Tuesday, December 30, 2008
A most uninvincible performance
I was listening to ABC News Radio in August, on Bradman's centenary, and they did a feature on the celebrations. Usually News Radio will put news wraps on the first 15 minutes of each half hour, with a news anchor reading out and introducing news stories, sports, weather and stock market data, and the second half hour is for more in-depth analysis of the big news, usually 3-4 minute pieces, or a phone hook-up for an expert discussion, usually a professor or a former insider-turned-pundit.
Well, guess who News Radio had for the detailed chat? Roland Perry, a "noted cricket historian", who sounded rather chuffed that the presenter had such a high opinion of him. They also ended up mentioning that Perry's book about the Invincibles was being launched for the centenary, thereby spruiking it, deliberately or otherwise.
The book is a rehash of various previous Perry books, including brief profiles of the players, and accounts of what happened on tour, match descriptions and so forth. In my brief reading of it in the book shop, a lot of it was adapted from Captain Australia, the biographies of Miller and Bradman respectively and the books on Bradman's best ever XI and his best ever Ashes XI, because a lot of Bradman's men were covered by the earlier books, being the greats they are. Nothing wrong with this of course, as he's simply reusing his work, but that virtually guarantees that all the old errors are transplanted.
The ABC could at least have teed up the truly pre-eminent historians such as Gideon Haigh and David Frith, who have appeared on their productions before. Among other things, Frith is known for Bodyline Autopsy and appeared on ABC's television documentary on the same topic, while Haigh is known for a lot of things, and has appeared ABC's Sunday morning sports television show Offsiders. Haigh and Frith recently collaborated on Inside story: unlocking Australian cricket's archives in 2007. It is a fascinating and well-researched story of the political rumblings in Australian cricket administration, and is pieced together from Cricket Australia archives and many other primary sources, including interviews with former board directors, who give their perspective straight from the horse's mouth, including how they argued on certain controversies. Everything from the private dealings over John the bookmaker, the possible conspiracy against Ian Meckiff for throwing, Bodyline, Clem Hill's famous selection-room punch-up with Peter McAlister and Sid Barnes exclusion from the team for "reasons other than cricket", are expanded on to shed more light on how and why the star chamber did what they did. I recommend it to all cricket lovers.
Before listing the errors, I will now quote Gideon Haigh, lest there be no expert reinforcement of my beliefs. Another cricket scholar and cricket museum curator at a Test cricket venue who has written a few very polished books did agree that Perry was poor writer, although I'm the only witness to that.
In "No Ball". Game for anything: Writings on Cricket. Melbourne: Black Inc. ISBN 1 86395 309 4. , Haigh says of Captain Australia – "... Perry maintains a disquieting tendency to, quite casually, mangle information for no particular reason". and "... there are assertions whose origins, are, at least, somewhat elusive" and "Perry depicts [the captains] in the flat, bulking the thin personal matter with ponderous clichés, execrable puns and recitations of scores and averages. There is no original research to speak of, no new insight to relate; there is not even a bibliography".
Frith says: "Unfortunately, Roland Perry's work here is anything but confidence-inspiring. He is an opportunist author, Don Bradman, Shane Warne and Steve Waugh being among his previous subjects, together with a book on Australia's captains which gave the world nothing that the painstaking Ray Robinson had not already dealt with, apart from the update. Two earlier biographies of Miller and his autobiographical jottings have been milked dry, which is fine. But the book is strewn with errors that undermine confidence in the work as a whole. Keith Johnson was not Ian's father; Army cricketer JWA Stephenson was not the beloved colonel who became MCC secretary; when Cyril Washbrook took a run after being hit on the head it was not a "bye"; George Tribe was not a "legspinner" and Alf Gover was not a "medium-pacer"; Wally Hammond was not dropped for the final Test of 1946-47 (he had fibrositis)."
Right, now to the action. These claims can all be debunked simply by looking up the schedule and statistics. There might be more errors in the peripheral information about his public meetings and dinners with Princess Margaret among others.
*p. 222. That the Australians arrived in "early April". Unless April 16, in the second half of the month is "early", then he's made a mistake.
*p. 223. Says that Barnes, Brown, Morris, Bradman, Hassett, Miller and Harvey jostled for five Test spots. Actually, six, as the first six on the list played in the first two Tests. Counting Miller as a frontline batsman, Bradman always used six of them before Tallon/Johnson/Lindwall.
*p. 224. The Worcester Cathedral in the background of the county ground is not 13 centuries old. Christian activity is that old, but the original church was long demolished and the iconic backdrop that cricketlovers are so familiar with dates to the 1200s.
*p. 224. Contrary to Perry's claim, Miller did open the bowling in both innings of the match against Worcestershire.
*p. 224. Miller also did not hit three sixes against Worcs, he hit one. Cricinfo and CricketArchive agree.
*p. 224. Perry says of the next match against Leicestershire: "Batting at three, especially after not bowling in the game". That's because Australia batted first, although Perry's comment is ambiguous.
*p. 224. Perry says Australia played against Yorkshire "next day" after scoring the double ton against Leics. However, Miller finished batting early on day two and the next day was the last day of the match against Leics
*p. 225. Says that Hassett won the toss and put Yorkshire into bat. Actually, Yorkshire won the toss and decided to bat.
*Generally, Perry is often slack with not outs and sometimes doesn't say "not out" after a player's score like Saggers' 104* against Essex, but sometimes does.
*p. 227. He says that the win over Essex was the sixth win in a row in 19 days. Incorrect, as Australia won the first match against Worcs on April 30 and the Essex win came on May 17.
*p. 229. Hutton did not captain the MCC against Australia. Yardley did.
*p. 232. Perry says that Australia slumped to 8/63 against Hampshire in discussing Miller's counterattack. Australia were 5/91 when Miller departed.
*p. 233. Says that Hants took a 77-run first innings lead. No. 195-117=78
*p. 233. Says that Miller and Saggers took a trip to Paris during the match against Sussex because they were not playing. Saggers certainly did not, as he did play in that match.
*p. 234. Says Princess Margaret was 18, when discussing Miller having dinner with her in June. Princess Margaret didn't turn 18 until August.
*p. 235. Says Miller bowled five bouncers in eight balls at Trent Bridge during the Test, in reference to the final over of the day against Hutton. He did not, as in 1948, they used six-ball overs. Hutton glanced the other ball for four.
*p. 238. Says that Miller opened the batting in the second match against Yorkshire. Not so. Brown did and scored 19 and 113, and Perry thinks these were Miller's score. Miller actually scored 20 and 0. A pretty massive mistake to confuse a century with a duck! Furthermore, an incorrect and dubious conclusion is reached from this paragraph, that Miller's long innings as an opener taxed his bowling efforts. Twenty and a duck is not a heavy workload!
*p. 239. Says Hamence bowled Hutton for 10 in the second innings of the said match. He bowled Halliday. Hutton didn't bat in the second innings.
*p. 242. Says that Loxton and Toshack opened the bowling in the first innings of the second tour game against Surrey in 1948. Toshack did not, Hamence did
*p. 243. Mentions a poker match during a rain break in England's first innings in the Third Test involving Miller, Edrich, Compton and Evans. Miller reportedly was late back onto the field as he wanted to continue playing with the others. Well, Edrich came in at 1/22 and when he was out, Compton came in when Edrich was out at 5/119 and batted until the end of the innings. Thus, if Miller was holding up play, it can't have been after England lost their first wicket, as either Edrich or Compton would have been waiting on the ground to bat, not playing poker. But there was no "long rain delay" at the start of England's first innings before the first wicket fell at 1/22. Either he's made another mistake or taken on trust the apocryphal story of an old cricketer with possibly faulty memory without checking to see if it is consistent with the scorecard.
*p. 246. This account of Miller's 58 in the 1948 Headingley Test is adapted from Jack Fingleton's "Brightly Fades The Don". However, Miller did not hit five sixes in this innings, as Perry implies, and mis-adapts Fingleton's account into saying so.
*pp. 248-249. Says that Miller followed his bowling effort against Derby with another against Glamorgan on the next day. Miller's bowling effort against Derby was actually on the second day, so the next day was the final day's play, not the match against Glamorgan.
*p. 250. Dewes fell with the score at 2 in the first innings of the Fifth Test, not 1/1. Appears to have copied this from Jack Fingleton's Brightly Fades The Don, which appears to be incorrect in this case.
*p. 251. Says that Miller scored 2088 runs in the 1948 tour, second only to Bradman. He did not. He scored 1088. What is worse is that Perry uses this erroneous number to reach the conclusion that Miller was the influential player in 1948 after Bradman and Morris, at the end of this chapter.
*p. 253. Says that Bradman only allowed six capped Test players to represent the opposition in the match against Leveson-Gower's XI. Well, Hutton, Edrich, Yardley, Bedser, Evans and Laker played, who were all in the 1948 Tests. But Walter Robins, Freddie Brown, Martin Donnelly and Laurie Fishlock also played, and they were already capped. That's 10. Again it appears that he copied Fingleton's Brightly Fades The Don without checking the scorecard for himself.
*p. 256. Says that Bill Johnston scored 60 runs at 20.66 in the Tests. Nope. 60/3 =20.00. He scored 62 at 62/3=20.66
*p. 255. Says that Miller went to a concert after the final day of the first Scotland match and then told the media at the concert that he was playing against Scotland tomorrow. There were two days of rest between the matches. Either a "sic" should have been added to note that Miller was wrong or the concert wasn't on the last day of the first match.
Perhaps Fingleton's (pictured) seminal work Brightly Fades The Don also needs to be checked for its accuracy. Certainly Fingleton has a great understanding and feel for the game, and his writing is engaging and charming, like Peter Roebuck in our time, but in some places, the accuracy of the match accounts appears to lacking. Another example is that he says that Sam Loxton made his Test debut at Old Trafford and then took his first wicket at Headingley, but Loxton debuted in the previous summer against India and took wickets in that series. It does seem as though he just wrote from his impressions in some parts of the book.
The Invincibles deserve to be researched and recorded in history in a manner and with polish befitting their status as one of the greatest cricket teams of all time. Perry's writing does anything but.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Roland Perry's error strewn cricket writing
They include biographies on Bradman, Miller, the Invincibles in general, a compilation on all Australian Test captains, a compilation on Bradman's selection of the best Ashes teams for both Australia and England and one on Bradman's selection of his best XI of all time.
He has actually won prizes for his writing, and is a best-seller, which I find hard to believe, given his high frequency of mistakes.
I am going to compile the instances of the errors in his books, and invite others to report them in.
The following list is in progress.
*Refers to "Nayan Mongia" as "Mayam Mongia"
*Refers to NZ off spinner "Dipak Patel" as "Dilip Patel"
*p. 246. This account of Miller's 58 in the 1948 Headingley Test is adapted from Jack Fingleton's "Brightly Fades The Don". However, Miller did not hit four sixes in this innings, as Perry implies, and mis-adapts Fingleton's account into saying so.
*p. 242. Says that Loxton and Toshack opened the bowling in the second tour game against Surrey in 1948. Toshack did not, Hamence did
*p. 238. Says that Miller made 113 in the second innings of the second tour match against Yorkshire in 1948. He made a duck
*p. 238. Says that Hamence bowled Hutton for 10 in the second innings of the same match. Hutton did not bat in the second innings
*p. 251. Says that Miller scored 2088 runs in the 1948 tour, second only to Bradman. He did not. He scored 1088. What is worse is that Perry uses this erroneous number to reach the conclusion that Miller was the most influential player in 1948 after Bradman and Morris, at the end of this chapter.
That's just in 15 pages, and those are just the ones of the top of my head.
Contradictions between MILLER'S LUCK and CAPTAIN AUSTRALIA
* Account of Lindsay Hassett making a prank visit to a random English family at night during the 1948 tour. Accounts in the two books contradict each other as to who the driver of the car was.
* Account of Miller's fight with Ian Johnson over a bowling change between Miller and Lindwall. Contradiction on which of the two was the bowler being taken off/put on.
Please share any more errors you have spotted for the benefit of other cricket readers!
Monday, December 22, 2008
Error in the Cricinfo quiz?
1. A wicket keeper who played his only Test against New Zealand in the 1970s. He scored 7*, took two catches and conceded 16 byes.
A Pakistani called Shahid Israr. Definitely fits.
2. A modern great with 26 Test centuries to his name, but an average of only 36 against South Africa.
Rahul Dravid - only two folks with 26 tons, and his average fits
3. A between-wars bowler whose only Test was the match before the one in which the main answer made his debut. He took no wickets, returning 0-60 and 0-12, but scored 8 and 44 with the bat.
Otto Nothling (Australia)
4. A 1980s batsman who scored over 4000 Test runs, including centuries against West Indies when the rest of his team kept folding, and memorably won an ODI with a lot of runs off the last over.
Allan Lamb. Smashed a piled from Bruce Reid. Scored a few 100s against WI. Could it be anyone else?
5. A current all-rounder who has a century and a six-wicket haul in different matches on tour in Australia, but has yet to reach 100 wickets and 2000 runs.
Dwayne Bravo - Took 6 in Adelaide in late 2005, and 100 in Hobart on the same tour. 70 wickets and 1800 odd runs.
6. A batsman and part-time bowler more usually thought of as an ODI player, he only averaged 28 with the bat, though he made three Test centuries, the highest being 123 against Pakistan.
Russel Arnold. The numbers fit and he averaged 35 in ODIs.
7. A 1990s pace bowler who took 160 wickets but is more usually remembered for some lengthy stonewalling innings at number 11, including 14* in a last-wicket partnership of 106 against England.
Danny Morrison (NZ) definitely, batting with Astle
8. A current bowler who has 123 Test wickets to his name – although he says his name changes to something German when he gets out on the field.Andre Nel.
So the answers spell Sir Donald Bradman.
Although I can't see how it is linked to the first cryptic clue about Azhar and Key.
Also, Nothling made his debut in the Second Test.
Bradman debuted in the First Test, failed, was dropped and came back in the Third Test and made his first Test century
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
A glorious burden for Harbhajan?
When India and England take to the field for the First Test in Chennai, it will be the first time in five years that Harbhajan Singh starts a series as India’s first-choice spinner. No longer will he be bowling in tandem with Anil Kumble. After five years of mixed results that have fuelled speculation that he was in decline, the responsibility of leading the spin attack may just be the catalyst for India’s most successful off-spinner to return to his peak.
Harbhajan appears to thrive on the burden of leading the attack. In matches where he has played with Kumble, he averages 32. When Kumble has been absent, Harbhajan averages 26.1, substantially less. This becomes more marked when India has resorted to playing five bowlers, as it did in Faisalabad, Mohali and Mumbai in 2006, and in Adelaide and Ahmedabad in 2008. During these matches, Harbhajan bowled listlessly, with no apparent sense of purpose, taking 11 wickets at 59.5. Only Irfan Pathan averages worse when India has fielded five bowlers. In the Adelaide Test, he was outbowled by Sehwag. Harbhajan looked irrelevant as Ricky Ponting-of all people-dominated him and broke his hoodoo with a century. It was as though the surfeit of bowlers made him feel unrequired and irrelevant. In Faisalabad, he was plundered for 178 runs, ending the series with 0/355.
Never one to reject an opportunity to return fire, Harbhajan has a long history of performing well when he is surrounded by conflict and chaos. Like the fiery Australian tennis player Lleyton Hewitt, it seems to fire him up for the task ahead. He rarely fails to respond to engage his opponents in the media, even after he was told by the BCCI to stop commenting on last season’s tour of Australia.
One could be forgiven for thinking that he deliberately seeks confrontation and controversy to create a siege mentality for his own competitive advantage. Others are more cynical. Speaking at a recent cricket forum, former Australian off spinner Ashley Mallett claimed that Harbhajan courted controversy in order to deflect attention from his bowling action.
Harbhajan’s greatest triumph came when he was on the verge of giving up cricket. In 2000, his fledgling career, already beset by allegations of chucking, appeared in tatters when he was expelled from the National Cricket Academy for disciplinary reasons. When his father died, Harbhajan, the only son, contemplated moving to the United States to drive trucks to support his mother and unmarried sisters. Various other slow men were paired with Kumble and Harbhajan appeared well out of favour.
When Kumble succumbed to injury, the similarly belligerent Sourav Ganguly called for Harbhajan’s recall. The selectors obliged and Ganguly was amply rewarded when his hitherto out-of-favour Sikh warrior famously spun India to a series victory over Australia in early 2001. He took 32 wickets when none of his teammates took more than three as India came back from 1-0 down and being forced to follow on to end Australia’s world record run of 16 consecutive Test wins. Fittingly, he hit the winning runs after a late stumble in the deciding Test.
It was always going to difficult to repeat such results and so it proved. In 2003, after playing through a finger injury for an extended period, Harbhajan was sent home from the tour of Australia for surgery after an ineffective First Test.
In late-2004, he returned amid much speculation and promptly took a ten-wicket haul in his first Test back against Australia in Bangalore. With India 1-0 down, the pitch for the Third Test in Nagpur was an uncharacteristic greentop, the result of payback for internal BCCI squabbling. Ganguly and Harbhajan both withdrew at late notice, officially on grounds of injury and illness, but many alleged that it was grass induced and roundly condemned them. India plummeted to defeat by 342 runs and its first home Test series defeat to Australia in 35 years. Harbhajan then roared back for the final Test in Mumbai and spun India to victory with 5/29 as Australia fell for 93. He then took nine wickets to be man-of-the-match against South Africa at Eden Gardens soon after.
Harbhajan then quietly made his way through the next year with moderate results until the Ganguly-Chappell spat exploded in late-2005 and Indian cricket went into open warfare. Always one to defend his allies, Harbhajan accused Chappell of instilling fear and insecurity into the team. Ganguly was shunted out of the team, and Harbhajan appeared to be on thin ice after being gagged. Rumours abounded that Chappell was planning for Harbhajan to follow his Dada out the door. Harbhajan promptly responded by engineering a win at the next ODI in Nagpur and was India’s most economical bowler for consecutive ODI series. He then took match-winning ten-wicket haul in the Ahmedabad Test, ending the year strongly after a weak start.
After losing form and being dropped, Harbhajan was recalled in late-2007, and put in mediocre performances against Pakistan and Australia. Then came the racism controversy with Andrew Symonds (pictured), followed by a media run-in with Matthew Hayden. His subsequent ODI performances in Australia were relatively good compared to his barren record in the country. In both finals matches, Symonds and Hayden were regaining the ascendancy for Australia after a top-order collapse. On both occasions, Harbhajan had a hand in dismissing the pair of them in quick succession, which went a long way towards securing India’s wins.
Harbahajan was again in the headlines after slapping Sreesanth and receiving a lengthy ban. When he returned, he was India’s leading wicket-taker in Sri Lanka. In a year when he has been the most sanctioned Indian cricketer, he is also India’s leading Test wicket-taker and the second highest from all countries.
Kumble’s departure will also mean that Harbhajan will now play under the captaincy of MS Dhoni. In three matches under Dhoni’s captaincy, he has taken 19 wickets at 18.42 and all the matches were won. Under Ganguly, he claimed 177 wickets at 26.84 in 37 Tests. However, with Kumble and Dravid at the helm, Harbhajan averaged around 3.5 wickets per Test at an average over 40. Perhaps he is unable to perform at his best when led by placid leaders with a worldview so starkly different.
Kumble’s retirement could be a blessing for Harbhajan. In recent years, India’s improved away record in the 21st century was in large part due to Kumble’s increased overseas effectiveness in the latter half of his career. Harbhajan is now in the middle of his career and averaging around 40 away from home, which is not a good portent for India’s overseas ambitions, where it needs to win more consistently if it wants to vie for world dominance. His record in Pakistan stands at 0/355 and he
will doubtless want to rectify that next month. If the burden of responsibility takes hold again, Harbhajan too can rise to another level. If he does, then India’s post-Kumble future looks promising. Chennai is one of his favourite hunting grounds
and an ideal place to start this next phase of his career.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
A captain’s legacy
This article was written by the author for Mint at the attached link
Ganguly mysteriously withdrew from the Test at late notice, with cynics contending that he had run away to avoid defeat. Amid the chaos, India ceded the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with a crushing 342-run loss.
In a little more than a year, the verdict on Ganguly’s legacy had savagely turned. Ganguly became widely reviled and ridiculed. Amid the political machinations and a downturn in performance, his contributions to Indian cricket and his record 21 Test wins were forgotten.
Ganguly had taken the reins of the Indian team in the 2000 season after a ruinous match fixing scandal and five consecutive Test defeats. In his first season in control, India ended Australia’s famed run of 16 consecutive wins after being forced to follow on in the epic Eden Gardens Test in Kolkata. Against the odds, they won the series, primarily due to Ganguly protégé Harbhajan Singh, who had been resuscitated from disciplinary oblivion at the captain’s behest.
Such results were symptomatic of Ganguly’s captaincy, which saw significant improvement in India’s away record. He instilled backbone into his troops, and India was no longer seen as a soft team that spontaneously unravelled amid alien conditions. This was typified by a stirring win at Headingley, England, in 2002, when Ganguly elected to bat on a greentop and declined the light so that he could force a result.
Towards the end of the final Test, Dhoni allowed Ganguly to marshal the troops for one last time. Harbhajan winkled out the winning wicket, LBW without offering a shot, the exact same ending to Ganguly’s most famous triumph at Eden Gardens seven years ago. The passing of the torch was a fairy tale finish for Ganguly, as though the rumblings in between had never happened.
Despite these limitations, Ganguly did what was needed at the time—galvanizing an uncertain group of skilful cricketers, giving them a sense of purpose that enabled them to fight outside their comfort zone and in foreign lands. Now that a foundation exists, a more sophisticated approach is needed for further progress. India will hope that Dhoni can channel the Ganguly-instilled fight in a more refined manner.