Sunday, October 26, 2008

The future of Test cricket - more frequent Ashes!

Cricket commentators are very worried about the future of Test cricket in light of the increasing popularity of the Twenty20 format.

But the fact is that most current Test cricket is regarded by most people as dull.

One big exception is the Ashes, England only play Australia every 2 years on average. It would be much better is the sides met every year, alternating between the countries.

I do not think the increase in Twenty20 is stoppable, nor do I think it should be stopped.

And concerns over excessive quantity are premature: we will not know how much Twenty20 is enough until we have had too much - that's the only way to find out.

I suspect the market for Twenty20 will not be saturated until there is a significant internationally-interesting Twenty20 match happening somewhere in the world every day of the year including Christmas Day and televised live. Anything less than this is less than enough for cricket addicts!

My feeling is that England and Australia should take-over Test cricket and build the other Test fixtures around the Ashes. From my perspective, this would be great! After all, the Ashes is the oldest international cricket competition, and no other countries are so keen on Test cricket as England and Australia.

Other test match series could be built around the Ashes and controlled by England-Australia - a mixture of regular but less frequent clashes between the Ashes sides and South Africa, India and Sri Lanka.

Perhaps there might also be less frequent, one-off series againt Pakistan, the West Indies and New Zealand. (Forget about Bangladesh and Zimbabwe). Players from these countries who wanted to play Test cricket regularly would need to qualify for other countries - perhaps this process could be streamlined.

Realistically, I think that Pakistan is unlikely to be a major Test team for the forseeable future - until the country becomes more stable and less corrupt; New Zealand has too small a population ever to be a significant Test team (given that cricket is only their second sport); and the West Indies will never again be a great team because it is composed of players from several independent countries that are growing apart, and (mostly) growing poorer and more corrupt.

Although the transition will be painful, I think that Test cricket has become very dull on average due to too many poor teams, too many mis-matches and too little public interest. The big series (like the current Australia v India series) still grab considerable public interest, but are not frequent enough.

I am pleased that Twenty20 will cause a reorganization of Test cricket - and am pleased at the likely prospect of more frequent Ashes clashes.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Paul Adams not a 'Chinaman' - Statsguru is wrong!

The South African spinner Paul Adams has recently retired, and has been widely - and wrongly - described as a 'Chinaman' bowler: including teh career summary by the usually definitive Statsguru on the web pages:

In fact Adams was a left arm Googly bowler - who gripped his stock delivery between index finger and thumb.

A Chinaman bowler is a left-arm wrist spinner whose stock delivery is an off-break - turning towards the right handed batter. In other words a Chinaman bowler is the left arm mirror image of a right arm leg-break wrist spinner like Shane Warne.

But there is no doubt that Adams stock delivery turned away from the right handed batter. In other words Adams was a left arm Googly bowler.

Adams was famous for his strange action, in which he did not swing his bowling arm through, but instead ducked his head (and closed his eyes), and stopped the swing of his arm after delivering the ball.¤t=ADAMS_Paul_20030815_GH_R.jpg

Adams peculiar action probably derived from the fact that he gripped the ball between index finger and thumb:

The spin was imparted by very sharp wrist rotation, with the ball delivered from the back of the hand. But the degree of shoulder rotation needed to point index finger and thumb back in the opposite direction from the batter is probably what prevented Adams from swinging his arm through in the usual fashion, and led to his strange contortions.

A taller man could, in principle, have bowled Googlies in a conventional but very round armed style even with this index finger-thumb grip, but Adams was so short in stature that I guess he needed to use an upright arm in order to get a reasonable amount of bounce.

So, Adams stock delivery was a sharply-spun googly - and his main variation was top-spun, straight on kind of delivery.

However, I did see him bowl the occasional Chinaman delivery, using a conventional grip of holding the ball in his first three fingers. So this was a surprise variation for Adams - however, his grip and action for bowling the Chinaman were a bit easy to pick - although (if I recall correctly) Adams tried to compensate by covering the ball with his right hand (to conceal his grip) during the run up.

Anyway, Adams should certainly be classified as a left arm Googly bowler and not a Chinaman bowler. Statsguru needs revising!

P.S.: Statsguru misclassifies another wrist spinner - the great Anil Kumble - as 'Legbreak googly' when of course he is actually a right arm 'Googly legbreak' bowler: the Googly is his stock delivery and the legbreak is his main variation. What does Statsguru have against the Googly?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Three ways to bowl a doosra

There are three main ways to bowl a doosra: 1. a back-chuck/ weak throw; 2. with shoulder rotation; 3. with body rotation.

I will define a true doosra as a leg-break delivered with the back of the hand facing the batter, and the forearm in anatomical supination.

(Supination means the forearm is rotated in the opposite direction to the leg-spinner. Leg spinners have the forearm pronated. If the arm is held out in front with the thumb upright, moving the thumb outwards (clockwise) is supination, moving the thumb inwards (anticlockwise) is pronation.)

The big problem with the doosra is imparting sufficiently rapid rotations onto the ball. This is the reason why most off-break bowlers do not bowl the doosra - it is not that they can't spin the ball at all, but that without some extra way of applying spin the ball is merely gently-rolled from the fingers, and the rotations are so slow that the ball is barely spinning.

1. Back-chuck

The back-chuck/ weak throw is the method used by most of the doosra bowlers whose actions have been reported or declared illegal. This involves rolling the ball towards slips with the fingers and wrist, but using the snap of an elbow-straightening/ throwing action to add extra rotations and pace onto the ball. This kind of doosra is a useful delivery since the spin and pace are potentially both enhanced by throwing. As I said, this is currently usually regarded as an illegal delivery (if the arm straightens more than 15 degrees). However, I think the back chuck should if possible be legalized.

2. Shoulder rotation

Shoulder rotation is used by Muralitheran, and is probably only possible for someone with a permanently bent elbow. Murali's stock off-break is delivered by twisting the whole arm from the shoulder so the bent elbow moves from right to left, plus swivelling the wrist, to deliver the ball from the back of the hand over the gap between the thumb and index finger.

For the off-break Muralis fingers seem to pass over the top of the ball from right to left and releasing the ball towards leg slip (for a right handed batter). It has been described as similar to someone unscrewing a lightbulb clockwise and very fast.

Murali's doosra seems to be delivered by bending the wrist back on itself during delivery so that the fingers pass _under_ the ball from left to right and releasing the ball towards slips (for a right handed batter).

3. Body rotation

The other method for bowling a doosra seems to be that employed by Saqulain Mushtaq, who is credited with inventing the delivery: body rotation.

This gets a bit more rapid revolution of the ball because it is more of a top-spinner than a doosra, and the wrist has a larger range of movement in that side-on top-spin position. But the ball moves towards the slips (for a right handed batter) because Saqlain's arm swings across his body from right to left, and his body is swivelled round so that it is as if he is bowling at 45 degrees to the left of the batter, looking over his right shoulder.

Imagine coming-up to bowl at a right hander, but at the last moment swivelling around an extra 45 degrees anticlockwise and bowling at slip. This swivel brings the arm into such a position that a top spun delivery turns into a leg break. Then you would need to aim the ball at the stumps from this position, to replicate Saqlain.

I think that Johan Botha is trying to do the same - at the point of delivery he has rotated so far that he has almost turned his back on the batsman.

The body rotation method actually builds the bowling action around the doosra as the stock delivery (or at least a frequent one), and the off-break becomes a variation.

The problems with bowling the doosra using body rotation is that 1. the doosra is still rather a slow spinining delivery, slower than the conventional off break or leg break; and 2. the off break variation is sub-optimal, since the necessary degree of body rotation is less effective at generating spin than the usual off break bowlers action.

In conclusion, unless the back-chuck is legalized, then Murali will probably be the only bowler ever to posess a really fast-spinning doosra.