The Fine Line Between Class and Stupidity
Russell Degnan

In the 11th over at the cricket today, Harmison bowled a short, wide delivery to Matthew Hayden. Cricinfo described it as follows:

10.3 Harmison to Hayden, FOUR, short, wide and Hayden makes no mistake, hammering that off the back foot with a lovely cut through backward point. Four all the way, that was some power

The Guardian Over-by-Over, which started the summer being quite amusing, but has deteriorated further than the English performances into a tedious drunken whinge about umpires and Australians, described Hayden's stroke like this:

11th over: Australia 42-1 (Hayden 12, Ponting 0) Short and wide from Harmison and Hayden, who could barely get the ball off the square, cuts him for four. That's not one of Hayden's favourite strokes, but the ball invited punishment.

In the 26th over Harmison bowled another short and wide ball to Hayden. According to the ball trackers, it pitched a few inches fuller than the ball described above, but came through a couple of inches higher. That is to say, it was a faster delivery, with more bounce and carry, but otherwise practically identical. However, what happened was quite different:

25.3 Harmison to Hayden, OUT, short and wide, inexplicably Hayden slashes at it and the ball flies off the top edge straight to Collingwood at second slip. Harmison jumps in delight, Hayden stands bemused with his own shot selection for a short time before heading off


WICKET! Hayden c Collingwood b Harmison 33 (100-2) A poor ball and an even worse shot as Hayden toe-ends a cut shot straight to Collingwood at second slip. With 10 minutes to go before tea, that should make the sludge pies taste a little more palatable.

Two practically identical balls, and two practically identical shots, except one was on Hayden quicker, and ended up in the hands of second slip. Yet the first was decribed as a glorious shot that treated a poor ball to what it justly deserved, and the second as poor shot selection that cost Hayden his wicket.

Harmison could hardly be called an intelligent bowler, but he does have a quicker ball, which also happens to be a sucker ball. The regular misplacement of his line and length while bowling the quicker ball generally induces a shot (Clarke fell for the same ploy). The extra yard of pace means the batsman will often mistime the shot. Hence the sucker.

So, was Hayden culpable of poor shot selection? Not really.

Flicking through Bradman's The Art of Cricket, he (twice) tells his readers to cut hard. But there is no advice to leave juicy short and wide deliveries begging to be hit for four. In fact, reading his chapter on shot selection where he advocates pulling balls from wide outside off stump, Bradman would turn in his grave to think an Australian batsman was leaving that kind of trash.

What Hayden was culpable of, was not watching the ball close enough, to either pick up the pace properly, or to check his shot if he wasn't quite there.

The commentators are culpable of talking bollocks. Using post hoc reasoning to adduce that the wicket was caused by poor shot selection, when it was really a mix of poor shot execution and canny (tinny) bowling. Needless to say, if Hayden's cut shot had been drilled into the backward point fence, I suspect they wouldn't have bemoaned his luck.

Speaking of stupidity though. Symonds was a few millimeters away from never playing for Australia again with his ugly swipe at the third last ball of the day. Stupid shots look so much stupider when your team needs runs.

Cricket - Articles 4th January, 2007 01:43:57   [#] 


The Fine Line Between Class and Stupidity
Harmy and the 'sucker' ball reminds me a lot of MacGill.

They don't really have that much control and so the good one is even better disguised. If Warney bowls a foot outside off stump it is clearly a wrong'un - if MacGill lands one in the same spot there is no such guarantee.
Bruce  4th January, 2007 15:29:03  

The Fine Line Between Class and Stupidity
True. This is probably why Warne stopped using the flipper as much. The mere fact that it was short made it obvious what he was bowling.

I have a great sucker ball that starts wide and full and swings away, invariably getting an edge through third slip for four. I'm not sure whose the sucker though, them for edging it, or me for bowling it when I know the edge will evade my hapless cordon
Russ  5th January, 2007 16:00:38  

The Fine Line Between Class and Stupidity
It's the same with catching. A take is nearly always a magnificent piece of fielding; a drop of an identical chance is nearly always a howler.
Tony.T  7th January, 2007 22:59:58  

The Fine Line Between Class and Stupidity
True Tony, and yet, in all my years of playing cricket my teammates haven't been guilty of categorical errors in judging catching or stroke-play. It's as if commentators think international batsmen and fielders are infallible, and therefore any occurance must be the result of great skill or poor mental control; as opposed to being a bunch of uncos like the rest of us.
Russ  11th January, 2007 15:13:25