Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What price a wicket?

The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.
           Vince Lombardi - American football coaching legend


How do batsmen define price - value, worth, or dollars and cents? Is the price they put on their wicket something entirely different?

In the IPL, where money abounds and a player’s worth is crudely defined by their price at auction, putting a numerical value on price is easier, or is it? Half a million dollars over 10 innings artificially sets the price of a star’s wicket at $50,000, regardless of the runs they make, or don’t – but isn’t that too simple? Should the amount a player is paid for his services even have a place in the price they put on their scalp? For the sake of the game, let’s hope not.

Have the IPL and the proliferation of limited overs cricket led more batsmen to throw caution to the wind and display a diminished regard for the worth of their wicket? Is that the stark reality or simply a perception that with an increased salary fans expect better results and a stronger will? For mine, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Modern batsmen appear less inclined to battle through a difficult period for the promise of riches on the other side, but maybe that has as much to do with the instant gratification society in which they live as with the evils of the white ball, DLF maximums and boorish coloured clothing.

Does the way a batsman goes about his task cloud our perceptions of the worth they place on their wicket? Is it as much about the batsman’s approach as it is his attitude? Compare the stoic circumspection of Mark Richardson and the brash, bold stroke play of two of the current crop – Taylor and McCullum. Do they put less of a prize on their dismissal or are we drawn to the likes of Rigor because we can relate to their struggles? Their test records are comparable but do we expect more from the modern duo because of their pure cricketing ability against the efforts of a converted opener many perceive to encompass the efforts of the common man? Rigor thrived on hard work; the perception pervades that the other two don’t utilise the most of their precocious talent and sell themselves, and their country, short.

I like a mix of the two - relentless accumulation holds more personal appeal, though to succeed the ball needs to travel further than the edge of the square on a regular basis. Of all the New Zealand batsmen I’ve watched, Martin Crowe was the perfect mix of the two but he’s an enigma in our game – a player that defines a generation. 

The oft repeated throwaway line in New Zealand press conferences about the importance of playing one’s natural game starts to wear a little thin when it so regularly fails to deliver a favourable outcome – is it time to start playing “unnaturally” if that leads to success? If natural instinct leads to a batting downfall, then a “survival of the fittest” mentality needs to be adopted – the weak are killed off and a more powerful species takes its place – I’d rather see substance and success at test level.

Anyone who's watched the Kiwis play over the past couple of seasons is right to ask the value the current crop place on their wicket. Does it change when the pressure on your place is negligible, regardless of results? New Zealand’s player pool is so small - it's debatable we have 11 international quality cricketers.

Of late, those at the top have too regularly batted with the gay abandon of kids on the golden sands of the Caribbean not a troupe of the most naturally talented cricketers in Aotearoa tasked with leading their country into battle. Martin Guptill showed glimpses in the West Indies but could not get over the century hump. Kane Williamson showed his mettle in the final test of the South African series last summer but has taken to gifting his wicket to spinners after the initial graft has been done – potential only carries an individual for so long. 

New Zealand’s lower order batsmen have generally shown a complete disregard for the sanctity of an international wicket and given up the ghost with little more than a whimper. They appear disinterested in application and hard work, preferring instead to go at the bowlers when they’d be better served playing for the man at the other end. In essence though, it’s hard to lay too much blame at their feet – during the same period they’ve seldom seen such qualities role modelled by those at the top of the order.

So, what does success look like in Bangalore? Four days is too short a time to right the wrongs of Hyderabad and victory is likely a step too far. But, as a fan who’s grown accustomed to mediocrity and indifference, I’d settle for a healthy serve of old-fashioned, balls-to-the-wall grit and determination – it may not cure the ills but it would be a healthy step in the right direction.

Looking from the outside in I don’t have the context of those in the inner sanctum, and few of us will ever truly understand sport at the highest level, but that shouldn’t matter. Fans want success and you can’t get that when the black ink is dry on the scorecard….


Tell me what you think – I’d love your thoughts. Am I stuck in the past or would New Zealand do well to emulate the efforts of the teams of old? Post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi.

6 comments:

  1. IOB talked about this on Sky actually - the "it's the way I play" excuse. Yes, that's all very well, but the way you play means you're getting out - stop it!

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    1. That's what it's got to - no-one tries to get out but at times I'm not sure they try not to!

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  2. Hi nice blog.
    what's needed is a Vettori to control the opposition batters and get a grip on the game.

    I have another matter to raise and please forgive my contacting you via the comments section, since i can't find your e-mail directly.

    I have just published a cricket novel, an ebook, and I wonder if you would like to review it? What's new about it is that it's about a man who doesn't like cricket who falls in love with a woman cricketer, and she tells him to resurrect a defunct cricket team. He is coached in this by a Sikh cricketer.

    I can gift it to you , complete with synopsis and material for an author interview if you like.

    please let me know

    thanks

    Stuart Larner

    --
    read my new cricket novel:
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Guile-and-Spin-ebook/dp/B008FBZPHE/

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    1. Hi Stuart
      Thanks for the note - Vettori offers control though struggles to knock batsmen over these days. His role has become purely containment at test level.

      I'm not normally a book review kind of man, but it's a cricket novel - it has to be good. Email me @aotearoaxi@gmail.com and I'd love to get on board.

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  3. Players brought up in limited overs cricket has, as you suggest, altered mindsets. I think there may be another, more surprising influence: the wonderful Australian team of Waugh/Ponting. Such was the brilliance of their batting line-up that attack (controlled, of course) was their default setting. Many opponents got drawn in, and lost trying to play the Aussie way. The miracle of 2005 was that Vaughan's team did win by attacking. Someone, somewhere eventually would, I suppose. So there is a positive side, test cricket has become a faster moving game. But when one team is trying to play like millionaires when they are performing like paupers, it is very frustrating.

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    1. Interesting analogy re the Australian side - they were one out of the bag, and though they changed test cricket, I'm not sure it made it better across the board. Test cricket is fater, yes, but I'm not sure it's alway a superior game. There seems to be a distinct lack of understanding of the best way to succeed for many batsmen and as a result we often see a hero or zero innings.

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