Thinking about pink balls

[Note to readers. This post may appear to do with cricket. Perhaps it does. But it’s about more than that].

I had to smile when I first came across what Douglas Adams had to say about our reactions to technologies:

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

I tried to interpret the word “technologies” as broadly as possible, looking for areas where his description matched my reaction to something. And the first one I came up with was cricket. I realised that my attitude to cricket could be summed up in his words. Test cricket? Fine. County and regional? Of course. One-day? As long as it’s the 50 or 60 over variety. Day/night? Pshaw. Pfui. Balls coloured other than red? Over my dead body. Clothes coloured other than white? When hell freezes over.

Until I thought about my attitude to cricket through the lens described by Adams, I considered myself a fairly progressive person. Since reading what he’d had to say, I’ve been working on that attitude, not just to do with cricket but to do with life in general. [That’s a general principle for me. I may write about music or food or sport or work or books or whatever, but what I’m usually trying to do is to understand something else about life].

So it took me a while to get used to people wearing pyjamas on the cricket field. It took me as long to get used to a night game and a white ball. I’m still getting used to T20.

And now.

Now comes a real test. A Test test. There’s a day-night Test in Edgbaston this coming summer. The ball used will probably be pink. Will I try and go? Will I even be willing to watch it?

Hmmm. There’s a part of me that says I should harrumph through my moustache, if I had one — that I should return some prize or honour, resign from somewhere, refuse something. Protest somehow.

But I won’t listen to that part. I don’t. Not any more.

[A digression. I don’t like DRS. Not DRS per se, which I’m fine about: but the way it has been implemented leaves much to be desired. The way the technology providers were chosen and imposed. The madness of the way “umpire’s call” has been protected. Stuff like that. I don’t feel any less progressive for disliking the way DRS has been implemented].

When I heard that day-night Test cricket was on its way, I decided I wanted to understand more about how changes like the 60 over game, the 50 over game, the 20 over game, day-night cricket, the wearing of pink pyjamas, the DRS, and so on, had actually affected the game.

The first pink-ball Test was actually Test number 2190. Does it mean the end of Test cricket as I know it? What could I learn from all that had gone earlier? Here are some of my observations:

We’re playing a lot of Test cricket. In the last seven years, we would have played about the same number of Tests that we played in the first seventy years of Test cricket. Test attendances may appear to be in decline, at least anecdotally, but just try getting a ticket for an Ashes Test in London and you may get a different view. I have debentures at Lords and at the Oval just to make sure I get to see all the touring teams.
I regularly hear assertions that the short game is somehow corrupting the long game, “twittering” cricket if I may be allowed to mangle the term that way. So I looked at the data.
Test number 2243 is being played right now. Since the Second World War, the number of games drawn as a percentage of games played looks like this:

1950-59: 31.1%
1960-69: 47.8%
1970-79: 42.4%
1980-89: 45.9%
1990-99: 35.7%
2000-09: 24.6%
2010-16: 22.7%

Surely fewer games drawn is a good thing. While I cannot draw a causal relationship between the short-form game and the improvement in the percentage of games not ending in a draw, it is a reasonable indicator of the health of the long game.
The first ever individual 300+ scores were compiled in the 1930s. So I took a look at the Tests-per-300 ratio, again by decade, concentrating on Tests since the Second World War:

1950-59: 2 triple centuries, 82 Tests per triple
1960-69: 3 triple centuries, 62 Tests per triple
1970-79: 1 triple century, 198 Tests per triple
1980-89: No triples recorded
1990-99: 4 triple centuries, 87 Tests per triple
2000-09: 8 triple centuries, 58 Tests per triple
2010-16: 7 triple centuries, 42.7 Tests per triple

So the number of Tests taken to score a triple century is the lowest it’s been since 1950. In fact there’s only one decade ever (1930-39) where the ratio was lower, and it’s an outlier for a number of reasons. If the short game is spoiling the concentration of the batsmen then it’s hard to understand how this trend is being evinced.
If I look at the RPO or runs-per-over data this is what it looks like:

1950-59: 2.3
1960-69: 2.49
1970-79: 2.69
1980-89: 2.86
1990-99: 2.86
2000-09: 3.2
2010-16: 3.22

So the batsmen are scoring more runs per over than they did before, they’re taking fewer Tests to churn out triple centuries, and more of the Tests are getting to a non-draw result than ever before. What’s not to like?
Not everyone is a fan of such quantitative ways of looking at the game. Some people prefer to complain that the game’s not the same, that something classic, something essential to the game, has “gone” with all the changes. It’s hard to deal with such statements, but here’s my personal take:
There was a time when the job of a Test opening batsman was to see the shine of the ball off, to batten the hatches while the pace bowlers tired themselves out. There was a time when batsmen were expected to “play themselves in”, to get used to the pitch and to the ball and to the conditions; this playing-in time was measured in overs, sometimes hours.
Along came people like Jayasuriya and Sehwag, and suddenly playing-in time became a myth. They started scoring freely from the moment they walked in. I don’t have good scientific evidence that there’s a causal relationship between the advent of the short game and the emergence of this phenomenon, but it seems unarguable. Limited-overs games aren’t particularly accommodating of playing-in time. It’s also nice to notice that both Jayasuriya and Sehwag have triple centuries to their names.
There was a time when there were no cross-bat strokes expected on the playing field, when Test cricketers played copybook cricket. Now we have strokes like the reverse sweep and the overhead thump over the wicketkeeper’s head. Good batsmen still play largely copybook cricket, but their repertoire has increased.
There was a time when bowlers were expected to be poor fielders and even poorer batsmen. Nowadays you see relay fielding and relay catching being considered normal, where one fielder stops a ball and another throws it back, or one rescues the ball back into the field of play and another catches it. Fielders have become a lot fitter and use techniques learnt largely from the short game. And bowlers can bat. Teams now bat all the way down the card.
All in all, when you look at modern Test cricket from a qualitative viewpoint, the batting’s better, the fielding’s better, the bowling’s better, all showing signs of having learnt from the short game.
I cannot spend this much time talking about how progressive thinking is changing the world of cricket for the better without mentioning Cage Cricket.

 

 

Yup. Cage cricket.

A six-player one-winner enclosed-space form of the game, designed to be gender-neutral.
Okay, I hear you. Harrumph in your moustache. Resign from your clubs. Return your OBE. Have your Victor Meldrew moment. Go on.
Once you’ve done that, please go take a look at the game.

And then look at these photographs I’ve just googled (my thanks to the originators of the photographs, I claim no authorship, just the use of search strings for street cricket).

 

 

Still think that Cage Cricket is all wrong? People have called it all sorts of things, in India I’ve heard terms like para cricket or galli cricket. What matters is that we lower the barriers to entry, get children involved early. Not in watching but in participating. Making it possible for them to play without having to have a cricket pitch or 22 players. Making it possible for them to learn, to develop, and even to compete at world level. Designed to suit the world they inhabit. With peer respect and feedback built in, gender-agnostic.

If you want to learn more about Cage Cricket, just go to the web site and click on Learn More. Simple as that.

It’s not just about cricket. These are things we have to get better at for everything: lowering barriers to entry, adapting to the world our children live in, building things that are relevant to their context, designing to enfranchise all.

I started with a quote from Douglas Adams, ostensibly to do with technology. I think I’ll end with a quote from Roy Amara, as quoted by Robert X Cringely:

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

As I suggested at the start of this post, be generous in your interpretation of “technology”.

It’s a systematic treatment for something. It comprises tools and practices. It is based on some real knowledge, based on scientific methods of collection and testing.

I like what Kevin Kelly said about it many years ago, that “technology” is a means of speeding up evolution.

So nowadays, when I learn about a new technology, I check for myself. Am I falling into the trap of looking through the Adams lens? Am I discarding everything recent for everything I am used to, staying in my comfort zone? Am I falling into the trap of not seeing Amara’s Law in action? Am I overestimating short-run impacts while underestimating the long-run ones?

Am I basing all this on data? Reliable data? Data that stands up to corroboration, to source verification, data where I understand the basis of collection and analysis?

Otherwise it’s not cricket.

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