for chance to operate.

Some other restrictive practices are also anti-competitive - such as the old limitations on players moving between first class county teams, which kept good players in poor clubs, and prevented the best clubs building up superstar squads by transfers.

The condition of the ball is another somewhat random factor, since all cricket balls differ slightly and each one ages and wears in a distinctive manner.

If it was desired that cricket become a 'fairer' game it would be relatively easy to reduce the effect of some of these random factors. For example, artificial cricket pitches could be used to minimize change in conditions throughout the match; and balls could be changed as soon as they show any signs of wear (as happens in baseball - where dozens of balls are used in a game).

The fact that these things are not done seems to indicate a preference for more competitive and entertaining games, even when the competitiveness is artificially constructed.

All games are a mixture of skill and luck - but the element of luck is contrived to be higher than it needs to be; suggesting that skill in sports is neither valued nor rewarded as much as might superficially be expected.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Leg Cutter - Annoyingly misused terms in spin bowling number 1.

The Leg cutter

This term often is used by commentators (most of whom should know better) to describe a seam-up quick bowler's delivery which hits the seam as it bounces and moves away from a right handed batter. The bowler has delivered the ball with both fingers together along the seam, and the seam has been pointing towards the batter (or slightly angled one way or another).

The above is *not* a leg cutter.

In reality, this delivery is just the ball seaming away - as it bounced the orientation of the seam caused it to change direction - or else the seam hit an irregularity on the pitch which made it bounce away from the batter.

A true leg cutter is a spun delivery in which the bowler 'cuts' his fingers down the left hand side of the ball at the time of release, to make the ball spin anticlockwise, and move away from the right handed batter on bouncing. In a leg cutter the palm of the hand faces the batter at the moment of release (in contrast to a leg spinner where the back of the hand faces the batter on release).

This is a rare ability for a quick bowler. Apparently the greatest exponent of the leg cutter was England's Alec Bedser. I saw India's Venkatesh Prasad bowling leg cutters about 15 years ago.

More recently, New Zealand's Chris Harris bowled medium paced, very slowly spinning leg cutters - but Harris was more accurately a stock user of the leg-cutter version of the slow ball, credited to Steve Waugh - and deployed by many one day 'death' bowlers.

In this leg-cutter slow ball, the ball does not spin much, nor turn much; and the leg cut is merely a way of 'taking pace off the ball' while retaining a fast arm speed - as a surprise slow delivery.

The true leg cutter is a rare and difficult delivery to master - and seems to require abnormally large hands...

Monday, July 09, 2007

The worst form of cheating in sport

The worst form of cheating in a sport is an action which leads to the key win-altering event in that sport.

A key event is a relatively-rare and win-determining event: in test match cricket it is a wicket (only 20 wickets per team per match); in baseball it is a run (most teams score just a few runs per match - 4-6 I guess; in soccer it is a goal (probably the rarest event in any major sport).

In cricket it has been noticed that cheating bowlers are criticized much more than cheating batters. So that a bowler who throws (rather than bowls), or a bowler that alters the ball (eg by scratching the surface) to make it swing in the air, or a fielder who claims a catch when he knows the ball has already bounced - all these are criticized much more than a batter who pretends not to have hit the ball when he is caught behind.

This is because cheating to get a wicket is a sin of comission, while cheating to preserve a wicket is a sin of omission. Cheating to get runs - eg claiming short runs, or leg byes, or pushing at the permitted boundaries off bat technology - these would hardly be regarded as cheating at all.

In baseball, by contrast, there are 27 'outs' per side, but just a few runs. A pitcher who alters the ball to get more outs (eg. by spitting on it, or scratching it) is regarded much more leniently than a batter who gets extra home runs by using a doctored ('corked') bat. A pitcher who used steroids to recover from injury or amphetamines to reduce fatigue is regarded much more leniently than a batter who uses steroids to increase power and bat speed - thereby getting more home runs.

In football, the worst kind of cheating is cheating to get a goal - handballing the ball into the net, or 'diving' in the penalty box and faking a foul in order to get a penalty. The worst-regarded defensive foul is a 'professional foul' used to stop a striker from scoring a near-certain goal.

So - in sport - some kinds of cheating are worse than others. Sins of commission are worse than sins of omission - and cheating to achieve the rarest form of win-altering event is usually regarded as the worst foul play.